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Serious Youth in Sierra Leone

An Ethnography of Performance and Global Connection

Catherine Bolten

Publication Date - 01 October 2019

ISBN: 9780190886684

224 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

In Stock

An ethnography of young men trying to make their way against generational preconceptions in post-war Sierra Leone


Generational anxieties over what will happen to the young are unfolding starkly in Sierra Leone, where the civil war that raged between 1991 and 2002--characterized by the extreme youthfulness of the rebel movement--triggered mass fear of that generation being "lost." Even now, fifteen years later, "children of the war" are regarded with suspicion. These fears stem largely from young people's easy embrace of globalization, enabled by the flood of international humanitarian aid following the war. Sierra Leone's increasingly global connectivity has triggered a cultural arms race between adults and their children, with adults often controlling, manipulating, and quashing the ambitions of the young.

Through an investigation of the lives and struggles of Sierra Leonean youth in the northern capital town of Makeni, Serious Youth in Sierra Leone: An Ethnography of Performance and Global Connection turns these fears on their head. Author Catherine Bolten argues that urban youth in Makeni are largely a conservative social force, rather than rebellious or revolutionary--the young want to have steady incomes, start families, and be respected. Adults misrecognize their children's conservative values and desires as radical because they interpret global engagement as a desire for social upheaval, rather than as a way to be noticed and taken seriously. Bolten articulates the social processes that lead to children--the future of a society--becoming a representation of a society's deepest anxieties about the destruction of its values and ideologies, and why those might be falsely construed.

Serious Youth in Sierra Leone is a volume in the series ISSUES OF GLOBALIZATION: CASE
, which examines the experiences of individual communities in our contemporary world. Each volume offers a brief and engaging exploration of a particular issue arising from globalization and its cultural, political, and economic effects on certain peoples or groups.

About the Author(s)

Catherine Bolten is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies at the University of Notre Dame.


"I read Serious Youth in Sierra Leone at a gallop. Bolten shows us, in graphic detail, how young men's efforts to be taken seriously are deliberately thwarted by older elite men. Competitive politics of masculinity hold center stage in this postwar society."--Cynthia Enloe, Clark University, and author of The Big Push: Exposing and Challenging Persistent Patriarchy

"The writing is excellent, with fully realized portraits of individuals trying to navigate the challenges of a post-conflict society. Bolten has a fine ear and eye for details that bring out the pathos of post-conflict life for young people. The text is very engaging for students; it draws them into larger discussions of modernity, global circulations, economic inequality, and barriers to opportunity."--Mary H. Moran, Colgate University

"Serious Youth in Sierra Leone offers accessible and engaging writing, rich commentary on the upheavals of youth engaging with globalization, and wonderful examples of both youth and adults adapting to the sometimes anxiety-provoking situations of urban life."--Doug Henry, University of North Texas

"Bolten is one of the better storytellers in Africanist ethnography; she writes in a way that students find not only accessible, but captivating."--Danny Hoffman, University of Washington

Table of Contents


    Introduction: Serious Youth in Sierra Leone

    Chapter One: Ethnography and Entanglement in Makeni

    Chapter Two: Cinderblocks and Plaster: In/visibility and Permanence in Public Space

    Chapter Three: Papers: Documenting Il/legitimacy and In/distinction

    Chapter Four: Cloth: In/visibility and the Social Skin

    Chapter Five: Politics: Fashioning Il/legitimacy in the Material World



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