The Politics of Aging: Globalization and the Restructuring of Youth and Childhood



This paper explores the ways that constitutive elements of globalization—including a celebration of risk, reduction in state funding for social reproduction in developed nations and pressures to modernize in underdeveloped ones—are being “smuggled in” in the guise of new discourses around youth and childhood. Far from being a byproduct of capitalism in its various phases, youth and childhood can be located at its literal and figurative core.

In a crude characterization of the global map as it has emerged in over the past twenty years, one would find a world drawn roughly into three parts—and in each of these parts, youth and childhood is being restructured in a distinct way. These divisions look suspiciously like the earlier global models of developed, developing and underdeveloped nations, but the nature of the exclusions that sustain them spell particularly bad news for the world's young people. Modern ideals of youth and childhood that became hegemonic in the West over the past century are being exported to non-Western contexts in which resources to adequately reproduce these forms are sadly lacking. At the same time, in Western settings over the past two decades, such resources have been eroded for children and young people, and celebrated aspects of “youthfulness” have been displaced to adults to justify lifelong learning and the increasing assumption of risk by older workers.

The paper urges a move away from the study of behaviors of “children and adults” as static categories and towards an exploration of shifting norms and forms of “childhood and aging” as dynamic processes that both help to constitute and are constituted by a new political economy.