AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 387

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Session 387: Youth Publics across Asia: Forging New Spaces of Belonging

Organizer and Chair: Leah M. Koskimaki, University of Washington, USA

Discussant: Arvind Rajagopal, New York University, USA

This border-crossing panel is one of two that address the theme of "youth publics," that is, the focus on youth in the formation and navigation of spaces of debate, interaction, mediation and circulation. This panel builds onto the rich material on publics regarding class, gender, and multiple counter-publics following Habermas’s work on the transformation of the public sphere by focusing on a previously underrepresented category of analysis: youth as a culturally constructed sociopolitical category linked to notions of modernities and future-making. To look at the relationship between youthful cultural practice and the public social worlds they create is important in Asia in the post-liberalization context, where contradictory discourses circulate around the commodification of youth and their ability to navigate personal and national futures. In this part of the double panel, we particularly focus on youth as agents; hence youth and transnationalism become linked in the very ways spaces of expression get demarcated: young writers in China move away from marked political graffiti to produce transcultural spaces of expression, while elsewhere in Japan, youth activists rework the transnational circulation of “hapa”, or mixed-race, discourses of citizenship and belonging. Shifting to two other examples in small hill-towns in North India and in Shandong province in China, students use media in two very different ways to create new spaces to address their rights. By combining diverse papers we seek to identify possible linkages, divergences, patterns or shared forms of youth public engagement across the region: in cities, towns, villages, and imaginations across Asia.

Masculinities, News Media, and the Production of Youth Publics in Uttarakhand, India
Leah M. Koskimaki, University of Washington, USA

As part of a larger project detailing varied youth publics in Northwest India, this paper will specifically focus on the production of youth rallies and conferences in the site of the small hill-town in the new (2000) Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. The market-place alleyway, the town street, and the college campus are spaces where a masculine youth politics is performed. Through stylized public expressions of youth power and unity, and by envisioning a “new” Uttarakhand, youth draw state actors into commitments by making demands in the local Hindi political sphere. The rally and youth conference, and reports of them, become key sites where a masculine development ethos is expressed through political practices of citizenship and regional attachment post-statehood. This paper also reveals the background to this public scene. Specifically, it shows the intersections of news, storytelling, performance, and friendship in the way male youth leaders are able to demarcate particular spaces of public engagement. Herein we find sites where resistance and struggle, tropes of colonial-era youth protest, are articulated in contradictory ways, as local socioeconomic development is expressed as the unfulfilled duty of the state that has failed to provide for its patriotic young citizens. As rallies get produced in order to create particular lines of story and news, the event becomes a part of a circulation of particular discourses defining “youth” itself in relation to rebellion and charismatic affect.

Creating Transcultural Public Space
Minna Valjakka, University of Helsinki, Finland

Since the mid-1990s, a vigorous graffiti scene has been developing in the largest Chinese cities as a form of urban art among young Chinese writers. Based primarily on my fieldwork and using the previous studies of western graffiti as a comparative framework, this paper analyses how these Chinese writers interact with European writers in Shanghai and in Beijing. By creating contemporary graffiti in public spaces, such as art areas, alleys, demolition sites and even in bars and in art galleries, I suggest that these young writers are creating a transcultural public space in order to negotiate the meaning of the space for the younger generation. Consequently, contemporary graffiti as an artistic activity has become one new method for the Chinese youth to express themselves. To analyze these works, I have found Henri Lefebvre’s (1991) definition of space as an ongoing process to be the most useful. Furthermore, his differentiation of three aspects of space, spatial practices, representations of space and representational spaces, provide a meaningful framework for further analysis. The site, content, format, style, and nationality of the writer are essential features for the interpretation of graffiti. In the West, graffiti is still often easily considered as a sign of degeneration interconnected with criminality among youth gangs. Although these perceptions are valid, for example, in the U.S., it is essential to remember that despite contemporary graffiti is global, it is not a homogenous phenomenon: the motivations, aims and ideals vary among writers depending on the socio-cultural and political context.

Claiming Hapa Identity in Japan: The Transnationalization of Hapa Cultural Activism
Ayako Takamori, Muhlenberg College, USA

Japanese youths today are unprecedentedly diverse and multiracial, redefining what it means to be Japanese. Mainstream Japanese attitudes about mixed-race identities shifted dramatically since the post-war period. Sixty years ago, mixed-race Japanese children were heavily stigmatized. Twenty years ago, many were bullied to the extent that parents often sought to relocate abroad in hopes of a more racially tolerant environment. While discrimination and racism are not obsolete, mixed-race youths are now popularly sought after as models and television personalities who represent a cosmopolitan, transnational elite, evidence of Japan’s engagement in international cultural and economic flows. This paper addresses the cultural activism of Japanese youths who identify as hapa. Originally a derogatory native Hawaiian word used to refer to mixed-race people in Hawai’i, the term hapa was appropriated to affirm, politicize, and connect mixed-race Asian Pacific Americans. Along with increased transnational migration, the term has gained currency in Japan. In this paper, I examine how hapa discourses circulated transnationally and were appropriated by mixed-race Japanese youths. They created hapa online groups and grassroots communities; biracial entertainers and comedians began to discuss being mixed-race publically; and self-identified hapa artists and filmmakers produce work about their identities and experiences. Drawing on these developments, I analyze discourses of Japanese multiculturalism and citizenship. I argue that hapas are agents of social change; their claims of belonging in Japanese society shift the terms of citizenship and national identity, and they illuminate the convergence of race politics, sexual politics, and international relations in contemporary Japan.

A Courtroom and/or Public Opinion Drama: An Emerging Movement against Regional Discrimination in College Admissions in China
Ran Zhang, Peking University, China

In 2001, three high school graduates from Shandong province sued the Ministry of Education, claiming that the province-based quota system used in college admissions in China violates the constitutional principle of equal protection. The lawsuit became the first formal legal challenge against the system of college admission in China. This presentation traces the emergence, evolvement, and termination of the lawsuit as well as its aftermath, giving particular attention to the role of the media in this emerging movement against regional discrimination in college admission. Through an integrated legal analysis and media analysis, the paper suggests that, with the assistance of the media, the litigation politicized and dramatized the existing social concerns. Whereas the courtroom drama once made a high-profile debut on the front stage, the public opinion drama was the one that set the stage and the driving force in the continuous unfolding of the movement. Both the litigation and the media have created a public space for the otherwise voiceless youth. Compared with other papers in this panel, this presentation primarily explores the possibilities of youth activism and social change within the officially recognized channels of expression.