Enacting Youth: political agency and youth subjectivities in Tactic, Guatemala
Paz Lemus, Lillian Tatiana
Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Tactic, Guatemala, this dissertation explores the articulation of youth subjectivities and political agency in a context of social and political inequality. This research focuses on individual and collective lived experience, and how youth’s political agency is performed, and how it is informed by different life trajectories. Addressing agency as action or engagement that is socially and temporally embedded, the dissertation demonstrates the intrinsic ties with the specific subjectivities youth agency challenges or reproduces. Subjectivity, in turn, is presented as the construction of selfhood based on specific ideological frameworks that respond to specific power arrangements. Through intimate descriptions of particular events in the lives of young Tactiqueños and Tactiqueñas between the ages of 15 and 30 years old, I show how youths challenge and negotiate the possibilities of being, while also producing and reproducing their subjection. Understanding “youth” as a contested field in the political sphere, the dissertation provides an ethnographic recount of how young people carve out a space of their own in the local government and work toward expanding the political agency of their peers. Through this process, a collective agentive practice comes to life, thus enabling and constricting youth’s action in the public sphere. Understanding agency as a relational process allows us to overcome the need to address it as an individual capacity or asset. By grounding agency as a socially embedded process enacted by particular subjects that act collectively in the public sphere, we bring into light a plural understanding of the self. As Tactic’s youths face patriarchy, racism, corruption, and political opportunism through individual and collective agentive actions, they learn what is expected of them and how larger social arrangements are set up. These lessons inform their own aspirations and expectations of local and national political life. Through this focus on practice, we see a wide array of intentional and unintentional actions in the process of enacting youth, with individual and collective experiences that relate to both imagined possibilities and real-world actions.