Young Actors in Transnational Agoras. Multi-sited Ethnography of Cosmopolitan Micropolitical Orientations

Sofia Laine

Original language of the publication is English.

This study examines young people’s political participation in transnational meetings. Methodologically the study aims to shed light on multi-sited global ethnography. Young people are viewed here as a social age group sensitive to critical, alternative and even radical political participation. The diversity of the young actors and their actions is captured by using several different methods. What is more, the study spurs us coming from the Global North to develop social science research towards methodological cosmopolitanism and to consider our research practices from a moral cosmopolitan perspective.

The research sites are the EU Presidency Youth Event (2006 Hyvinkää, Finland), the Global Young Greens Founding Conference (2007 Nairobi, Kenya), the European Social Forum (2008 Malmö, Sweden) and three World Social Forums (2006 Bamako, Mali; 2007 Nairobi Kenya and 2009 Belém, Brazil). The data consists of participant observation, documents and media articles of the meetings, interviews, photos, video, and internet data. This multidisciplinary study combines youth research, development studies, performative social science and political sociology.

In this research the diverse field of youth political participation in transnational agoras is studied by using a cross-table of cosmopolitan resources (or the lack of them) and everyday-makers – expert citizen dichotomy. First, the young participants of the EU Presidency youth event are studied as an example of expert citizens with cosmopolitan resources (these resources include, for example, language skills, higher education and international social network). Second, the study analyses those everyday-makers who use performative politics to demonstrate their political missions here and now. But in order to make the social movement global they need cosmopolitan resources to be able to use the social media tools and work globally.  Third, the study reflects upon the difficulties of reaching those actors who lack cosmopolitan resources, either everyday-makers or expert citizens. The go-along method and the use of the interpreters are shown as ways to reach these young people’s political missions. Fourth, the research underlines the importance of ‘contact zones’ (i.e. spaces or situations where the aforementioned orientations and their differences temporarily disappear or weaken) for deeper democracy and for boosted dialogue between different kinds of participants.

Keywords: political participation, young people, multi-sited ethnography, youth research, transnational politics, development studies, performative social science