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Youth Citizenship in Divided Societies

Mapping the spaces of citizenship and belonging

With the YouCitizen research project, we are engaged in examining how young people experience citizenship within the context of conflict. In post-conflict settings, histories of violence and division reverberate through communities, families, and the everyday spaces of young people such as homes and schools. Collective memories of past events are embedded in the urban landscape and work to shape young peoples' feelings of belonging. Post-conflict youth development projects (and indeed a great deal of research about youth) tend to focus on how young people are authors of their own future. While celebrating this, it's also important to understand how young peoples' lives are shaped - if not determined - by the past. At the same time, young people actively make sense of, engage with, critique and seek to change their circumstances in the present. Capturing how this complex temporality is embedded in the everyday lives and spaces of young people, however, is a real methodological challenge.

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The YouCitizen research team have recently begun experimenting with combining digital story-telling and digital mapping to produce and explore individual narratives that unfold within and weave together past memories, future hopes, and present action. To do this we have trained teams of Youth Researchers in Beirut and Sarajevo in story–telling techniques, interviewing, photography, and digital video editing in order to produce their own digital stories. With these skills the Youth Researchers produce their own autobiographical stories and work to co-produce other digital stories through interviews with peers and other community members. What unifies all the stories is a focus on everyday places and routines in the city and how they are made meaningful through the memories, stories, and dreams of the people who live there. Once completed, these digital stories will be embedded in an online interactive map in order to illustrate how these individual narratives emerge and intersect with the urban environment and with one another.

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By constructing their digital stories using images and sounds taken from their daily lives, as well as archival photographs and other aural and visual artefacts, this research process underscores how young people are shaped by and also work to shape their surrounding environment. Likewise, by co-constructing these stories through peer and elder interviews we hope to emphasize how individual stories are not authored in isolation, but co-produced with others. Finally, by mapping these stories in the form of places and routes – dots and lines on a map – we hope to highlight how young people's lives spatially intersect or diverge in the city in different ways. Of interest here is how old divisions embedded in the urban landscape may have shifted. Likewise, we hope the resulting interactive story map will be used not only by outsiders interested in gaining a glimpse of the lives of young people in Beirut and Sarajevo, but also by young people and youth organisations within these cities who may be seeking to learn about and engage with other young people from different backgrounds living in areas that may otherwise seem foreign or inaccessible.

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In Beirut, we are conducting this creative digital storytelling and mapping project in collaboration with Nahnoo, a Beirut-based organisation that focuses on youth empowerment, conflict resolution, and promoting citizenship through public space. Together with Nahnoo, we recruited 6 motivated Youth Researchers – 3 men and 3 women – who come from diverse backgrounds. Since undertaking their initial training in March, the Youth Researchers have enthusiastically produced about 30 digital stories, which will be embedded in the online interactive map. Fascinating themes are already emerging from these stories. The family and home stand out as sites closely related to a sense of safety, stability, and security. At the same time, many stories also seek to uncover and celebrate the many sites and routes in Beirut where people from different backgrounds mix and come together. There are many biographies and day-in-the-life stories of particular neighbourhoods where this social mixing is a feature of life. Given Nahnoo's advocacy efforts in promoting public space in general, and specifically for opening Horsh Beirut park (see also our previous blog on this topic), it is no surprise that the Horsh features in a number of stories as a place of respite and a place of possibility where people might come together and heal. The mapping project is also beginning to serve as a repository for oral histories of the neighbourhoods around the Horsh, neighbourhoods which are undergoing urban transformation.

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In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), we are conducting similar digital storytelling and mapping with two youth organisations – the Youth Council of Central Sarajevo and Motus Adulescenti – from Sarajevo and East Sarajevo respectively. The mapping project has only just been launched in June, but already the 6 youth researchers there (4 women and 2 men) are completing their own autobiographical stories and eagerly interviewing friends, family, neighbours, and other community members for their stories. Already different themes of belonging are emerging, from the sense of belonging one gets from being a football supporter, to the sense of belonging that is missing when relocating to a new school or community, a common experience for many in BiH. We look forward to seeing the final stories and the final story maps once they are produced. We will make them available on this website as soon as they are.

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David Marshall - Durham, UK

30 June 2015

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Durham University, Department of Geography
Lower Mountjoy, South Road, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK
YouCitizen Via @NPR: Decrying Hair Rule, South African Students Demand To Be 'Naturally Who We Are' https://t.co/jXr1wttiXU

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