“We Will Not Follow You Like Sheep”: Literacy, Officialdom, and Generational Politics in the Digital Age

Monday, 24 April, 2023 - 16:00

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This paper examines digital media contents created by young Guineans on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube which all foreground literacy as a site of generational contention and struggle. Recognizing that to be part of a generation is simultaneously to follow and to precede, I interrogate the emergent Guinean digital archive to reveal what youths find necessary to preserve and discard from prior generations. I contend that literacy, broadly conceived, continues to be a ground onto which connections with a ruptured past and uncertain future are fought over, drawn, and severed (Rivière, 1971; Straker, 2009). The creation of social media content and the affordances of digital technologies offer a new generation of Guineans the possibility to weave together lines of filiations across generations, past and future, and thus, participate in what Bernadette Cailler, drawing on the work of Edouard Glissant, calls the ‘acquisition of a feeling of duration’ (Cailler, 1988: 56; Glissant, 1997). My contention is that to make sense of generational politics in the digital age, we need to engage with debates about filiation and genealogy in African and Afro-diasporic scholarship where discussions of ruptures and continuations with the past, present, and future have been taken up with great vigor. Mudimbe’s discussion of ‘false fathers’ or Kisukidi’s work on ‘grand-motherhood’ provide here particularly useful concepts for thinking through the links between literacy, digital technology, generation, and political power not just in Guinea, or Africa, but across the Global South. Dominant understandings and much scholarship on youth and social media emphasizes the newness of the medium, foregrounding change, ruptures, and turns as categories of analysis. Categories such as digital natives, millennials, gen z, tend to divide the world in easily digestible chunks by foregrounding dichotomies, “us” versus “them,” “before” and “after” (boyd, 2014: 179). They act as founding myths for the creation of the digital world, re-inscribing it within a singular chain of filiation, ‘its work setting out upon a fixed linearity of time,’ to borrow Glissant’s words (1997a: 47). Outside of a Western context, the notions of “native” and “immigrant” take on further layers of meanings deeply enmeshed in colonial histories, “native” politics, and the “invention of Africa,” to borrow Mudimbe’s phrase (1988). Turning to African and Afro-diasporic theory, where questions of filiation, distorted histories, and creative compositions have been explored in depth, helps us tell a different story by generational change and digital technologies. In that sense this paper is deeply about Guinea, but is also an invitation to rethink the relationship of generation and the digital, and a method of doing both in Guinea but also elsewhere.

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