From Activism to Entrepreneurialism: Discourses to Manage Youth under Pressure in Amman

Authors: Holly Smith*, University of South Carolina
Topics: Middle East, Economic Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: Economic Geography, Youth Geography, Urbanism, Political Geography, Entrepreneurial Transformation, Neoliberalism, Middle East, Social Geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Studio 10, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines how urban youth in Amman, Jordan are affected by regional instability and resultant economic pressures. Amman’s accelerating neoliberal transformation, since King Abdullah II’s crowning in 1999, involves shifting from a rentier to a capitalist economy. Yet Jordan remains reliant on outside support which imposes neoliberal ideologies upon the kingdom. These shifting norms increase pressures upon Ammani youth already facing a complex economic social hierarchy with specific career paths dictated by lineage, the national high school exam, and honor. In this context, governmental rhetoric increasingly extols Jordanian youth as their primary resource, while simultaneously encouraging them to be peacemakers and entrepreneurs. As government services and employment possibilities contract, young people internalize new dreams of self-employment. Yet the time from college graduation to employment averages three years, and youth unemployment rates continue to rise- delaying adulthood and limiting chances for economic success. The overall increase in political tensions is pushing the government to try and redirect youth in productive ways which do not challenge the regime. To determine how this transformation of Jordan’s social contract impacts youth I conducted 60 semi-structured interviews, 5 focus panels, and a dozen cross generational interviews. My analysis is inspired by Benwell’s emerging youth geopolitical literature and critique’s traditional urban citizenship scholarship. My conclusion explores how the “stability first” discourse which dominates in Jordan since the Arab Spring situates and confines youth activism to entrepreneurial actions instead of political acts.

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