Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Youth:in the cultural sense

One spring afternoon, walking the streets of Oxford with a mature student I had a moment when my cultural appreciation of youth was put to test.
He, an experienced diplomat, had come for a nine month graduate course in Oxford, before going back to this diplomacy career. I, already in my second year of graduate studies, was feeling excited about learning the new things happening internationally (and more so in Kenya and Somalia where he worked).
‘What exactly do you research?’ He asked me. After two years in Oxford, I had become socialized into this Oxford question and academic culture. I easily and confidently shared my research interests, and sometimes to an extent, the cultural sensitivity when responding to older African men may have disappeared.
‘I am interested in the field of youth and environment’. I responded.
‘You see this mess; it’s the young people who are creating it. Look at how the city is dirty now. It’s the young people who go drinking overnight and leave it in such a mess. They are the ones polluting the environment. They are an irresponsible generation’. He responded.
I had not told my colleague that actually I was not researching the British youth, or the youth in Oxford. Neither had I told him that I was of the opinion that there was a different narrative to what he saw and to what he thought about the young people. I wanted to add that his previous employer is actually a big supporter of the notion of youth and environment in the African context. But I didn't. I felt small, weak and just an African young woman talking to an African older man.
His response helped me recollect my cultural sensitivity back and for the rest of the afternoon, I made sure my area of research interest was not a subject of discussion. I, of Kikuyu origin (probably one of the most ‘modern’ communities in Kenya), had been brought up appreciating the freedom of speech, both as a young woman and as an intellectual even among my elders. However, on this particular afternoon, I had to appreciate that my colleague, of Somali origin, a Muslim raised in Somalia and Kenya, might have very little respect for; one, the young people (they are to be seen, not heard) and two, young women (they should know their place).
I, therefore, found myself wondering: what is the biggest challenge I might face if older, men and women, of diverse cultural backgrounds would have the opportunity to respond to the nature of research I was carrying out. What would be y position in this research, and what position would I also give them. I found myself struggling with the idea that my research might not even be accepted among certain generations and cultures, whether it was based on solid methodologies or not. I struggled with the idea that I had tried to apply intergenerational research methods with little success. 
I  could only reflect later and muse over the idea that youth in the cultural sense, was indeed a difficult subject of study.

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