Yahia BENYAMINA, PhD candidate,
The research center in social and cultural anthropology, Oran, Algeria
Multi-positionality refers to the situation where the engaged young bring together different forms of involvement when engaging in the public life. These forms can be formal or informal, manifest, or latent. Investigating youth as a multi-positioned in the public sphere arises from my fieldwork on youth political engagement in the Algerian context, as well as from the review of the literature on youth politics in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Within this vision, I challenged mainly the tradition that approaches youth engagement through the rigid separation between formal and informal forms of political participation. Multi-positionality offers a more dynamic vision that analyzes formal and informal forms of engagement as intertwined. Young people try to take advantage of the existing spaces of participation to strengthen their presence in the public sphere. Furthermore, multi-positionality highlights the power of the youth agency. Depending on a specific understanding of the political sphere, the young activist combines different forms of political engagement in a way that enables him to navigate his position in the public sphere or influence the political process. In what follow, I show patterns of muti-positionality that young people people implement, and then I move to explain why they use it.
Patterns of multi-positionality
According to my interviews, the following multi-positionalities have emerged among young people:
1) Combining activism in a political party with activism in associations and vice versa;
2) Bringing together trade union activism with the political party and vice versa;
3) Associating trade union activism with the engagements in associations and vice versa;
4) Combining the activism in a political party with the engagements in a protest movement and vice versa;
5) Uniting trade union activism with a protest movement;
6) Uniting associative activism with a protest movement;
7) Incorporate online activism;
8) Combining all of these formes together at once;
It should be noted that the interdependence between these forms of engagement depends on the strategy of the engaged young person. In some cases, associative engagement, for example, is an annex to the engagement in a political party, of which associations only function as a support to the former (e.g facilitate connection with society, to get popularity through doing a charitable and social free work). In other cases, associative engagement is the main space for activism, while engagement to a political party only seeks to facilitate connections with public authorities (e.g. getting help when applying for funds, administrative authorizations, to get spaces for organizing events).
Seeking for independence in the public space
“I am not equivalent to a political party or an association because it is I who create these things. These groups became known through my creations and ideas, and it is not the inverse that I have become known due to them”.
This quote comes from Fethi, a 23-year-old young man who is active in a pro-regime political party and in several associations at the same time. It highlights to what extent multi-positionality can be explained by the distanced engagement practice that starts spreading in the public sphere. This type of engagement reinforces independence in the space of activism, and in which self-assertiveness and individuality precede the group domination. However, this type weakens the permanent ties with organizations and groups of engagement, making mobility and the diversification of involvements as frequent practice. Many young people I have met affirmed their desire to not remain limited to a political party or an association. While they want beyond the multiplication of engagements to live and discover new experiences, they also seek independence from any one-way affiliation and hierarchical relationships. In other words, young people want to be the creators of their engagements, their networks, and actions, to invest in their engagement rather than to be only invested by it.
Against political exclusion
Another reason for using multi-positionality is political exclusion. By multiplying and diversifying the schemes of engagement, young people strengthen their opportunities for inclusion in the public space considered hitherto as authoritarian and having practices of exclusion. However, depending on the socio-demographic situation and political affiliation, different forms of marginalization appear; and in which multi-positionality is used consequently in a specific way. Demographically, it appeared that low levels of income and education, as well as women, are the most sensitive to marginality. The use of multi-positionality in these cases is seen as a repositioning strategy. The main objective is to be known and to gain popularity that makes these disadvantaged categories more able to negotiate positions in political parties, elections, and important political events. From the view of political affiliation, young people from opposition political parties have linked exclusion to authoritarian practices imposed by the political regime. Their uses of multi-positional engagement are part of a strategy that resists the regime through the development of actions coming from below, especially within civil society and involvement in protest movements.
The limits of political parties
Multi-positioning engagements find also reasons in the weakness of political parties. Interviewed young people repeatedly stressed that political parties are facing a negative public opinion, lacking in confidence and credibility, and are poor in mobilizing citizens. Therefore, addressing citizens directly through a political party is seen useless and may distort reputation in the public arena. This is why young people prefer to vary their ways of engagement and use them according to situations and contexts. Sometimes, they get involved in associations to carry out charitable, humanitarian, solidarity, or educational activities for political purposes. In another time, they join a protest movement to get the support of demonstrators. This diversification will turn the attention to the person of the engaged young, and not to his ideological or political belonging, which reinforces, in turn, his popularity and his image in the eyes of citizens.
Can multi-positionality be explained as a generational response?
The generational response refers to the situation in which young people interact with different conditions during their transition to adulthood. These conditions; once internalized and conscious; can mark them with ideas, modes of practices, and a vision of the world different from that existing in previous generations. Current youth’s multi-positionality as a way of doing politics can be interpreted in the framework of their arrival to politics in a context that has been largely influenced by the transition of the Algerian political regime to political pluralism since 1989. Since then, several political parties and civil society organizations have emerged. Moreover, their era was marked by the proliferation of protest movements and the rise of social media and online politics. All of this created more opportunities for engagement and diversified the existing choices. This diversity in the public sphere, even still regarded as impregnated by authoritarian practices, is the product of their historical era that was not available for the previous generations when they were young. However, it is early to recognize multi-positionality as a generational mark embodied in youth political practice as the generational effect does not take shape and visibility in the public space until the transition of young people to adulthood, that is to say when they get positions in the social system that allow them to lead changes.
Nadine Sika. (2018). Civil Society and the Rise of Unconventional Modes of Youth Participation in the MENA. Middle East Law and Governance 10(3), 237-263
Ratiba Hadj-Moussa. (2019). Youth and activism in Algeria. The question of political generations, The Journal of North African Studies, DOI: 10.1080/13629387.2019.1665289
Sean Yom et al. (2019). Youth Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.Pomeps Studies, N° 36, p.p 3-6
Thieux, L. (2019). Algerian youth and the political struggle for dignity: evolution, trends and new forms of mobilisation. The Journal of North African Studies, doi:10.1080/13629387.2019.1665288
 In the framework of my doctoral research, I have conducted 40 interviews with engaged young people in Oran city (Algeria) between mid-2017 and early 2019. The interviewed cases included 28 men and 12 women, aged between 20-33 years, in which 30 have a university level and 10 with fewer education levels. There are also variations in terms of mode of engagement. The cases contain 16 young people engaged with pro-regime political parties and 10 from opposition parties. Moreover, there is diversity in terms of ideological background (Islamic, nationalist, democratic, and socialist)