Searching for Innocence at AAA

At the 116th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC the resident postdoc of the MediAfrica project contributed a poster entitled Coming of Age in Cape Town – searching for innocence in difficult transitions. The poster shows how visual narratives of youthhood in my own ethnographic material in crucial ways coincide with the stories told in two recent movies about coming of age in cape town, made by local film companies, and that they challenge how we conceptualize “youth” as a social category of transition.

Youth is conventionally a transition from pure childhood to mature adulthood. But in the disillusioned New South Africa it is the other way around: coming of age is a search for innocence. During 9 months of fieldwork among poor black families in Cape Town I collected video diaries from 19 young parents. Here the diaries of Matt and Jess are juxtaposed with images from the local feature films Noem My Skollie and Tess. The pixelated intimacy of Matt and Jessica's diaries contrast with the professional and clean footage from the movies. But these stories of coming of age told by Capetonians in 2017 have a common telos. They depict childhood as ruined by abuse and violence and transitions to adulthood as a search for purity and new beginnings. Aspirations for respectable adulthood are shaped by the experience of transitions that do not offer the healing and transformation promised. 

Thanks goes out to, Matt, Jess, Meg Rickards and David Max Brown for sharing stories, photos and videos.