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DFG - Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice PDFLogo



Urban Youth Cultures in West Africa: Processes of Translocal Appropriation

Dr. Elisabeth Boesen
Dr. Marloes Janson

In the literature on African youth culture, ‘youth’ is frequently associated with social marginality, violence and HIV/AIDS, and youthful cultural expressions are portrayed as symptoms of crisis, anomie and degradation. Against this tendency, our research project will study young people as agents rather than victims of societal change by exploring their constructive and creative potential. This potential is expressed on the one hand in their appropriation and transformation of new global influences, and on the other hand in the ways they represent themselves towards the outside world. In the project two distinct forms of West African, mainly urban, youth culture will be central. Boesen’s research focuses on ethno-cultural manifestations in Niger, while Janson’s research investigates religious beliefs and practices in The Gambia. Both studies aim, on the basis of ethnographic field research, to demonstrate that, although ‘youth’ can generally be thought of as the period between childhood and adulthood, it is an emergent category. As such, the project focuses on new ways in which ‘youth’ is being conceptualized and experienced through migration, cultural performances and Islamic reform in West Africa.

Tribal culture, world culture, youth culture. Young Fulbe in town

Dr. Elisabeth Boesen

The concept of “youth culture” is generally associated with the idea of renewal, of a break with traditional values and norms, of opposition and rebellion. Amongst the Fulbe-Wodaabe of Central Niger, however, youth are responsible for the public realisation of fundamental and shared social values. In the case of the Wodaabe, youth culture is the essential realm of cultural self-reflection. The dances staged by the young men during the important seasonal lineage-meetings represent the central manifestation of this youth culture. Originally, these dances took place in an exclusively Wodaabe context and were designed to have an effect in this internal social domain only, but since several decades they also function as a medium of exchange with the outside world. The project will investigate these new and predominantly urban forms of exchange in which youth act as the preservers of their culture while at the same time mediating new ideas and cultural forms.

Islam as Subculture: The Gambian Tablīgh Jamā'at studied as a Translocal Network for Youths in West Africa

Dr. Marloes Janson

Despite its magnitude, relatively little academic attention has been paid to the Tablīgh Jamā'at - a transnational Islamic missionary movement - particularly with regard to sub-Saharan Africa. My research will therefore focus on the Jamā'at in The Gambia, which has become a flourishing centre of Tablīgh activities in West Africa. What is striking is that, different from South Asia where the movement originated, especially Gambian youths feel attracted to its reformist ideology. The research will explore how these young people - and female youths in particular - have appropriated the Tablīgh ideology and adapted it to the local, mostly urban, context in which they are operating. By mapping the negotiations between the locally established Islam propagated by more ‘mainstream’ Muslims (that is, often the older generation) and urban Tablīghīs’ ideas that are derived from a South Asian setting and are influenced by various West African reformist associations, my research will contribute to the project on urban youth culture as process of translocal appropriation. Studying the Tablīgh Jamā'at from a translocal perspective is intended to provide an alternative to essentialist concepts of Islam such as the notion of a syncretic ‘African Islam’ or a ‘fundamentalist Islam’. The research will be mainly based on anthropological fieldwork in Gambian urban settings.