Contemporary psychological research examining the development of young people amidst the conditions of forced migration, war, or environmental degradation overwhelmingly highlights long term damage to their emotional health. Yet, systematic epidemiological studies and meta-analyses of psychological research show that – depending on the specific context and exact nature of their experience – between 10% and 45% of young people growing up amidst the conditions of radical change experience long term anxiety, depression, or otherwise show symptoms associated with PTSD. While these are considerable numbers, they leave us wondering if the complete experience of all young people growing up in challenging situations can indeed be captured by a question: how traumatized did they really feel in the end? Surely different experiences in challenging circumstances result in vastly different intensities of feelings and ranges of thought processes. More significantly, these findings give raise to a number of empirical and theoretical questions, chief among which is: how do those 55% to 90% of others, those who do not develop or report symptoms associated with PTSD respond? Are they, from a psychological point of view, the same as, or similar to those young people who did not experience war or forced migration? Research shows that development amidst the conditions of radical changes leaves its mark, which does not have to be exclusively emotional, or exclusively negative.
Drawing on research with young people who grew up under the conditions of the four-year-long military siege of Sarajevo (1992 – 1995) – considered to be the longest military blockade of a city in modern history – in this presentation, I define conditions of radical change, as prolonged and sustained circumstances that necessitate a heightened experience of space and time. In other words, conditions of radical change are theorized as those circumstances in which space and time abruptly and suddenly compress, expand, or otherwise change, thereby fundamentally transforming meaning and perforce altering human activities. By exploring the implication of change to these two basic categories constitutive of human lived experience, this presentation seeks to offer a theoretical paradigm for researchers interested in exploring cognitive development of young people living within the conditions radical change. To accomplish this, my talk explores how different conceptualizations of space and time rendered by the condition of Sarajevo’s military siege prefigured new activities and thereby contributed to shaping context-specific sense-making processes among young people. Specifically highlighted in this presentation are educational context and everyday situations conducive to learning that were available within the landscape of war to young people growing up in the besieged Sarajevo.