"We are just sitting and waiting": Aspirations, Unemployment, and Status among Young Men in Jimma, Ethiopia Open Access

Mains, Daniel Carl (2007)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/8k71nh34h?locale=en


My dissertation is based on eighteen months of research conducted in Jimma, Ethiopia, a city of 120,000. Jimma is typical of urban Ethiopia in that unemployment rates for youth are close to fifty percent. The dissertation examines the manner in which unemployed and working youth, primarily young men, negotiate aspirations for the future, local notions of status, and economic opportunity. I argue that tension between work as a source of income and a means of constructing identity provides the basis for rethinking unemployment and the analytical value of theories of neoliberal capitalism.

A key component of the dissertation is an analysis of youth aspirations in relation to consumption of global media, education, and notions of family and marriage. Young men's aspirations are intertwined with social relationships in that they seek to move from a position of dependence to one in which they are able to provide material support to others. The inability of young men to fulfill their aspirations leads them to experience unstructured time as an overly abundant and potentially dangerous quantity, allowing for an interesting contrast with analyses of boredom in western contexts. Related to young men's problems of time is their struggle to actualize ideals surrounding marriage, raising children, and fulfilling localized notions of masculinity. For young men, everyday activities like the consumption of international films and chat (a mild stimulant) facilitate the imaginative construction of international migration as a solution to their problems of time. Migration is thought to enable a shift in the interconnections between production, time, and social relationships so that young men are able to experience progress.

Youth aspirations have a reciprocal relationship with status, which in turn shapes economic behavior. Within the dissertation status is analyzed primarily in terms of work. I engage with the anthropological literature on the relationship between wealth in people and wealth in things, and gift exchange in order to analyze the complex interconnections between class and status. This analysis supports a conceptualization of employment that gives more attention to the manner in which work positions one within social relationships.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 2. Historical and Cultural Background 3. Time, Consumption, and Imagination 4. Aspirations, Progress, and Migration: Solving Problems of Time Through Spatial Movement 5. Occupation and Status 6. Occupational Choice and Values 7. Patterns of Reciprocity and Hierarchies of Status 8. Class, Status, and Inequality 9. Conclusion Glossary Bibliography Tables 1. Medians of Unemployed Youth Gift Income in Relation to Parental Wealth, Head of Household Gender, Parental Occupation, and Zemed

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