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Anthropology and Archaeology

Living in the Tension

Care, Selfhood, and Wellbeing among Faith-Based Youth Workers

by Susan Wardell

Forthcoming June 2018 paper

ISBN978-1-5310-0215-2
e-ISBN978-1-53101-168-0

Tags: Anthropology, Ethnographic Studies in Medical Anthropology Series, Medical Anthropology


Living in the Tension presents an intimate ethnography of faith-based youth work across two cultural worlds. It explores the meaning and management of wellbeing among those who feel called to lay down their own lives for others. In Christchurch, New Zealand, among a population with some of the world’s highest youth suicide rates, and in the wake of the devastating 2011 earthquake, we meet a collection of committed carers fighting to present themselves as responsible professionals within a sector that remains heavily volunteer-based. In Kampala, Uganda, with 70% of the population aged below 30, and in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic, we are introduced to a generation of zealous leaders pursuing modernity, purity, and prosperity as markers of the ‘good’ Christian, while constantly struggling to provide for their own basic needs. Through evocative description, and attention to narrative as both discourse and performance, Living in the Tension presents a portrait of resilience and agency in the face of this and other serious threats to wellbeing. ‘Burnout’, a growing concern in the non-profit world, is discussed with critical awareness and an eye to the situated construction of local categories of distress. As a comparative and cross-cultural project, Living in the Tension highlights the outworkings of two different trajectories of neoliberal reform. Whilst faith-based organisations (FBOs) respond to the increasing strain on the social service sector, these passionate young leaders must navigate fraught moral worlds. The book provides a portrait of the creative and strategic ways that spiritual, managerial, and biomedical frameworks are interwoven in everyday performances of the ‘good’caring and sufferingChristian self.     


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