Elusive Adulthoods:The Anthropology of New Maturities
Elusive Adulthoods examines why, within the past decade, complaints about an inability to achieve adulthood have been heard around the world. By exploring the changing meaning of adulthood in Botswana, China, Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Sri Lanka, Uganda, and the United States, contributors to this volume pose the problem of “What is adulthood?” and examine how the field of anthropology has come to overlook this meaningful stage in its studies. Through these case studies we discover different means of recognizing the achievement of adulthood, such as through negotiated relationships with others, including grown children, and as a form of upward class mobility. We also encounter the difficulties that come from a sense of having missed full adulthood, instead jumping directly into old age in the course of rapid social change, or a reluctance to embrace the stability of adulthood and necessary subordination to job and family. In all cases, the contributors demonstrate how changing political and economic factors form the background for generational experience and understanding of adulthood, which is a major focus of concern for people around the globe as they negotiate changing ways of living.
People who were born in the USSR in the 1970s and were in their thirties at the time of my fieldwork in 2009–11, questioned their adulthood in ways that are different from other parts of the world. Whereas many others are finding adulthood “unattainable” or “elusive” (see Durham’s introduction to this volume), perestroika teens wonder whether adulthood had somehow passed them by. Given the intersection of culture, history, and personal experiences, many find their adulthood fleeting, squeezed between being “too young” and “already old.” The maturation of perestroika teens was already questionable because lingering Soviet ideals glamorized childhood and youth as the locus of moral agency, contrasted with the “unmarked” (see introduction), but vaguely traumatic and morally compromised by routine, world of adults. This departure from a “happy Soviet childhood” was further complicated by the disappointments of the 1990s when none of the various social and moral strategies helped them build a good foundation for a professional career. In 2010, they often felt they belonged “neither here, nor there”; in other words, split between Soviet and post-Soviet moral orders, and between their glamorized childhood and questionable adulthood. A growing realization that being just a few years older or younger would have changed their life opportunities and the way they experienced adulthood reinforced the disappointment. Finally, pro-natalist policies and discourses that dominated the public sphere in Russia in the 2000s helped to seal the “has-been, already old” sentiment among these men and women.