Rethinking Youth Bulge Theory and Threat Discourse in Melanesia: Listening In, and Connecting With Young People in Papua New Guinea

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Kaiku, Patrick
melanesia-papua new guinea
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In this study I critique the youth bulge theory through the ethnographic sketches of five young Papua New Guineans. Youth bulge theory is a demographic-based global discourse that has become prevalent in the sphere of security studies. In recent discussions on issues of development in the Pacific Islands, commentators argue that Melanesia is contending with growing and increasingly violence-prone generations of male youth. In this thesis, I propose that this that youth bulge theory as applied to Melanesian societies disregards the social and cultural dynamics of the context it purports to describe. I argue Papua New Guineans everyday lived experiences clearly problematize and bring to light oversimplifications of youth bulge discourse. The findings of this research posit that the cross-cutting and extended networks among younger generations of Papua New Guineans are a positive source of strength and stability largely ignored by youth bulge theorists. The culturally valued creation of extended social relationships is a critical dimension of the demographic milieu that youth bulge theory should take into account. I argue large-scale urban youth disengagement in PNG and Melanesia is a consequence of corrosive cross-cutting global influences that contemporary PNG society is reproducing. Rather than subscribing to the gloomy predictions of a Melanesia that is increasingly susceptible to youth-initiated crises and revolutions, I find that young Papua New Guineans are beholden to a range of positive socio-cultural linkages with which they identify. Context specificity and the inclusion of socio-cultural variables provide alternative ways of re-thinking the youth bulge theory in Papua New Guinea and Melanesia more generally. Youth bulge theory could become more empowering for policymakers if it were more attentive to the peoples and cultures it describes.