Subjects, Agents, or Collectives? The Discourse of Youth and Philosophy
AbstractThe present paper argues that the term "youth", which is traditionally used to refer both to young people of a certain age bracket and to a time of life between childhood and maturity has acquired distinctive yet contradictory meanings since the 19th century, and that the category of people, individuals, or persons that the concept describes or purports to analyze (the so-called young people, teenagers, pubescents, adolescents) may be regarded as subjects in the philosophical sense of being persons capable of intentional behaviour and to whom intentional predicates (beliefs and desires) can be ascribed but not, however, as a collective agent, with the capacity for goal-directed activity (such as, for example, political, social, or national transformation), in spite of the shift in the use of the concept from a singular to a collective noun. The paper argues further that the term "youth" is a vacuous concept, and thus lacks any philosophic or analytic significance or explanatory value in social theory and, especially, in philosophy, and that the discourse of youth which deploys the concept can only sustain the "politics of collective singularity" whereby a singular or a single collective subject or a parasitic structure usurps, or feeds on, the activity and capacity of empirical subjects (young people). The paper draws out the philosophic and practical-political implications of its central arguments - namely that young people, teenagers, pubescents, or adolescents those presumably described by the collective noun, "youth", do not, and cannot, articulate a coherent group - or age-based beliefs, desires, reasons, and action; cannot represent (or be the collective agency of) definite, historically-specific political-economic interests or relations in society; and, that, to the same extent, cannot be an agency of, or for; and indeed cannot be mobilized form; any form of enduring political action or social or national transformation.
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