This dissertation is an ethnographic study of lower middle class youth and their education-to-work transitions in the Indonesian industrial town of Cilegon, Banten. The study examines how relatively educated young men and women (upper secondary school and tertiary graduates) navigate the contemporary opportunities and uncertainties of Cilegon’s changing job market, in particular against the background of the upcoming privatisation of the town’s biggest steel factory and the high rates of youth un(der)employment in the region. Cilegon experienced rapid economic growth and industrial development during the Suharto period (1966-1998), but is currently among the regions with the highest youth unemployment rates in Indonesia. Thus large-scale, corporate investment in Cilegon’s heavy and chemical industries did not result in significant job creation for Cilegon’s growing population of educated youth. Paradoxically, at a time when increasing numbers of lower middle class families invest in formal education for their children, their opportunities to economically benefit from schooling are declining (see also Jeffrey et al. 2008: 9 for the context of India). The study illustrates how young people’s attempts to secure a livelihood are thwarted by an overcrowded labour market and a range of challenges stemming from nepotism, the unfair logics of the market, and inequalities around class, gender and ethnicity. More specifically, the study analyses the gendered tensions and contradictory effects of economic restructuring, privatisation and a decline of jobs in heavy industries which produce a hostile and highly competitive environment for young men, while the rise of consumer culture and a shift towards service industries seems to favour young women who experience a more flexible working situation.

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B.N.F. White (Benjamin)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
ISS PhD Theses
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)