chapter  12
28 Pages

Passages

In this chapter, I focus on how the social positioning of young men changes over time. I want to make the point that the cultural repertoires that young men identify with are not inherently personal and stable over the life course, but rather are related to particular phases of their lives. I use the word ‘passages’ to refer to these phases in order to emphasise that, just like young people in most parts of the world go through certain risky periods of their lives, in the anthropological literature referred to as rites de passages (Turner 1967), the vulnerabilities related to the social positioning of young men in my study also tend to be temporary. For instance, being a coconut was not necessarily a lifetime category. Coconuts tended to outgrow the derogatory category when they achieved visible status through education and work after they finished high school. Such newly achieved status seemed to make them less afraid of being associated with the wrong people in the township. By hanging out among people with township or gang repertoires, coconuts were likely to change their cultural repertoires from suburban to flexible. In other words, the temporary positioning as a coconut, and the consequential risks of victimisation in the townships, is a passage of extreme vulnerability. This passage eventually enables young men to achieve new forms of status that in a long-term perspective may be protective in terms of victimisation to crime.