04 SES 12 D, Vulnerability, Belonging And Friendship: Three Paths To Inclusion
Outreach Youth Work as a form of Cultivation in the Ethos of Vulnerability
There is overall general agreement about the desirability and importance of youth support systems as being crucial for young people ‘at risk’ to help them cultivate their subjectivities towards employability. I take a closer look at these support systems and especially at outreach youth work in Finland. I focus on the construction of knowledge and subjectivities of young people related to it. I argue that despite good intentions in cultivating young people’s subjectivities, outreach youth work tends to operate as a practice for enhancing construction of psycho-emotional vulnerabilities and employability of young people while translating wider societal questions of austerity, poverty and inequality into questions of individualised deficiencies.
The problems of unemployment, lack of education and social exclusion among young people have been raised as major concerns in European Union (EU) policies (CEO 2008; CEO 2014; ESF 2013a, b). Meanwhile, in Finland as in other European countries, the neoliberal ethos has been powerful in shaping policies and practices that are applied to young people. Accordingly, EU and national policy steering have targeted young people through various initiatives designed to support young people towards employability while simultaneously managing their own wellbeing and risks (e.g. low pay, precarious and insecure work conditions, flexibility, uncertainty).
In the Finnish context the EU initiatives have been put into action especially by reshaping and re-writing the Youth Act (Youth Act of Finland 2017). In the Youth Act a special role has been given to outreach youth work(OYW), which is the focus of this paper. According to Youth Act the purpose of OYW is to reach young people and help them to obtain services and other individual support that enhance her growth, independence, admission to education and entrance to the labour market (Youth Act of Finland 2017).
In this paper, I focus on OYW and its construction of knowledge and subjectivities of young people ‘at risk’ in the current neoliberal ethos. By “neoliberal ethos” I refer to the marketisation (applying the logic of “free” markets to rule all policies and practices), entrepreneurialisation, individualisation and psychologisation (See Rose 1998 about proliferation of psy-knowledge) of the subjects, and, in addition, I refer to the new practices and policies that have mainly been adopted from large multinational companies in which demand for quick profits overrules questions of mutuality, solidarity and reciprocity (Rose 1999; 1989; Harvey 2005; Ball & Youdell 2009; Foucault 2008).
I argue that citizens are being shaped by ideas of competitiveness and efficiency. There are even more persistent changes in the ways citizens are perceived and how they should perceive themselves, both as vulnerable but also as necessarily employable and competitive. Accordingly, by treating social problems such as lack of work and education as questions of individual deficiencies and improvement, the state is constantly divesting its responsibilities towards its citizens. This constant divesting under the umbrella term of “de-centralization” of state powers connected to increasing networks of the plethora of actors in public and private policy is what Stephen Ball calls “new governance” and in this sense I have adopted the concept (Ball 2008, see also Rose 1999). I ask how OYW as a form of new governance and as governing in general takes part in this wider turn by cultivating the subjectivities of young people through its practices.
In this paper I use the data I collected while doing ethnographic work with Outreach Youth Work in medium sized city in Finland, consisting of ethnographic field observations and interviews with young people (18-29 years old), and with people who work with young people; youth workers, social workers, teachers, psychiatric nurses, school coordinators and employment officials. Altogether 20 interviews were conducted. In addition to interviews, I kept a field diary while participating in OYW activities. Ethnographic work was conducted between 2016 and 2017 in a medium-sized regional city called Cloudrock in Finland. It is worth noticing that the exact physical site of the ethnographic work took place at several locations in the area of Cloudrock since the actual OYW work is fluid and mobile/unfixed, and new spaces, practices and networks are created for young people. I followed youth workers from OYW office to the homes of young people, and guidance sessions with several officials. The activities in OYW aimed to embed young people in networks and systems that included emotional work, rehabilitative work, and forms of training and psychiatric/psychological or other behavioural assessment which in turn would make it possible for young people to access social benefits, minimum wages or unemployment benefits. In the process, details of young people were recorded for statistical purposes, before personal evaluations by social workers, employment officers, psychiatrists, psychologists, youth workers, workshop personnel and a range of private companies. During the 10 months of intensive ethnography in the city of Cloudrock, I spent two days of the week among unemployed young people and their youth workers, following their everyday life, work, practices and discussions, and taking part in those interactions while taking notes and interviewing both young people and youth workers.
In this paper I tried show how OYW is filled with good intensions, cultivating the subjectivities of young people, and while doing that, transforming young people’s complex and challenging life situations into individual psycho-emotional vulnerabilities which then call for specific types of expertise and interventions. If we consider the cultivation offered by support systems more widely, it relies on a simple idea of youth subjectivity and how this subjectivity can be easily improved with enough amount of a certain type of support. In education and training this type of cultivation is common and could be linked to building character and resilience. This type of work might be seductive for those who consider it to have the potential to narrow gaps between the more privileged and the less privileged since it positions the gap as individual deficiencies and other personal problems that can be solved through the application of suitable psy-knowledge and expertise. Moreover, psy-oriented cultivation popularises the idea that there is such a thing as a healthy, stable and coherent personhood that youth workers and other professionals can assess and enable. The paradox, however, is that this type of cultivation feeds into policy concerns and further shapes those that identify societal problems as problems of individual deficiencies. It is problematic that young people’s sometimes rather complex and challenging life situations tend to be viewed solely as individual deficiencies and pathologies requiring interventions promoted by psy-knowledge. This can be seen as an outcome of the neoliberal ethos which transforms subject-citizens into suitably vulnerable, employable and competitive subject.
Ball, S. J. (2008). New Philanthropy, New Networks and New Governance in Education, Political Studies, 56(4), 747-765. Ball, S. J. & Youdell, D. (2009). Hidden privatization in public education, Education Review, 21(2), 73-83. CEU. (2013). Council Recommendation of 22 April 2013 on establishing a Youth Guarantee. Council of European Union. COM. (2012). Proposal for a Council Recommendation on Establishing a Youth Guarantee. European Commission COM. (2016). The Youth Guarantee and Youth Employment Initiative three years on. European Commission. Foucault, M. (2008). The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the College de France, 1978-79. England: Palgrave Macmillan. Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rose, N. (1989). Governing the soul: The Shaping of the private self. London: Free association books. Rose, N. (1998). Inventing Our Selves: psychology, power and personhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rose, N. (1999). Powers of Freedom. Reframing political thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Youth Act of Finland. (2017). http://minedu.fi/en/legislation-youth
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