Becoming an adult is a momentous experience in the lives of young people. This period comes with a variety of exciting new responsibilities and an overall shift in one’s sense of identity within their communities. In recent times, scholars have indicated that increasingly, young people are understanding adulthood based on self-ascribed character traits and values, as opposed to external societal milestones. Yet, this process can be influenced by culture and context. For example, in certain ‘Western’ contexts, for some youth from migrant and refugee communities, this process of becoming an adult can be a complex negotiation of cultural norms, as they are both (a) making sense of their cultural identity in a new home country and (b) making sense of their cultural identity as young adults.
In our Identities article, ‘Eighteen just makes you a person with certain privileges’: the perspectives of Australian Sudanese and South Sudanese youths regarding the transition to adulthood’, we set out to better understand Australian Sudanese/South Sudanese youths’ views on becoming adults. The timing of our study was pertinent, because during this time these young people were receiving intense public and political attention in the media, which questioned their overall belonging in Australia. These media representations were in response to criminal events, allegedly involving youth from these communities, and were heavily racialised, framing these young people as dangerous ‘outsiders’.
Public and political discourses questioning the belonging of these youth in Australia – and by extension their Australian identity – is an example of how ‘Australian-ness’ is curated through the lens of ‘white’ Anglo-Celtic norms. Subsequently, this can create challenges for some young people who are making sense of, and constructing, their identity narratives as young ‘Australian’ adults.
We found that participants’ perspectives on the transition to adulthood were relatively consistent with previous research that becoming an adult was linked to character traits/values (e.g. a sense of responsibility for one’s self and others). However, for the most part, this conceptualisation of adulthood was viewed with an emphasis on collective identity and its purpose within community. A key example was the importance placed on being a role model for others. This was indicated as being especially important during a time when the dominant narrative of African Australian youth in the public domain was linked to criminality.
Additionally, youth participants explicitly highlighted the importance of having opportunities to enact their perspectives of the identity ‘adult’. For example, the ability to be a provider within one’s community by way of meaningful employment was seen as an important responsibility of being an adult. Yet, many pointed to diminished opportunity to find employment, which may be linked to discrimination perpetuated by negative public and political attention. As we state in our article, ‘While one may be able to possess a sense of self as being an adult… when faced with barriers to enact associated responsibilities and behaviours linked to these, this can have an impact on one’s perspective of the success of their transition to adulthood’.
Blog post by Luke Macaulay and Joanne Deppeler, Monash University, Australia
Read the full article: Macaulay, Luke & Deppeler, Joanne. ‘Eighteen just makes you a person with certain privileges’: the perspectives of Australian Sudanese and South Sudanese youths regarding the transition to adulthood. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1844517