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  • Author or Editor: David Farrugia x
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In the past, youth has been seen as a transition into the labour market, but today young people’s identities are increasingly wrapped up in their value as workers.

In this book, young people describe the meaning of work in their own words. Drawing on these narratives, the author reveals how their identities are intertwined with the dynamics of labour and value in post-Fordist capitalism and how social inequalities are manifested through the practices and ethics that young people draw upon to cultivate an economically productive self.

Illuminating the rapidly changing social conditions that mould youth identities, this book represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of youth and work.

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This book is about the formation of young people as workers. It explores the position of youth within transformations in the relationship between work and the self that are emblematic of contemporary capitalism in the global north. In particular, the book explores the relationship between youth, work and identity by examining how notions of economic productivity form part of youth subjectivities, and therefore how young people cultivate themselves as subjects of value to the contemporary labour force. The book will show that the capacity for economic productivity has become intertwined with the ethic of self-realization characteristic of late modern subjectivities. The realization of the self through work has become critical to the way that young people imagine themselves and their prospects of happiness now and in the future. Young people are therefore at the forefront of what Kathi Weeks (2011) has called the ‘post-Fordist work ethic’, or the promise of personal fulfilment and self-actualization through labour that is increasingly experienced as a requirement for a fulfilling life in late capitalism. In this way, the formation of young people as workers provides an insight into the increasingly critical position that youth now occupy within the dynamics of subjectivity and economic productivity characteristic of post-Fordist societies.

With this focus, the book develops intersections between youth studies and labour studies (Tannock, 2001; Besen-Cassino, 2014), and departs from approaches to the relationship between young people and work that are currently dominant in research as well as in social policy interventions into young people’s lives. Young people’s relationship to the labour market is a long-standing preoccupation of academics and governmental authorities.

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This book explores the formation of youth identities in terms of the cultivation of the self as a subject of value to the labour force. This chapter builds the conceptual framework that underpins this focus, which will be used to situate young people within the dynamics of work and subjectivity in contemporary capitalism. The chapter is divided into four sections. The first establishes the conceptual utility of concepts connected to post-Fordism for understanding the relationship between youth and work, focusing in particular on shifts in the social organization of employment, the nature of labour and the relationship between labour, value and the self. The second section describes Kathi Weeks’s concept of the post-Fordist work ethic, which theorizes historical shifts in the meaning of work in different phases of capitalism, beginning with the work of Weber and developing into a discussion of the ethical relationship to work mandated in post-Fordism. The third section explores the way that young people are positioned within the dynamics of post-Fordist work, arguing that youth has become critical to post-Fordist capitalism, operating both as an important source of value and as a point of intervention for governmental efforts aiming to craft and manage a labour force. Finally, the chapter describes what is meant by the cultivation of the self as a subject of value, in the context of the social transformations of post-Fordism and disciplinary requirements imposed by the post-Fordist work ethic.

In the process, the chapter aims to make a number of conceptual shifts in the concepts and theoretical narratives most influential in framing young people’s relationship with work.

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This is the first of three empirical chapters exploring the ethics and practices through which young people are formed as workers. In this and the chapters that follow, I will use the concept of the post-Fordist work ethic to examine young people’s narratives about the meaning of work, the way they understood their value to the labour market and to employers, and the way they cultivated working selves. My aim here is to foreground the ethical commitments and self-definitions that intertwine in the way that young people articulate the post-Fordist work ethic in relation to themselves, and to analyse how young people position themselves as ethical subjects within the dictates of the work ethic. Through a focus on the relationship between definitions of productivity and subjectivity in general, these chapters are also aimed at applying empirical scrutiny to some of the claims made in theories of post-Fordism and in the narrative about the relationship between class and the work ethic described in Chapter 2. In particular, this chapter and the next explore distinctions between the Fordist promise of social mobility and the post-Fordist offer of self-realization through work. In the process, this chapter – and the book in general – also examine the suggestion that distinctions between the productive and unproductive dimensions of the self are no longer useful for understanding the relationship between subjectivity and work because the entirety of the self has become subsumed into work. These arguments provide the guiding orientation to the analyses that follow, which focus on how young people understand the productive dimensions of their identities and what ethical relationship they adopt towards work.

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Transformations in the history of the work ethic are intertwined with the demands made upon workers by changing employment and labour regimes in different periods of capitalism. However, approaching the work ethic in terms of epochal shifts in the nature of capitalism can sometimes obscure as much as it reveals about the meanings ascribed to work in the formation of contemporary identities. The work ethic is not merely a dominant ideology of work to which all subscribe in the same way. Indeed, to make this argument would be to apply a functionalist logic to the work ethic and to the formation of classed identities through work, thereby ignoring the tensions and historical contradictions that shape how differently positioned young people respond to the incitement to self-realization through work. With this in mind, this chapter complicates the epochal periodizations of the work ethic to be found in the work of Weeks (2011) by exploring relationships to work, which I will suggest demonstrate both continuities and ruptures with the meanings ascribed to work in earlier periods of capitalism. While Chapter 3 described relatively privileged young people, whom I suggested constituted the ideal subjects of the post-Fordist work ethic, exploring the experiences of young people from working-class backgrounds reveals the work ethic as a heterogeneous discursive terrain shaped by the classed histories of work in different periods of capitalism. This chapter focuses on these experiences to explore what I will suggest is a new working-class manifestation of the post-Fordist work ethic, in which the promise of social mobility and material advancement made to the Fordist working class is experienced through the ontological reward offered by work in the post-Fordist present.

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The post-Fordist offer of happiness and self-actualization through productivity rests on fragile ground. The narratives of self-realization through work discussed in this book so far idealize work as a realm that welcomes young people’s authentic selves, and that will confer value upon youth subjectivities as long as workers make the personal commitment to work that the work ethic requires. This promise is perhaps impossible to realize even in the best of circumstances, and longitudinal evidence suggests that work declines as a priority for young adults with more labour market experience and with the onset of other life commitments, such as intimate relationships and family formation (Andres and Wyn, 2010). In this sense, a total commitment to work as the key priority in life may be specific to young people with less experience in work, for whom the cultivation of employability is a live and pressing concern. However, the narratives in preceding chapters also reflect an intensification of young people’s personal investment in work and productivity precisely as precarity and unemployment have become normalized in the youth labour market. This is particularly the case in the research sites explored in this book, which are economically peripheral locations in which youth unemployment is a topic of frequent public discussion. While the work ethic makes cultivating the self into a means for navigating labour market uncertainty, the promise of meaning and value through an earnest commitment to work becomes more obviously mythical as young people experience protracted periods of unemployment, or when the material realities of working practices in demanding, demeaning and poorly paid occupations make the myth of work as a realm of autonomous self-realization impossible to sustain.

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In the work society, the cultivation of the self as a worker is necessary for the experience of a socially intelligible self. It is compulsory both to work and to become a worker – forming the self in line with the disciplinary requirements of labour and experiencing the capacity for productivity as a critical part of personal identity. Becoming economically productive is one of the key tasks of youth, and young people are surrounded by a vast institutional architecture that encourages them to become workers. As shown throughout the previous chapters, young people recognize this as legitimate and necessary, and many understand the successful formation of a working self to be the basic condition for meaning and happiness in life. In responding to the imperative to become a worker, young people demonstrate the profound significance of the post-Fordist work ethic for the formation of youth subjectivities. The post-Fordist work ethic shapes young people’s relationship to themselves, their family and friends, educational institutions and jobs. It gives meaning to employment and unemployment, and situates these experiences as part of an autobiographical narrative. The relationship between work and life is mediated by the ethics that drive the cultivation of the self as a worker. However, young people’s practices, subjectivities and definitions of value also complicate contemporary understandings of post-Fordism. The subjectivities that emerge from these practices create questions about epochal distinctions between different eras of capitalism and about the suggestion that work has come to encompass the whole of life. In particular, the relationship between work, value and the self articulates both continuities and disjunctures with earlier manifestations of the work ethic in ways that are classed, and reflect changing distinctions between work and the rest of life.

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Thinking from the Margins
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Chapter 10 is available Open Access under CC-BY-NC-ND licence.

This interdisciplinary collection charts the experiences of young people in places of spatial marginality around the world, dismantling the privileging of urban youth, urban locations and urban ways of life in youth studies and beyond.

Expert authors investigate different dimensions of spatiality including citizenship, materiality and belonging, and develop new understandings of the complex relationships between place, history, politics and education. From Australia to India, Myanmar to Sweden, and the UK to Central America, international examples from both the Global South and North help to illuminate wider issues of intergenerational change, social mobility and identity.

By exploring young lives beyond city, this book establishes different ways of thinking from a position of spatial marginality.

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The purpose of this book is to situate the place beyond the city as an epistemological vantage point for researching youth. In this introductory chapter we interrogate the spatial and epistemological boundaries that shape current thinking about young people, and examine the concept of the margins as a position from which to create theory. Large urban centres and ‘global cities’ operate as taken for granted vantage points for understanding youth in late modernity, but the concept of the margins as we develop it here goes beyond this to explore the forms of spatial marginality existing both between and within rural and urban spaces. With this in mind, this chapter sketches the book’s agenda across four domains, including inequalities, materialities, identities and temporalities. In the process, we approach the space beyond the city not merely as a margin, but as a theoretically productive and unique position for thinking about the future of youth research.

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The purpose of this book is to situate the place beyond the city as an epistemological vantage point for researching youth. Existing frameworks about young people privilege large urban centres or ‘global cities’, and create forms of marginality that are at once spatial and epistemological. This book interrogates and moves beyond theses boundaries, turning the margins into a unique position for understanding youth and examining forms of difference within and between urban and rural spaces. The book is organised into four sections: inequalities, focusing on the structural and cultural divisions shaping the margins; materialities, focusing on sensory embodiment and the lived environment; identities, focusing on place attachment and mobility; and temporalities, focusing on the history of place and the role of temporality in shaping identities and modes of place attachment. Across the book we develop this agenda through international contributions, with chapters across the global north and the global south, and including East and South-East Asia, Northern and Western Europe, and Australia. The margins therefore emerge as a complex topography of identities, modes of embodiment and processes of social change that cross spatial and epistemological divisions.

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