Youth on the Move: performing urban space in the Global South

Dr Ying Cheng, Dr Min Tang, and Mr Anuj Daga

Funding period: 1 May 2023 – 31 July 2024
Type of funding: Seminar Series

Host institutions: Centre for African Studies, Peking University (China), Lagos Studies Association (Nigeria), French Institute of Pondicherry (India), College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University (China), and School of Environment and Architecture, University of Mumbai (India).
Dates: May 2023 (online), June 2023 (Lagos), October 2023 (online), and Spring 2024 (Beijing).
Lead organisers: Dr Ying Cheng (Peking University), Dr Min Tang (Tongji University), and Mr Anuj Daga (University of Mumbai)
Contact: Dr Ying Cheng

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Abstract: The neoliberal restructuring of the Southern cities has had a far-reaching effect on the ways in which youth move and perform urban space. Such urban condition has often trapped youth in a prolonged state of “waithood” or “boredom”. Howerer the youth constantly remake time and space of their everyday urban environment through “hustling” “circulating” or “detaching”, in turn formulating practices of desire and deviation for meaningful existence.

This seminar series observes emerging socio-spatial practices of youth in African and Asian contexts, and examines their modes of moving and meaning-making through an embodied politics of performance. The conceptual lens of ‘performance’ highlights the interplay between body and urban space and acknowledges the interconnectedness of young people’s lives and the spatial transformations of the city. While youth indexes a range of people across spectrums of class, gender, caste, including migrants, labour, women, early career researchers or students; practices of movement are oriented towards livelihoods, home making, political actions, translocal migration and artistic practices.

Through two virtual lecture series, an artist workshop in Nigeria (Africa), and an early career scholars’ workshop in China (Asia), the seminar series gathers urban scholars, architects, artists, curators and local youth groups and asks: how does the youth perform Southern urban space, and what practices of (im)mobility do they produce? The seminar series aims to unpack the multi-layered, mobile ‘Southern urbanity’ and promote interdisciplinary dialogues between southern scholars and artistic practitioners.

In addition to the USF Seminar Series Award, Dr Ying Cheng, Dr Min Tang, and Mr Anuj Daga also received a USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award in April 2024 (see below).

USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award: Youth On the Move: of Storytelling and Popular Mapping

Youth On the Move: of Storytelling and Popular Mapping is a rising initiative to create an Asia-Africa network with the goal of producing grounded knowledge. It includes a set of research and actions that look into how young people’s moving and waiting practices indicate their space-making, time-making, and meaning-making performance across radically changing urban spaces in Africa and Asia.

The first phase included an artistic workshop in Lagos, Nigeria, 10 online lectures with worldwide participants, and a methodological workshop for early career scholars in Shanghai, China. These events brought together valuable knowledge and led to a wealth of discussion within the newly formed Asia-Africa network. An exhibition and roundtable will be held in Surabaya, Indonesia, as well as a mapping workshop will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. These events of the second phase will bring the aforementioned views and stories to the public’s attention and strengthen the Asia-Africa network.

Youth on the Move (YOTM) investigates urbanities that youth produce on the move in/across these radically transforming spaces. It aims to decolonise knowledge production by:

(1) unpacking youth’s socio-spatial practices and meaning-making through embodied politics of performance in urban Africa and Asia;

(2) explicitly promoting South-South collaboration amongst researchers, and practitioners.

During the first phase (2023-2024), “Performing Urban Space in the Global South” gathered diverse knowledge and established new networks among Asian and African actors. The second phase (2024-2025), focusing on “Storytelling and Popular Mapping,” aims to strengthen these networks, convert collective knowledge into non-academic mediums, and develop innovative methods of knowledge dissemination, enhancing accessibility to the public. This phase includes an exhibition and roundtable based on the “50 stories of YOTM” (July 2024) in Indonesia and a “Critical Mapping” workshop (Winter 2025) in Sri Lanka, co-produced by partners from Asia and Africa.

In broadening the curatorial and methodological ambit of YOTM towards bridging the gaps between seminar halls and streets and fostering South- South dialogues, we ask:

–       What are the alternative ways of producing and archiving knowledge beyond academic publishing, and how can we make these approaches more visible?

–       How to engage with and acknowledge local communities in knowledge production and theoretical thinking?

–       Through which platforms and mediums, can academic research be translated into languages accessible to the public?

Under USF’s Knowledge Mobilisation Awards, YOTM aims to foreground these questions through action of diversifying knowledge production and consolidating the South-South research network for further long-term impacts.

Project Website