After 30 months ethnographic fieldwork on Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites, danah boyd has finally completed her PhD-thesis and put it online. Although she is no anthropologist, she seems to have worked like an anthropologist. Her thesis is relevant reading for anybody who is interested in the anthropology of childhood - especially in children’s relations to adults.
For children spend so much time on Facebook or MySpace ("networked publics") partly because they are marginalized in their society by adults, she explains in the concluding chapter:
One of the most notable shifts I observed in the structural conditions of today’s teens, compared to those of earlier decades, involves their limited opportunities for unregulated, unstructured social interaction.
When asked, teens consistently reported that they would prefer to socialize in physical spaces without constant parental oversight. Given that this is not an option for many of them and that many have more access to networked publics than to unmediated public spaces, social network sites are often an accepted alternative.
Their desire to connect with others is too frequently ignored or disregarded, creating a context in which many must become creative in making space for maintaining connections outside the control of adults. (…) Through the use of technology, teens are able to socialize with others from inside the boundaries of their homes. This presents new freedoms for teens, but it also provokes new fears among adults.
The teen years are marked by an interest in building new connections and socializing broadly. Online-activites are extensions of offline-activites. Teens’ engagement with social network sites reveals a continuation of earlier practices inflected in new ways, she writes.
My findings show that teens are drawn to social media collectively and that individuals choose to participate because their friends do. The appeal is not the technology itself—nor any particular technology— but the presence of friends and peers.
boyd draws many interesting parallels and comparisons:
Baudelaire’s Parisian flâneur enters the public to see and be seen. Teenagers approach publics in a similar vain. Like the flâneur, teens use fashion to convey information about their identities.
Teens have long struggled to find a place for themselves; they have consistently formed counterpublics within broader structures. Yet when they do, adults typically demonize them, the identity markers they use, and the publics they co-opt. The demonization of MySpace is akin to the demonization of malls and parking lots that took place when I was growing up.
The inability to access publics is an explicit reminder of teens’ marginalized position within society according to danah boyd:
When well-intentioned parents limit access to publics out of fear of potential dangers, they fail to provide their children with the tools to transition into adult society. This may have other unexpected consequences, including isolating teens from political life and curbing their civic engagement. I believe that the practice of maximum control and restrictions infantilizes teenagers, making them more dependent on or resentful of adults and adult society.
In learning how to make sense of publics that are different from those with which their parents are comfortable, teenagers reveal valuable techniques for interpreting and reworking publics. Their experiences provide valuable insight for understanding how publics are transformed by structural forces.
The key is for adults, and society more broadly, to engage with these issues and help guide teens in making healthy decisions that allow them to leverage social media in positive ways as part of their everyday lives.
Her thesis reminded me of Mari Rysst’s thesis on the (presumed) “sexualisation of childhood” and the notion of the “pure childhood".
I’ve only read the last chapter of boyd’s thesis.
By the way: As a famous blogger, danah boyd’s blog post on her thesis has received more than 40 comments within two days. Furthermore, there a numerous blog posts about her thesis already.
Tight jeans and short tops for seven year-old girls? When anthropologist Mari Rysst was out shopping clothes for her then seven year-old daughter she - to her dismay - mostly found clothes which imitated the teenage look. Seven years later she published her doctoral thesis “I want to be me. I want to be kul” An anthropological study of Norwegian preteen girls in the light of a presumed ‘disappearance’ of childhood.
In the introduction Rysst explains:
This study aims to explore gender constructions, sexuality and peer relationships among preteen Norwegian girls in the light of a presumed “disappearance” of childhood. The focus is on whether girls’ everyday lives are affected by what is currently expressed as the “sexualisation of childhood”. The sexualization of childhood forms part of the wider preoccupation that “childhood” is disappearing, as inferred by the above quotation.
But these fears seem to be exaggerated, she concludes:
By doing participant observation over a two year period in two school settings in Oslo, I concluded that the sexualisation of childhood exists in their social contexts and wider milieu, but does not dominate their overall everyday practices and mixed- gender relationships. These are still filled with sports activities and different forms of both traditional and particular play.
Most importantly, the ultimate indication of any (senior) sexualisation, how they “do love”, still qualifies as variants of “play”, not as older heterosexual practices. This is so because the love relationships are performed according to strict norms or rules. In the first place, they are directed and followed up by the peer community. In the second place, they are a collective rather than a private affair, and lastly, they include a minimum of physical intimacy. (…) The study shows how the subject positions of the kul and of girlfriend/boyfriend did not relate to images of the sexy before the peer group had reached puberty (being aware of individual exceptions).
The notion of the “pure childhood” is,she writes, rather Western - and paradoxical:
Understanding children and childhood in developmental terms has so far meant that children have to be protected from the “evils” of adult society (sex, drugs and violence) in order to become healthy adults. In particular, the positive potential of children can only be realized if they are not “spoiled” (too early) by the “impure” adult world.
In this lies a moral paradox: The ideal, pure childhood is not to involve a preparation for what children will inevitably be confronted with as youths and adults. The paradox is historically and culturally specific, having its roots in the Enlightenment and Rousseau’s perception of children as “pure” or “innocent” (Ariés 1962, James, Jenks and Prout 1998).
Mari Rysst has been several times in Norwegian media, see among others my post in Norwegian Doktorgrad: Barn mer opptatt av tauhopping enn G-streng
What impact has war on children? What has anthropology to say on this? This autumn I watched the movie “Buddha collapsed out of shame” by the Iranian film maker Hana Makhmalbaf. It tells the story of children who reproduce the violence of the adults. For me, it was the most impressive movie of the film festival Films from the South (Film fra Sør) in Oslo. Makhmalbaf won the Silver Mirror, Films from the South’s main award.
- This is no funny movie. I hope you’ll feel the pain and the suffering, said the 19 year old director before the screening in Oslo.
Five year old Baktay dreams of going to school. But her family is poor. When Baktay finally managed to sell the eggs of the family’s chicken and was able to buy a notebook, she gets attacked by boys who play war where they are the Taliban. The boys rip pages from her book, put a paper bag on her head, thread to stone her and to bury her alive. For girls aren’t allowed to go to school, and they must not show their hair.
In an interview on her own homepage, Hana Makhmalbaf says:
By showing today’s picture of Afghanistan, I tried to depict the effects of the recent years’ violence on the country. So that the adults could see how their behavior affects the younger generation.
First, it was the Russian communists, then the Taliban showed up, and now the Americans. One was communist, the other Muslim and the last one either atheist or Christian. But they all had one thing common, and that was “Violence”. And this violence has been injected over and over from three different groups into the culture of the people in this country so strongly that you can see it in their children’s play.
The movie reminded me of the thesis by anthropologist Elisabet Eikås about young people trying to rebuilt Afghanistan. Their activism is a continuous struggle with the structures of the society that they tend to reproduce.
In winter 1991-2, my son Martin, who was two-and-a-half then, constantly built, ruined, rebuilt and ruined again his Duplo-buildings in a very aggressive way, claiming he was ‘playing Vukovar’. (…) In autumn 1993, in my son’s very first minute at kindergarten, a boy approached him with a toy airplane, making noise and boasting: ‘I am shooting the Serbs!’ On christmas Eve 1993, Martin wanted to decorate our Christmas tree with his toy guns (p84/85).
But it seems that children, violence and war is an underresearched topic.
“Descriptive work on children experience violence, in general, is better developed than theoretical frameworks are to explain the causes or consequences of such violence", Jill E. Korbin writes in her article “Children, Childhoods, and Violence” in the Annual Review of Anthropology 2003.
She notes that for a long time, children’s own voices and perspectives have been largely absent from the anthropological literature on childhood and violence.
To date, the majority of research on children and war has come from the fields of medicine, psychiatry and psychology. This has included a heavy emphasis on “trauma” and pathology, with a more general body of literature exploring the individual’s physical, emotional and psychological nature of suffering.
Although these issues are obviously very significant, the wider societal dimensions of conflict – namely how war pervades institutions, political structures, culture, economy and communication systems – have been overlooked.
They quote Jo Boyden and Jo de Berry who write:
[War] does not just cause psychosocial and emotional harm, but also attacks the most fundamental conditions of sociality, endangering social allegiances and confidence, and drastically reducing social interaction and trust.
The researchers call for childrens’ participation in the research process:
The involvement of children directly in research activities represents an important move away from traditional approaches, according to which children are solely the objects of enquiry. A growing number of advocates now argue that children’s active participation in research is both a means to improve the quality and relevance of the data and make children themselves more visible within a particular community or within the broader society.
Such participation can also improve a child’s ability to communicate her/his views and acquire new knowledge. In this way participatory research can contribute to children’s empowerment.
Both Hart, Tyrer and Korbin stress that children do not only reproduce what they see and experience. They are not necessarily victims but they are active agents as well. Children’s involvement in political-military action (children as soldiers etc) are not solely the result of compulsion, coercion, and brainwashing. Hart and Tyrer write:
Few authors have shown willingness to consider the possibility that, in some situations, young people may engage with military groups as a reasoned strategy – as the most desirable option within the range of choices available. They may also enrol out of social and political concern.
Without denying the existence of trauma and without refuting the idea that the young may be victimised, we should learn more about the strategies children employ to deal with their adverse circumstances and maintain material, psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing.
While most literature that I’ve found is not accessibe for the public, their paper Research with Children Living in Situations of Armed Conflict: Concepts, Ethics & Methods is freely available. It is one of the Refugee Studies Centre Working Papers
Many adults worry that children are wasting time online, texting, or playing video games. In the first in-depth ethnographic study of its kind, researchers of the Digital Youth Project found that the digital world is creating new opportunities for youth to grapple with social norms, explore interests, develop technical skills, and experiment with new forms of self-expression.
According to the report, youth could benefit from educators being more open to forms of experimentation and social exploration. Rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, the researchers question what it would mean to think of it as a process guiding youths’ participation in public life more generally.
The report was presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco and is availbable online, as anthropologist Mizuko Ito, who lead the research, announced on her blog.
The major findings:
Youth use online media to extend friendships and interests.
They can be always “on,” in constant contact with their friends through private communications like instant messaging or mobile phones, as well as in public ways through social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook. With these “friendship-driven” practices, youth are almost always associating with people they already know in their offline lives. The majority of youth use new media to “hang out” and extend existing friendships in these ways.
Youth engage in peer-based, self-directed learning online.
In both friendship-driven and interest-driven online activity, youth create and navigate new forms of expression and rules for social behavior. By exploring new interests, tinkering, and “messing around” with new forms of media, they acquire various forms of technical and media literacy. By its immediacy and breadth of information, the digital world lowers barriers to self-directed learning.
New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting. Youth are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented by set, predefined goals.
“This was a large ethnographic project by far the most challenging and rewarding research project I’ve undertaken so far", Mizuko Ito writes. She is particularly proud of the shared report, which was “a genuinely collaborative effort, co-authored by 15 of us on the team, and including contributions from many others":
We took a step that is unusual with ethnographic work, of trying to engage in joint analysis rather than simply putting together an edited collection of case studies. We spent the past year reading each others interviews and fieldnotes, and developing categories that cut across the different case studies. Each chapter of the book incorporates material from multiple case studies, and is an effort to describe the diversity in youth practice at it emerged from a range of different youth populations and practices.
“This is a break from the norm of writing about Bali", writes Laura Noszlopy enthusiastically about a new book by anthropologist Emma Baulch called “Making scenes: reggae, punk, and death metal in 1990s Bali”.
In 1996, Emma Baulch went to live in Bali to do research on youth culture. She hang out in the death metal scene among unemployed university graduates clad in black T-shirts and ragged jeans; in the punk scene among young men sporting mohawks, leather jackets, and hefty jackboots; and among the remnants of the local reggae scene in Kuta Beach, the island’s most renowned tourist area.
The scene that Baulch has accessed is a deliberately closed and marginalized one, though it is situated largely in Bali’s most ‘open’ places: Kuta and Denpasar. And it is a scene that anthropologists had overlooked or not have not been interested before according to Baulch.
Laura Noszlopy quotes the author who writes that sidewalks of Kuta she entered in 1996 were
… a gaping frontier land of which anthropology rarely spoke … they raged with charged encounters between tourists and street-side watch sellers, drug dealers, drivers, pimps, and whores … punk jams chafed against the pop soundscape emanating from the Hard Rock Café across the road. Mohawks, feigned brawls, Bad Religion, metal spikes, hefty jackboots, and leather jackets thrived (p. 1).
This is an image that may possibly be familiar to travellers who have stayed in Kuta, Bali’s largest resort. But is not one that is found in brochures or highlighted by Balinese cultural commentators, and neither is it one that anthropologists tend to write about
The book also explains the machinations of the various contesting groups within the scene(s):
This is fascinating stuff; I doubt that many observers of Balinese society, or Balinese themselves, will have any idea of the detailed differences and ‘othering’ that took place not from the perspective of counterculture juxtaposed against mainstream, but between the multiple shifting identities created amongst the various groups. And these, of course, ‘othered’ themselves against the reggae groups that played in tourist bars.
All, Baulch argues, are somehow part of a peripheral Balinese Other in a love-hate relationship with Jakarta’s Indonesian centre, rather than the predictable West. This rather radical and, to some traditionalists, surprising point that Balinese punk is somehow principally about Balineseness and regionalism recurs throughout the book.
“This is the kind of work about Bali that I would like to see more of", Laura Noszlopy writes:
It is truly contemporary. It deals with the complexities of a set of subcultural groups juxtaposed against and yet parallel to the local and national hegemonies. It recognizes the particularities of these groups and many of the individuals who people them, rather than lumping them together as ‘youth culture’.
Baulch does not simplify the issues, avoid people’s chaotic agency, or seek neat conclusions. Her work seems to embrace the complexity of the process of making scenes in Bali. And it does all this while recognizing the global music scene and late capitalist cultural economy – what Appadurai called the ‘global modern’– of which it is also a small, but noisy, part. This is a refreshing change.
But the reviewer writes less enthusiastically about the language of the book (a well known problem in many ethnographies):
The main difficulty I found with the text, however, was the marrying of the sometimes opaque style of theoretical analysis with the much looser conversational mode of the ethnography. While consistently vibrant and entertaining, it was not always complementary. The mixed tone was also apparent across chapters.
The review appeared in the recent issue of Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (subscription required)
But I found this text by Emma Baulch: Punks, rastas and headbangers: Bali’s Generation X (Inside Indonesia 48: Oct-Dec 1996)
Together with several other researchers, she has written Poverty and Digital Inclusion: Preliminary Findings of Finding a Voice Project
What possiblities have Afghan youth to rebuild their country and to work for a better future? Which constraints do they meet? Anthropologist Elisabet Eikås has been on fieldwork among young people in Kabul from October 2003 to June 2004. The result is the thesis ‘It is open, but not so open’ - gaining access to participation among Kabuli youths.
Young people are often seen as agents of change. But they don’t act independently of the wider society. Eikås’ study provides an ambivalent picture of the young peoples’ possiblities.
There are lots of young people in different organisations who work for a better future. Many of them want to replace the political model of the elder and ethnicity & affiliation with a model based on equality: “All generations or sects should be involved in politics, everybody, every group should be represented in politics", informant Amin said.
But the young peoples’ activism is a continuous struggle with the structures of the society.
A big problem for many young people is the strong position of the family. As the government is not able to provide satisfactory social services and security, the extended family is still regarded as the safety-net. The strong reciprocity of obligations and rights within the family is limiting the time young people can spend on political activism.
Eikås regards personal autonomy from the family as the main entrance to change.
Being in their 20s, the young activits are expected to marry - something that would mean further responsibilities and less time for political activities. Many informants try therefore to delay the time of marriage. One of her informants decided to move away from his family.
The tradition of respect of the elders was often mentioned as one of the major obstacles for the youths to contribute to society, this being in the family, at university, at work or in other social arenas, she writes. Patriarchy is not only concerned with male domination over females, but also dominance by seniors ("elders") over juniors.
She describes a meeting with some board members in a youth organisation, when suddenly the leader of the organisation enters the room.
All stand up to greet him. (…) He sits down behind his 3X2 meter teak desk where there is a picture of himself, a framed table sign with his name and an Afghan flag. One of the others pours him a cup of tea and serves him. (…)
The feedback of the members to the leader, their behaviour towards him, shows similarities with how the youths describe the elders, or how the teachers at university expect to be treated. In the interaction with the regular members, the behaviour by the members are characterised by loyalty and respect towards the leader. They are hesitant to state critical comments, they usually wait for him to invite them to speak, and some of them to a certain degree expect the leader to have more knowledge and provide the answers.
The hierarchy within the youth organisations suggests that these organisations are not able to change the model of the elder for that of equality within their own organisations, and as such they alternate but still reproduce the patriarchy, however through a young leader
The most promising place for an alternative form of politics to evolve is the university. Despite the prohibition of political activities on campus enforced by the Ministry of Higher Education, student groups are established, and seminars, also concerning participation by students, are held, she writes.
At the university, students with diverse backgrounds, both ethnically, regionally and regarding gender, meet:
The proximity of these students, the diverse forums they meet in, in class, in the canteen (although that is segregated according to gender) and outside the classroom, builds the foundation for diverse networks to mingle and also the possibility of bridging networks to evolve, where their common status as students can be the main source of their solidarity.
The fact that they were able to arrange a seminar, where representatives from different student groups were gathered, further substantiates the potential, through co-operation, of a change in the political culture towards a more universalistic culture where equality between the different students can be the guiding principle.
On the other hand, there is also evidence that bonded loyalties prevail, also among the students. (S)ome students see their possibility of participation best secured through a bonding network adhering to particularistic values, whether this be family, kin, an external patron, political group or ethnicity.
Many problems are related to the long periods of war in Afghanistan. War leads to the breakdown of trust, and networks are usually narrowed:
My data seem to support Putnam’s understanding of trust to be developed through face-to- face contact, in lack of institutional trust, exemplified through how relations to political activities or aspirations only were discussed with ‘people one knows’. As such, Kabul University can be a promising place for increased trust to develop.
As I interpret much of the data in this thesis, I believe the lack of trust in the Afghan society, is one of the main reasons why both bonding networks and also patron- client relations prevail. It takes time to build trust in a population which has been at war. The people in Afghanistan have just started this process.
Girls wear makeup, go with their hair uncovered, drink, have boyfriends and premarital sex: For seven years, anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi has studied the sexual revolution in Iran, the Ventura Country Star reports.
Those actions could have brought harsh punishment and even jail time in the past. But now the sheer numbers of young people overwhelm the morality police, who must often turn a blind eye on offenders, she said during a lecture.
Many parents are onboard with the changes:
Before 2002, women could not wear open-toe shoes, and then suddenly women began to openly defy the law, and you saw many, many women wearing sandals and flip-flops without any recrimination. I think they wear red lipstick just to irritate authority.
Several of Mahdavi’s research subjects reported that by the summer of 2007, their parents considered premarital dating normal and acceptable. And while a parent in the US might be mortified by having to bail out their child from jail after an arrest at a rowdy party, some of Mahdavi’s adults happily come to their children’s rescue and forego any punishment of their own.
Mahdavi also writes of several parties put on by parents for their children and friends, and the parents come out looking more unrestrained than the younger generation. This observation is probably the most startling in the entire book: the fact that the older generation has begun to consider social behaviors as a form of protest against governmental restrictions is a clear piece of evidence that behavioral fashions are spreading to new segments of the population, beyond the young, wealthy and secular.
He writes that “the most startling and groundbreaking aspect of Mahdavi’s book is her description of the activities of young Iranians behind their bedroom doors. Not only are the book’s subjects frank and honest about their own liberal attitudes to sex, they have even provided Mahdavi with direct access to a group-sex party.
Mahdavi, who is a trained medical anthropologist and Del Jones Award Winner, adds that the sexual revolution has its problematic aspects:
I started this project looking at things from a public health standpoint — what about sex education, HIV, sexually transmitted diseases? The public health aspect is alarming. There is much premarital sex, but no sex education in schools, and almost all sex is unprotected. A condom can’t be purchased without proof of marriage. The young are largely uninformed about the risks of sex.
Laura Secor has written a long review in The Nation (15.12.08)
The book was reviewed in The Australian (22.11.08)
The number of young newspaper readers is declining. In order to better understand the behaviors of young readers, Associated Press commissioned a team of anthropologists to follow 18 young individuals around the world and examine their media habits, the Editors Weblog reports.
The Anthropologists found few major cultural differences. “The young digital consumers in Hyderabad were very similar to the ones in Silicon Valley in the United States", said Jim Kennedy from AP.
The researchers uncovered the social aspects of reading news: Almost all of their informants shared news with each other, through text messages, emails and social networks. “These young consumers are looking up to news as a form of social currency", Kennedy said.
Strangely enough, 16 of the 18 individuals consumed news through email, “a popular and powerful platform that often tends to be discounted by traditional media", according to the Editors Weblog.
The full results of the study will be presented at the 2008 World Editors Forum in Gothenburg, Sweden, to be held June 1-4.