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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.