Waiting for Change: Indigenous youth striving for non-migration in Guatemala
Briana Nichols

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pennsylvania

Primary Discipline

In an era of heightened concerns over human mobility, this dissertation contends with the afterlives of migration, asking what future possibilities emerge for young people living in communities where leaving is the dominant form of economic survival. Practices of future-making are key sites for understanding how youth reckon with their lived realities. In contexts of extreme migration, scholarship largely attends to those who make-futures by leaving, rather than the young people fighting to remain in their communities of origin. This focus obscures the material, social and institutional practices that coalesce in migration's wake and influence the trajectories of the youth who remain. This research asks, in contexts of extreme migration, how do young people come to imagine the possibility of a non-migratory future? What strategies do young people employ to attain these futures? And, ultimately, what social, material and institutional practices structure the realizability of non-migration? Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Guatemala and the U.S., this study examines Guatemalan indigenous youth who participate in education-based migration prevention programs. It explores how young people navigate emergent tensions between local knowledge and developmentalist notions of progress in their everyday practices of future-making. Drawing upon theories of mobility within contexts of capitalist restructuring (Green, 2011; Glick Schiller, 2010), education and youth futures (Johnson-Hanks, 2014; Mains, 2013), and the sociocultural nature of development implementation (Curtis & Spencer, 2012), this project offers insights into the relationship between educational attainment, mobility and international development in contexts of extreme migration.
About Briana Nichols
Briana Nichols is a joint Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Education and the department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to her doctoral studies, Briana earned a B.A. in Anthropology and a Masters of Teaching, both from the University of Chicago. As a dual language middle school teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, Briana witnessed her students grappling with disjunctures between the dominant narrative focusing on trauma and suffering pre-migration, and their actual lived experiences in their countries of origin. This tension inspires her inquiries into the larger implications of erasure in migration discourse. Departing from scholarship that focuses on future-making in terms of youth mobility, her work centers on youth who fight to remain in their communities. Briana examines the intersection between transnational development, international migration, and indigenous youth educational striving in Guatemala, and explores the everyday practices of young people as they attempt to create futures of non-migration. Her research can be found in Language & Communication and VOLUTNAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations. She has also written for the Center For Migration Studies New York, Anthropology News and Youth Circulations. She is a recipient of a Dean's Fellowship from the University of Pennsylvania and a Global Scholars Early Career Fellowship from the University of California, Irvine. Through her work, Briana builds on critical anthropologies of education to bring public awareness to the pressing realities of young people in migratory contexts.

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