This research examines critical questions about the experiences of youth through the lenses of modernity, subjectivity, and the lifecourse. Growing up in a (post)colonial context of shifting definitions of adulthood, youth from the rural island of Rurutu, French Polynesia must navigate various decisions and transformations with little information to base their future aspirations on. This dissertation identifies dignity as the main motivating factor in youth decision-making, one that is constantly redefined as youth navigate shifting social fields. Dignity, as used here, is a target youth strive for in order to contest feelings of social precarity stemming from unaccommodating education systems and an unstable economic and political situation.

Conceptually, the research is framed by Johnson-Hanks’ theory of vital conjunctures, which she defines as ‘the zone of possibility that emerges around specific periods of potential transformation in a life or lives’ (2002, 866). This research expands the examination of vital conjunctures through the use of what I will refer to as “vital conjuncture narratives.” These narratives allow young people to reflect on the turning points they find most important, instead of relying on those established by the anthropologist, thus revealing the frequency and flow of decisions as well as the experiences of transformation. This way of examining youth allows for narrative agency and problematizes the historically linear lifecourse concept of transitioning into adulthood. These narratives show that youth seek dignity through connections to tradition, land, and family, upholding their ties to Rurutu as a foundation upon which to build their lives.

Degree Date

Fall 12-15-2018

Document Type


Degree Name





Caroline Brettell

Second Advisor

Carolyn Smith-Morris

Third Advisor

Nicolas Sternsdorff-Cisterna

Fourth Advisor

Sheri Kunovich

Subject Area


Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License





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