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Beyond heroes and villains: The rediscovery of the ordinary in the study of childhood and adolescence in South Africa

Year: 2006
Author: Seekings, Jeremy
Unit: SSU
Journal: Social Dynamics
Volume: 32
Issue: 1
Pages: 1-20
Abstract:

Writing about young people – or the 'youth' – in South Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s was dominated by representations of them as either the 'heroes' or 'villains' of political struggle. During the political transition, young people attracted a rush of attention as the source of a series of supposed social 'problems'. In much of the rest of Africa, also, scholars and the public alike have focused on the participation of children in civil war – as child-soldiers – or in other activities that are deemed subversive of social order. In South Africa, moral panics over the youth did not persist after the early 1990s, as public concern focused on more general social and economic problems. Ironically, perhaps, this has opened space for researchers to study the everyday worlds of ordinary young people. But the turn to the 'ordinary' in the study of childhood and adolescence certainly does not mean any neglect of processes of change. In South Africa, as in other parts of Africa, children are growing up in a period of rapid social and economic change, amidst continuing urbanization, deagrarianisation and educational expansion, changing households and kin relationships, new economic opportunities and prospects, and cultural globalization.


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