'Times have changed for real': children and youth and social change in central Rwanda

In this thesis, I explore the relationship between young people and institutional reproduction and change in Rwanda. I do this in two ways. First, I seek to understand how young Rwandans have perceived, experienced and responded to political and structural violence and the rapid introduction and expansion of the state and market system since colonialism. Second, I theorise how young peoples’ responses and everyday actions influence on-going processes of institutional reproduction. This work is based on ten months of historical and ethnographic (rural and urban) research in Rwanda from 2012 to 2013, and follow-up research in 2014. Five multigenerational family studies comprised the heart of this project.

My findings suggest that young people affect processes of institutional reproduction and change in consequential ways as they navigate life at the interface of multiple, competing institutional systems, ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’. I trace these effects in relation to young peoples’ kinship relations, education, and transitions to social adulthood. I argue that to the extent that young people engage with and reproduce the rules and resources of a given social institution (e.g. government, kinship, Church, market), they give the institution legitimacy and political space. However, while Rwanda’s young majority engage with multiple, competing institutions, most only have the resources to do so partially. As a result, they fail to fully realise opportunity and reward for their engagement, while their partial engagement with multiple institutions limits any one institution from becoming hegemonic. They reproduce both continuity and change.

Kirsten Pontalti
Research Student