Intergenerational Relationships: Conversations on Practice and Research Across Cultures

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He was able to break social rules to provide advantages to his people.

Passar bra ihop

The historical depth of izinganekwane , seems to prove that youth revolts have long been present in Zulu tradition. This is also represented in the implicit debate between hegemonic models of adulthood transmitted through the scholastic educational system and the fluidity that comes from small-scale education systems like the family. National Zulu education proposes that hlonipha — respect — be untouchable for every kind of authority.

Reciprocity is based on a very practical and fundamental rule. If you have resources, and food is the most elementary example, you are not allowed to deny it to your peers. This definition seems perfectly applicable to the ubuntu concept, but it is important to critically interpret this category. These norms that could lead to thinking of an idyllic idea of egalitarian society, in many cases cause strong envy and social control within a small group of peers.

This must not be considered as an absolute rule because I have observed many transactions that were not equivalent. However, peer relations were usually based on reciprocity and this seems to be the leading criteria by which a person chooses who to spend time with.


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Within a group of peers, the sense of camaraderie is particularly strong. In addition, it is very difficult to encounter dynamics where strong leadership is absent. The centrality of the transaction of goods for interpersonal relations is very high. A common result of these social interactions was indeed that no one did anything because of a fear of failing.

The topic of many days discussion was based on decision making.

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For example, if I propose something to my peers it is probable that if my idea is successful I will earn more social recognition; if not, I will be criticised. The assumption of responsibility therefore becomes a difficult step. Concerning these issues, I will now analyze the different trends that I have observed in KwaMashabane that distinguish adult society from youth society. It is necessary to highlight that what I describe is behaviour that I observed repeatedly and thus considered to be common.

I can state that from my point of view that youth try to reproduce the types of interaction that they observe among adults. Moreover, among youth, the relevance of resources and redistribution is very high. Young individuals must, in addition to try to acquire capital, also learn how to manage it in everyday life.


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  • They must become able to occupy a place on the stage of social life Geertz, acquiring both the instrument needed to manage social relations, and the capital required by their future position. As an ethnographer — and a youth — I must say that this was one of the hardest parts of the local habitus Bourdieu, that I had to learn. One basic difference is that adult interaction patterns seem particularly fixed compared to those among youth.

    Considering that in the KwaMashabane village it is common for everybody to know everybody else. In every situation, it will be clear who the most relevant person is. To the contrary, among youth, relationships are unclear, and it is not easy to determine who, in a particular situation, will be the leader. Potentially, anyone can be a leader if they can provide resources to the group. In this case, all the previous relationships based on hlonipha will probably change and the group will have a new configuration.

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    This highly variable role playing is common in the youth peer groups. Among adults it is unthinkable. This duality between youth and adults at times surprised me. Concerning social exclusion, the analysis shows that only if an individual repeatedly failed to redistribute goods would he be ostracized. This seems, to be a sin that leads to a social death, at least in a metaphorical sense. I did observe somebody being expelled from a group because of a failure to redistribute goods. To grow up seems to mean to conform to adulthood models that I have already described.

    Next, I will consider the political sphere of KwaMashabane society. The political sphere is probably the space where the exclusion of youth from the realm of agency is most evident. In every village there is a recognized political institution that is called imbizo. It is directed by the local traditional leader, who is called induna. Izinduna plural of the KwaMashabane kingdom are directly dependent on the Inkosi , the formal king.

    Both these positions are hereditary.

    This political structure is perceived by the people to be connected to the ancient Zulu Kingdom of the nineteenth Century. During apartheid, the king was the most important symbol of the Bantustan KwaZulu, a formal independent state created for black Zulu people. Nevertheless, the state was highly dependent on the apartheid regime. Today, imbizo is a political space for the discussion of many issues concerning everyday life.

    These range from disputes among villagers, to issues concerning the relation between village and regional political institutions. Observations of weekly imbizo and of other political meetings allow me to state that in this context the participation of youth is very low in kwaMashabane. They remain a highly subordinate category of people, usually with no right to talk. Here only amadoda nabafazi , men and women, seem to be allowed to talk. The praxis of an imbizo and its political structure is strongly connected with what we have called the hlonipha code.

    Most of the living adults have indeed been educated through Ubuntu botho and have internalised a highly structured view of society. Authority in this code is not something that is questionable, especially in the public sphere. After the democratic transition, something new was born in KwaMashabane.

    The African National Congress political propaganda, with its emphasis on the concept of youth rights, has seemed to stimulate new kinds of associational structures. Youth have been one of the most important issues raised in ANC propaganda. In many cases they were the most important weapon in the anti-apartheid political struggle. Nevertheless, after the democratic transition, youth did not obtain a high level of political participation, but were absorbed within the ANC.

    Some villagers were engaged in the struggle, but mostly when they were living in urban spaces.

    After apartheid, new kinds of organizations appeared. It was founded approximately three years ago by youth who studied at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the most prestigious in the region. Two strategies are involved. This is because after high school most of the youth enter into a liminal period in which they are highly exposed to alcohol abuse and unprotected sex.

    The second aim is economic. The association is trying to provide services in order to secure capital that could be useful for members. It is interesting to emphasize here that redistribution processes are not egalitarian, but in most of the cases some resources are given to a single member to help him with a personal need. Indeed, there are transactions that are highly unbalanced and not meritocratic. We found, for example, that an inactive member receives a high amount of resources for a purpose that does not strengthen the entity.

    Sometimes these redistribution processes follow personal networks that are extraneous to the association. Affiliation to the association is in fact based on personal relations among members and new members and most of the participants do not have a real political awareness about the organization. What is interesting is that, in the MYDP, individuals have the choice to achieve social recognition through their actions.

    While in adult society certain fixed steps 9 are required to consider an individual as an adult, in this new organizational structure it seems that other praxises are recognized. I can mention here the examples of some youth who, due to their activism in the association, have reached a high level of social recognition. In some cases these members come from very poor families, in terms of economic and symbolic capital. They continue to be subaltern persons in adult society, but within the association they achieve strong symbolic importance.

    In this way we find different strategies for obtaining social recognition. It seems that we have a shift from giving priority to individual empowerment, which leads to redistribution, to social empowerment that can lead to individual recognition. Youth, one of the categories of people most subjected to coercion by adult society, seem to propose their own strategies in response to the influence that political communications, schooling, and the transformation of familiar and relational models pose on them.

    Yet these new models are still far from being recognized and therefore the models of adulthood remain the same and youth agency still has no consequence. Access to the public political sphere still depends on social and economic empowerment, based on the recognized adult models. Nevertheless, this analysis shows an embryonic beginning of a social change. Even in remote rural areas, particular subcultures can be important for understanding intergenerational relationships and social change.