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Hope Is Cut

Youth, Unemployment, and the Future in Urban Ethiopia

Daniel Mains

Publication Year: 2011

How do ambitious young men grapple with an unemployment rate in urban Ethiopia hovering around fifty percent? Urban, educated, and unemployed young men have been the primary force behind the recent unrest and revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. Daniel Mains' detailed and moving ethnographic study, Hope is Cut, examines young men's struggles to retain hope for the future in the midst of economic uncertainty and cultural globalization.

Through a close ethnographic examination of young men's day-to-day lives Hope is Cut explores the construction of optimism through activities like formal schooling, the consumption of international films, and the use of khat, a mild stimulant.

Mains also provides a consideration of social theories concerning space, time, and capitalism. Young men here experience unemployment as a problem of time—they often congregate on street corners, joking that the only change in their lives is the sun rising and setting. Mains addresses these factors and the importance of reciprocity and international migration as a means of overcoming the barriers to attaining aspirations.

Published by: Temple University Press

Series: Global Youth (GY)


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pp. vii

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Series Editors’ Preface

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pp. ix-x

Global social and economic changes are transforming the lives of children and youth. In many parts of the world, the decline of state welfare systems since the 1980s has undermined young people’s efforts to obtain social goods associated with “adulthood,” such as a stable job...

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pp. xi-xiii

The long process of researching and writing this book has extended across a range of times and places. At each point along the way, people have provided valuable advice and critiques. At Emory University Don Donham, Bruce Knauft, Hudita Mustafa, and Debra Spitulnik patiently...

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Introduction: Youth, Hope, Stratification, and Time

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pp. 1-23

In the mornings and evenings, when the sun does not burn with such an extreme intensity, the street corners of Jimma, Ethiopia, are crowded with unemployed young men. They stand with their hands in their pockets sharing gossip, cracking jokes, and occasionally tossing out a mild insult at a...

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1. The Historical and Cultural Roots of Unemploymentand Stratification in Urban Ethiopia

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pp. 25-42

Young men’s struggles for hope emerge out of the particular class and status hierarchies of urban Ethiopia. This chapter examines the history of the city of Jimma and changing patterns of stratification in urban Ethiopia more broadly. I begin by examining shifts in class and status...

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2. Imagining Hopeful Futures through Khat and Film

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pp. 43-66

A key dynamic of life for youth in Africa and much of the global south at the beginning of the twenty-first century has been the growing gap between aspirations for the future and economic realities. As young people fail to attain aspirations, they become frustrated with an inability to...

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3. “We Live Like Chickens; We Are Just Eating and Sleeping”: Progress, Education, and the Temporal Struggles of Young Men

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pp. 67-86

“We live like chickens; we are just eating and sleeping” was often repeated to me by young men who were frustrated with their inability to achieve their aspirations. They contrasted a life of “eating and sleeping” or “simply sitting” with one that involves “progress.”...

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4. Working toward Hope: Youth Unemployment, Occupational Status, and Values

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pp. 87-112

In his analysis of urban young men’s unemployment in Ethiopia, Pieter Serneels (2007) argues that long-term unemployment is largely a result of rational decision making aimed at economic maximization. “The average young unemployed man in urban Ethiopia has a strong incentive to wait in...

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5. Hopeful Exchanges: Reciprocity and Changing Dimensions of Urban Stratification

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pp. 113-134

During my first few months of living in Jimma and studying unemployed young men, I was continually confronted with an apparent mystery. The spectacle of unemployed young men standing about on the street was everywhere. These young men complained of joblessness and frequently...

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6. Spatial Fixes to Temporal Problems: Migration, Social Relationships, and Work

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pp. 135-153

In previous chapters I describe how young men experienced unemployment as a problem of time. Many young men believed that their temporal problems could be addressed with spatial solutions, particularly international migration, preferably to the United States or Europe. In the narratives of young...

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Conclusion: Sustaining Hope in the Present and the Future

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pp. 155-169

When I returned to Jimma in 2008, after being away for three years, I quickly noticed that the street corners were not nearly as crowded with young men as they had been in years past. Certainly idle young men could still be seen passing their time in the shade, but a definite...


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pp. 171-177


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pp. 179-186


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pp. 187-193

E-ISBN-13: 9781439904817
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439904800

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Global Youth (GY)