Youth and political engagement in contemporary Africa

12.02.2014 09:00 - 13.02.2014 16:00


Research project Youth and political engagement in contemporary Africa (YOPO, funded by the Academy of Finland, 2012-2016,, University of Helsinki and Youth Research Network, Finland, in collaboration with  the Nordic Network of African Children and Youth Research (NoNaCYR).

Workshop format

The main purpose of the workshop is to discuss the content and outline of an anthology on youth and political engagement in contemporary Africa. We invite participants to either present article proposals to the book, or act as discussants. Anyone wishing to contribute with a paper should prepare a short concept paper (1 pages) on the conceptual and empirical focus of their chapter proposals by Dec 15th 2013.  

The workshop takes place in conjunction with a one-day conference Inclusions/Exclusions? Communities, identities and value systems reconsidered on 12th February in Helsinki.


The workshop invites empirically grounded and theoretically investigative contributions on the ways in which ‘politics’ could be understood in young people’s lives on the African continent today. The notion of politics is here extended beyond the state-centered and ambivalent connotations it begets in post-colonial contexts, and towards young people’s individual and collective struggles against a perceived injustice. In this sense, what could ‘politics’ mean in the lives and aspirations of the youth, and in the unstable societal contexts which differ in terms of state formation, social conflict, generational dynamic, and global connectedness? Why some find ways to resist their ascribed roles, accustomed trajectories, and structural barriers to meaningful action, while others do not? What is it like to come of age in different contexts in Africa regarding e.g. generation, social age, life-stage, and transitions?

Children and young people in today’s Africa encompasses multiple life trajectories and chances, experiences, and aspirations, and these differences play out on gender, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, education, locality, and other social distinctions. Young people are also differentially positioned to experience social, economic, and political processes that shape their generation – e.g. globalization, youth subcultures, multiple transitions, and armed conflict. In general, however, young people pursue their future lives and transitions to adulthood through overlapping societal contexts, such as institutional/formal structures (e.g. state, educational system, army, market), informal structures of everyday life (e.g. leisure, friendship groups) and civic action (e.g. civil society formations, self-organized groups, social movements).

The workshop and the book wish to map out key concepts and theories underpinning cross-disciplinary approaches to childhood and youth in a changing political landscape in Africa. The workshop aims to discuss prevailing uses of political engagement and, for example, the use of youth engagement in policy-oriented debates on youth and development. We wish to explore understandings of youth as a context specific category, and extend the analytical scope of youth political participation towards the informal spheres of everyday life.


Prof. Carles Feixa, University of Lleida, Catalonia, Spain

Prof. Amanda Gouws, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Prof. Sari Hanafi, American University in Beirut, Lebanon

Dr. Petri Hautaniemi, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland

Prof. Claudia Mitchell, McGill University, Canada & Kwa-Zulu/Natal, South Africa

Dr. Tuomas Ylä-Anttila, University of Helsinki, Finland

Prof. Mulumebet Zenebe, Addis Abeba University, Ethiopia


Organizers: Elina Oinas and Henri Onodera in University of Helsinki, Finland;

Leena Suurpää, Sofia Laine and Tiina-Maria Levamo, Finnish Youth Research Network, Finland

Please e-mail to  if you are interested in participation in the workshop by the Dec 15th 2013; and indicate whether you will present a chapter proposal or act as a discussant.