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Emanuela Buscemi and Ildiko Kaposi (eds.), Everyday Youth Cultures in the Gulf Peninsula: Changes and Challenges

Laurent Bonnefoy
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London: Routledge, 2021, 261 p.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Sulaiman Al-Farsi, Democracy and Youth in the Middle East. Islam, Tribalism and the Rentier State i (...)
  • 2 Mai Yamani, Changed Identities. The Challenge of the New Generation in Saudi Arabia, London : Chath (...)

1While many academics and institutions acknowledge the centrality of youth groups in the Arab world, research focusing on such a category, broadly defined through age, is only emerging. This is particularly true when it comes to the Arabian Peninsula. A list of notable pioneer works would include Sulaiman Al-Farsi’s book on Oman published in 2013 which focused particularly on issues of political participation1, and Mai al-Yamani’s Changed Identities on Saudi Arabia published more than two decades ago2.

  • 3 Pascal Ménoret, Joyriding in Riyadh. Oil, Urbanism and Road Revolt, Cambridge: Cambridge University (...)
  • 4 Laurent Bonnefoy and Myriam Catusse (eds.), Shabâb al-‘arab. Min al-maghrab ilâ al-yaman. Awqât al- (...)

2In the Peninsula, demography and cultural processes place youth at the core of meaningful dynamics and states claim to consider them a priority in their public policies. Yet, among academics, the category is frequently ill defined, and “youth studies” remains a rather marginal sub-field. Considering this, Everyday Youth Cultures in the Gulf Peninsula aims to help fill a gap by delving into the concrete practices, those that often remain unheard of due to their own ordinariness. Rather than being centered on more or less exceptional political mobilizations, the contributions of the book then intend to focus on wide spread cultural practices and experiences. It thus somewhat pursues the fruitful approach already developed in Pascal Ménoret’s research on taf/hît in Saudi cities3 as well as a few others4.

3The methodological approach favored by Emanuela Buscemi and Ildiko Kaposi has a clear comparative intent, getting its inspiration from work carried out in other regions, in particular Europe, to break from the so-called exception paradigm that structures certain approaches to the Arabian Peninsula. In the 12 chapters and consistent introduction and conclusion, the contributors part from culturalist approaches to highlight practices that are often shared by similar age groups elsewhere but that, in the particular context of the Peninsula, can take new meaning. The emphasis put on the relationship youths establish with wider society appears as relevant, in particular to stress the constraints generated by authoritarian environments, as much as patriarchic and largely conservative structures. In the conclusion, reflections on the nature of social change and modernization as opposed to political revolutions are thought provoking and give perspective to the rationale of the volume.

4Practices linked to education, love, creativity and work are explored by a range of talented, often young, researchers stemming from different academic and disciplinary horizons, with many of them being affiliated with scientific institutions in the Gulf monarchies, in particular Kuwait. The edited volume is in itself a great opportunity to discover their work and understand how these universities and research centers are increasingly active in analyzing the societies that harbor them. Be it for this reason, the book deserves to be praised. It stems from a workshop held in Cambridge in July 2019 at the yearly Gulf Research Meeting. One can appreciate the hastiness of the publication process, taking less than a year and half to see this collective volume hit the market.

5Endeavors in practices of veganism in Kuwait, in celebrations of Valentine’s Day in Oman, or in the reception of Islamic education in the United Arab Emirates are all stimulating additions to our collective understanding of the contemporary Arabian Peninsula. The book exemplifies how vivid the field of social science studies is, and how innovative fieldwork can offer a most-welcome breath of scientific fresh air.

6In its first section, the book analyses youth engagement spaces highlighting how leisure and culture are in themselves transforming political equilibria but also subverting, as in Kuwait, traditional forms of expression like the diwaniyya. The second batch of chapters highlights the more or less explicit tensions between youth cultural practices and ‘traditions’ and the way they are negotiated both by youth groups and society as a whole. The third highlights a number of innovative sociabilities imagined by young women and men, including for instance in the framework of female entrepreneurship. Finally, the last segment looks into the way education is undergoing significant change, in particular as it is now connected with transnational dynamics. The structure of the book is balanced; it focuses on practices which are varied and that are far from only marginal or linked to the liberal upper-class. Focus on the foreign part of Gulf societies, for example on Indian youth networks in Dubai, adds another layer to a form of holistic approach. This is clearly an asset of the volume, which does justice to segments of society which, for instance, engage in charity work with religious organizations and appear critical of so-called consumerist western values. The absence of bluntly controversial quotidian practices, linked to drugs, sexuality, or violence offers a rather polished image of youth in the Gulf monarchies, one that governments themselves will have little difficulty endorsing.

7This being said, one can be puzzled by the choice of the editors to coin the area covered by the book as “the Gulf Peninsula”, a label that is unheard of and remains unexplained, in particular as Yemen, the seventh society of the Peninsula and the only one which justifies the existence of “Peninsula” studies rather than the dominant “Gulf” studies, is not covered by the book. One could also have appreciated a discussion of the youth label which is coined differently by the various authors, at times as an age group, otherwise as a constructed social category. Certainly, these quibbles do not contradict the fact Everyday Youth Cultures in the Arabian Peninsula is a welcome contribution to an important sub-field of the social sciences in the region.

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Notes

1 Sulaiman Al-Farsi, Democracy and Youth in the Middle East. Islam, Tribalism and the Rentier State in Oman, London : IB Tauris, 2013, 279 p. ;

2 Mai Yamani, Changed Identities. The Challenge of the New Generation in Saudi Arabia, London : Chatham House, 2000, 170 p.

3 Pascal Ménoret, Joyriding in Riyadh. Oil, Urbanism and Road Revolt, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, 263 p.

4 Laurent Bonnefoy and Myriam Catusse (eds.), Shabâb al-‘arab. Min al-maghrab ilâ al-yaman. Awqât al-farâgh, thaqafât wa al-siyâsât, Beirut : al-dâr al-‘arabiya lil-‘ulûm nâshirûn, 2017, 406 p. ; Linda Herrera and Asef Bayat (eds.), Being Young and Muslim. New Cultural Politics in the Global South and North, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, 448 p.

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Laurent Bonnefoy, « Emanuela Buscemi and Ildiko Kaposi (eds.), Everyday Youth Cultures in the Gulf Peninsula: Changes and Challenges », Arabian Humanities [En ligne], 15 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2022, consulté le 20 mai 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cy/7271 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/cy.7271

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Laurent Bonnefoy

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