- New Horizons:Youth at the Millennium
It would be difficult today to complain, as people were wont to do less than 10 years ago, that children and youth are ignored in the anthropological literature. Numerous edited collections on youth and childhood have appeared since the 1990s, and there is a steadily growing number of monographs. Remarkably, while most of these works support the development of a subdiscipline of "youth studies," they also speak to broader questions and problems that should interest anthropologists across the board. The works reviewed here, a selection of some of this new literature, give us [End Page 945] both a rich documentation of the variability of young people's lives around the world, and also offer sharp new perspectives on globalization and neoliberalism, on kinship and households, on social reproduction and the persistent theoretical tensions between "structure" and "agency," on the work (and play) of imagination, and on the increasingly interesting field of sentiment in the shape of love, hope, anxiety, pain, and pleasure.
In these books, then, we read about the lives of young people who eat just one meal a day or whose daily lives are directed towards obtaining food, and about those whose parents provide a continuous supply of snacks and treats in their rooms to save them the walk to the kitchen, or who dump unpopular foods into the trash and demand fresher, newer, more expensive fare. We read about children in whose lives work and play are continuously intertwined, about those for whom play and work have been entirely divided, and for whom adults work hard to develop commoditized forms of play for kids whose lives seem to lack it, about those for whom leisure is so consequential that it must be analyzed through the language of "tactics" and not the language of play. This is the classic anthropological terrain where differences themselves are fascinating because of their susceptibility to comparison along familiar axes—play, work, poverty, households, schooling, gender.
But we read these books (some more than others) for their contributions to social theory, and to compelling new problematics that are not the special domain of childhood or youth, or the similarly bounded domains of "China studies" or "African studies." It is not coincidental that studies of young people are opening new horizons in anthropology. Here, I am borrowing a very specific notion of the term "horizons" developed by Henrik Vigh through his readings of Reinhard Koselleck: a time-space that lies between what we have learned and know, and what "we might come to know, with our current social terrain flowing into both the past and the future" (Vigh, 31). Much as the study of women and gender opened up new ideas of power for anthropology, the study of young people raises questions of horizons, and especially of futurity (see also Cole and Durham, 2008). While the idea that children embody the future of a society is tied to the history of nationalism and modernization projects and is hardly universal, there is nonetheless a marked temporality to childhood and youth. Young people's activities produce, at least in part, the conditions in which they will live in the future, conditions that are going to be different than the ones in which those activities are undertaken. Their futures will involve [End Page 946] doing different activities, with different companions, and quite often in different households/places. These activities and placements need not be all that different from those of their parents—though they have probably never been simply a rote recapitulation of them. The current moment seems to be one, however, in which rapid social change is either pervasive, or is at least widely perceived to be so...