Rising schooling and a shortage of salaried jobs has created a crisis of educated unemployment in the global South. But we know very little about what educated unemployed youth are doing. Our research team (Professor Craig Jeffrey and Dr Jane Dyson, Professor David Gellner and Dr Amanda Snellinger, and Professor Jonathan Spencer and Dr Dhana Hughes) are conducting detailed ethnographic research in three areas of South Asia (India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) with a view to understanding educated unemployed young people's political practices. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) are funding this research, which runs from 2012-2016. From a scholarly perspective, we hope to use youth as a lens through which to understand the changing nature of work, education, politics and civil society around the world. We are also centrally interested in enhancing public understanding of young people: Marginalized youth are often imagined as "anomic"; but they may also be involved in forms of "positive youth politics" in different parts of South Asia and the world.

Students protesting ktm 2004

Overview

This project examines the political practices of educated unemployed youth, defined as those with at least a high school qualification aged 18-30, in north India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Over the last few decades there has been an increase in families' and states' investment in schooling throughout the world. People have come to imagine education as a pathway to economic and social mobility and educational levels have risen rapidly. But since the 1980s economic change has typically failed to generate white-collar jobs within the manufacturing and services sectors. This shortage of salaried employment has created a crisis of educated unemployment. While this phenomenon is far from new, it became much more common, visible and intense in the 1990s and 2000s in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The result has been endemic unemployment and "underemployment": involuntary part-time work, intermittent unemployment, and / or involvement in poorly paid labour.

Educated unemployment has created widespread anomie and is commonly identified as a root cause of political uprisings in South Asia, as well as in the contemporary Arab World. But scholars know little about the varied and changing politics of educated unemployed youth. Our goals for the project are thus:

  1. To provide one of the first ethnographic examinations of educated unemployed young people's political practices in South Asia - a region especially affected by youth joblessness - in order to contribute to literature on educated unemployed youth, civil society, education, globalisation, and "youth" as a political category.
  2. To develop a new paradigm for analysing the political practices of youth: a culturally and organisationally sensitive political economy approach that examines durable social inequalities as well as surprising cross-class mobilisation.
  3. To move beyond media stereotypes of youth -for example as "heroes" or "villains" - to publicise the diverse and changing roles played by educated unemployed young people in processes of democratic change and engage with non-academics on this topic.

To achieve these goals we are conducting a comparative ethnography of educated unemployed youth politics in north India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Three teams comprised of one Senior Researcher and one Post-Doctoral Researcher are pursing this field research: Professor Craig Jeffrey and Dr Jane Dyson working in north India; Professor David Gellner and Dr Amanda Snellinger will carry out research in Nepal; Professor Jonathan Spencer and Dr Dhana Hughes are working in Sri Lanka. We are implementing a programme of dissemination, collaboration, and network-building aimed at enrolling diverse constituencies in South Asia and the UK into our research, including government officials, policymakers, the public, students, and our research informants. Through scholarly and mainstream publication and presentation outputs, this research aims to transform scholarly, policy and public understanding of unemployed young people, civil society, education, globalisation, and youth as a political category.

Research Projects

India

Professor Craig Jeffrey and Dr Jane Dyson are conducting research in Bemni, a remote village in Uttarakhand in the North Indian Himalayas as well as in the local town of Gopeshwar. They are seeking to understand young people's political practices against the wider backdrop of their changing economic and social strategies. This research builds on Dr Jane Dyson's earlier work on children's identities and livelihoods in Bemni.

Nepal

Professor David Gellner and Dr Amanda Snellinger are pursuing fieldwork in Birjung, Parsa District and Hetauda, Makwanpur district in April 2013. Dr Snellinger will be conducting household surveys in each of these two cities and in a neighboring village in order to identify the scale of unemployment and underemployment amongst educated youth, and to assess their coping strategies and livelihood techniques. She and Dr Gellner will identify research subjects and institutions based on survey results and proceed with ethnographic fieldwork, individual interviews, and focus group discussions.

Sri Lanka:

Professor Jonathan Spencer and Dr Dhana Hughes will conduct fieldwork in Southern and Eastern Sri Lanka with educated young people aged between 18 and 30. They will explore the everyday social and political practices of educated unemployed youth against a backdrop of post-conflict transition and upheaval in the higher education sector. They will be talking to young people, and to those working with young people, in order to understand the experience of underemployment and unemployment and the strategies people adopt to deal with this.

Associated Projects

Young Lives is a collaborative research project coordinated by a team based at the University of Oxford led by Professor Jo Boyden. It is core-funded from 2001 to 2017 by UK aid from the Department for International Development (DFID) and co-funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2010 to 2014.