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September 30 , 2009

Forging Rights in a New Democracy

Ukrainian Students Between Freedom and Justice


The last two decades have been marked by momentous changes in forms of governance throughout the post-Soviet region. Ukraine's political system, like those of other formerly socialist states of Eastern Europe, has often been characterized as being "in transition," moving from a Soviet system to one more closely aligned with Western models. Anna Fournier challenges this view, investigating what is increasingly recognized as a critical aspect of contemporary global rights discourse: the active involvement of young people living in societies undergoing radical change. Fournier delineates a generation simultaneously embracing various ideological stances in an attempt to make sense of social conditions marked by the disjuncture between democratic ideals and the everyday realities of growing economic inequality.

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Based on extensive fieldwork in public and private schools in the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv, Forging Rights in a New Democracy explores high-school-aged students' understanding of rights and justice, and the ways they interpret and appropriate discourses of citizenship and civic values in the educational setting and beyond. Fournier's rich ethnographic account assesses the impact on the making of citizens of both formal and informal pedagogical practices, in schools and on the streets. Chronicling her subjects' encounters with state representatives and "violent entrepreneurs" as well as their involvement in peaceful protests alongside political activists, Fournier demonstrates the extent to which young people both reproduce and challenge the liberal discourse of rights in ways that illuminate the everyday paradoxes of market democracy. By tracking students' active participation in larger contests about the nature of liberty and entitlement in the context of redefined rights, her book provides insight into emergent configurations of citizenship in the New Europe.

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