Thesis: Learning to rebel: Socialist youth activism in contemporary Buenos Aires (2001)


This dissertation focuses on the contemporary culture of politics in Buenos Aires, Argentina, through an ethnographic account of the thoughts and activities of the members of the Democratic Socialist Party of Argentina’s youth wing (Juventud Partido Socialista Democratíco, JPSD). I examine how the youths in the JPSD attempt to give meaning to their lives in a nation with a continuing history of economic and political violence and instability. While conveying the narratives of these youths–their hopes, dreams, frustrations, successes, failures–I also take up a larger concern: how to understand the dynamic processes of political identity formation. I highlight and examine the workings of the interrelationships of youth, history, social memory, ideology, economics, social-geography, family, and social peers. For my study, understanding these relationships is essential in order to understand the full story of how these youths came to be political activists for the Socialist Party. To situate the thoughts and actions of these youths within the academic literature I critique much of the scholarship on youth and youth activism and offer a more complex analysis of the “socialization” process. I also had to create a new space within the literature to locate their social and political activities that, due to their inventiveness, are being missed by both the literature on social movements and on party politics. I thus offer an ethnographically informed analysis of identity formation, politics, cultural change, and agency.

Photography in ethnography . As an experienced filmmaker and an award-winning photographer, I have always paid close attention to the visual world. In my ethnography I attempt to use photographs in a more integrative and meaningful manner than the illustrative role they usually play (i.e. “here is a ‘typical’ hut/house”). Sometimes the images are mixed in with my theoretical discussion and written text (cf. Chapter 4), in other places they stand alone as “galleries.” In all cases, I intend for the powerful communicative properties of still photographs to deepen and enrich my ethnography, to express aspects of Argentine society and culture that are best communicated visually.