Finnish Youth Research Network
Political Solidarities in Youth Research
A seminar hall in the prosperous 5th district of Paris city centre. A lively scientific conference on postcolonial memory is under way. Panelists discuss whether and how the suburbs in Paris carry the postcolonial memory. Suddenly, a group of young people stand up and demand to be heard. They address their question to a journalist on the panel. The journalist is generally regarded as a responsive writer on urban realities, and has recently published an article on the suburb that these young people live in. The young people demand an explanation as to why this journalist suddenly lost his insightful capacity to sensitively listen and understand the context – and instead wrote his article on suburban problems in a simplifying and demonizing manner. According to these young people, the journalist succeeded in reinforcing rather than questioning the petrified idea of the postcolonial city with its stratified cartography based on hierarchies of differences. These young people, who had themselves been interviewed by this journalist, are angry, frustrated and humiliated. The “critical and engaged” scholars on the panel look distinctly uncomfortable, but seem more or less inclined to support the organizers, who show the youngsters out. Physically violent incidents are close.
With this unexpected performance in mind I ponder about the challenges of doing “wandering ethnography” in multicultural urban surroundings. These challenges have to do, among others, with the researcher’s sensitivity, legitimacy, loyalty and responsibility in relation to the contested fields and politics of knowledge. This methodological reflection discloses some mutable modes of contemporary political solidarities that the youth researcher must deal with, in terms of their own research engagement. The processes of engaged listening and talking may involve diverse scientific and political compromises as well as personal vulnerabilities.