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Urban Youths 'Doing Politics': Transgression, resistance, and emerging forms of urban political action

Angela Stienen, Kathrin Oester, Omar Urán

Young people are particularly affected by the current transformation of urban environments into contexts of consumption, surveillance, and control. Although youths stress that their opinions about the future development of cities is seldom recognized and that indexes and city rankings barely include a youth perspective, city governments and the private sector increasingly seek to maximize the potential of youths as consumers and producers in cities. This efforts meet young urbanites own various and often contradictory self-definitions and ways of (re)imagining and (re)building urban space and place. Those activities generate shared cultural spaces and lifestyles and thus, urban learning environments. Such emerging urban learning environments also include illegal activities and extremist (religious, right or left wing etc.) local, national or transnational communities.

Scholars stress that today’s urban youth is disinterested in formal, institutional politics and thus politically apathetic. A closer look at youth everyday life, however, gives evidence of lively political activity beyond the formal political institutions. Due to networking technologies and migration, urban youths’ political activity often exceeds administrative boundaries, and, triggered by new technologies, their ways of networking are changing at an accelerated speed. This development questions the assumption of a politically apathetic youth, and challenges research that primarily focuses on youth's participation in formal political institutions. Though research on digital media and social movements has boomed in the wake of the Arab Spring, ethnographic studies on youths’ political activities in everyday life – on- as well as offline – are still rare. We invite contributions that challenge traditional approaches on youths' institutional political participation and focus on urban youths’ ways of doing politics by exploring what young people themselves understand by the political, by political practices, dissent and resistance. We also invite contributions which investigate youths' networking and building of (not formalised) ‘learning-communities’.

Main questions

  • What are the forms and goals of youth’ political action in different socio-political urban environments?
  • By which (technical) means do youths express themselves, build communities, develop agency and realize their goals on- and offline?
  • Does material space and place still matter? Why and how?
  • Do gender, class and ethnic belonging matter as mobilising differences? Why and how?