Borders and Migration

Fresh contact: Youth, migration, and atmospheres in India

This paper uses long-term research in an Indian village to develop Karl Mannheim’s notion of each generation’s ‘fresh contact’ with their inherited social and environmental setting. I examine how a generation of young people re-apprehend their local environment following a period of migration. I argue that young people aged between 25 and 34 who have lived outside their locality re-appraise their village economically and spiritually when they return home. I point to the social nature of this ‘fresh contact’, its spatial character, and the high degree of reflexivity that young men display in discussing their own agency as a generation – a point that emerged especially clearly in their discussion of the term ‘mahaul,’ a Hindi word meaning ‘atmosphere’. The paper contributes to geographical and anthropological work on youth agency by highlighting the utility of notions of fresh contact in specific social conjunctures, such as the migration of a particular cohort. At the same time, it suggests the importance of placing alongside Mannheim’s work an explicit focus on the spatial nature of fresh contact, the sociality that constitutes cohorts as generations, and young people’s reflexive capacity to theorise their generational agency.

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Volume 37 Issue 2