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This book set out to illuminate the personal, everyday effects of hard times for children, young people and families in diverse global contexts. In this concluding chapter, we begin by outlining the contribution of the three Parts of the book and their constituent chapters to our understanding of the hard times which interlace with the lives of children, youth and families. Our focus on ‘hard times’ aims to shed light on all manner of structural inequalities, longstanding exclusions and power imbalances which are being constituted or intensified by neoliberalisations, austerities and economic crises. Elucidating the implications of these complexly relational, hurtful and deeply affecting moments leads us to reflect on the opportunities and prospects for socially-differentiated children and young people getting by and growing up in hard times. In bringing together neoliberalisations, austerities and economic crises, we recognise how these processes are lumped together, materially and spatially (Katz, 2004; 2018) and in people’s everyday experiences. Drawing the collection to a close, we consider further directions for research which is sensitive to the interrelations between broadscale political-economic shifts and locally-scaled, personally inflected inequalities.
Divided into three key Parts, the collection began with an exploration of the transformative impacts of hard times for children, youth and families at the sharp end of neoliberalisms, austerities and economic crises. Drawing on work from diverse international contexts, Part 1 explored the transformations which play out unevenly at personal, familial and local scales as a result of political-economic processes.
In 2013, Jon Henley, correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, wrote about the unemployment crisis confronting young Europeans, and described ‘a legion of young, often highly qualified people, entering a so-called job market that offers very few any hope of a job – let alone the kind they have been educated for’ (Henley, 2019). This scene is not limited to Europe. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Education, 65.8% of people in their 20s and early 30s had degrees in 2014, but university graduates accounted for around one-third (34.1%) of all casual employment in the country – an increase of 41.7% over six years.1 A series of financial reforms that favoured business conglomerates and the wealthy (Lin et al, 2011; Huang, 2014), together with the market-oriented expansion of higher-education institutions (Chan and Lin, 2015), have rendered a huge number of ‘qualified youth’ jobless over the last two decades. The growing concerns regarding the so-called ‘crumbling generation’ reflect the danger of Taiwan facing economic and demographic catastrophe2 in the near future (Lin et al, 2011; Ku, 2017; Huang, 2014). Despite the dire warnings, those aged 18–22 who are currently studying at university and face a gloomy future have been largely overlooked so far.
This chapter focuses on Taiwan’s college students who are vulnerable to diploma inflation and job uncertainty before graduating. A hike in tuition fees3 is the basis of their financial predicament, since it often necessitates the taking on of student loans,4 which in turn has a stifling effect on their future (Huang, 2010).
In the last four decades, globalised capitalism and the drive towards neoliberalism which was associated with the Thatcher and Reagan governments of the UK and US respectively has become a major research area for understanding households and the political economy. The gradual demise of social welfare in the face of neoliberalism has reconfigured the household to take on the burden of caring for itself, thereby increasing insecurity, reducing leisure time, and constituting greater reliance on global capitalism’s commodified and privatised services for care work and childhood.
The ‘neoliberal household’ that has to bear the cost of household reproduction therefore encouraged all household members to work outside domestic settings and bring back wages in order to reduce the burden or cost of social reproduction on a few people. Working outside the home could imply migration. In most cases, movements have intensified middle-class lifestyles in developing countries, including dependence on other people, especially the poor and working class, for care work. Similarly, such burdens also often fall on women or are redistributed among younger people, especially girls. The relationship between globalised capitalist production and migration has also been an important area of inquiry in transnational migration studies. Geographers and sociologists examining labour migration effects of globalised capitalist production have emphasised unpaid domestic labour and exploitation as its hallmarks (Katz, 2001; Parreñas, 2001). Moreover, neoliberal reforms impact on childhoods and social reproduction processes across geographic scales are analysed in the work of Katz (2004) and Waters (2012).
Bringing together new, multidisciplinary research, this book explores how children and young people across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas experience and cope with situations of poverty and precarity.
It looks at the impact of neoliberalism, austerity and global economic crisis, evidencing the multiple harms and inequalities caused. It also examines the different ways that children, young people and families ‘get by’ under these challenging circumstances, showing how they care for one another and envisage more hopeful socio-political futures.
The role of aspiration for youth in the Zambian context is an area that until recently has been greatly overlooked. Like many sub-Saharan African countries, a concern about young people’s everyday lives and the challenges they face in the present (Evans, 2012; 2011; 2010; Evans and Becker, 2009; Ansell and Van Blerk, 2004; Becker et al, 2001), has meant little focus has been given to young people’s views about their futures. Youth-centred policies were only introduced in Zambia in 1994. Focusing on the position of young people in society, such policies and associated movements attempt to outline the roles and responsibilities expected of these young people as they grow up into adulthood. They seek to ensure the development of a youth who is responsible, assertive and disciplined, seeing them as a resource for the future development of the country – one whose potential should be ‘tapped’ to ensure the Zambian economy continues to grow (MYSCD, 2015; 2006; 1994).
What is strikingly absent however, is any recognition of young people’s individual aspirations, the ability of young people to decide their own future, and the need to provide adequate resources and funding to enable them to achieve this. Young people are expected to ‘grow up to full adulthood in consonance with contemporary social, economic and political ideals and aspirations of the nation’ (MSYCD, 1994: 1). This fails to recognise young people’s own aspirations, outside of the wider goals of the country itself, which relate not only to growing up and getting by, but to being ‘someone’ one day too.
This chapter explores gender disparity and masculinity among Filipino-Canadian youth and the role this plays in shaping their aspirations. In particular, it highlights a concerning and anomalous pattern of intergenerational social (im)mobility for young Filipino-Canadian men. Taking post-secondary educational pathways as an indicator of social mobility, I first show how youth in the Filipino-Canadian community have anomalously low levels of university graduation relative to their peers in other major immigrant communities in Toronto. This is also anomalous in a second sense, because Filipino parents arrive in Canada with unusually high levels of education compared to first generation immigrants from other source countries. Nevertheless, expected patterns of intergenerational social reproduction (in which university-educated parents cultivate degree-gaining children) do not seem to hold, and this has been especially true for male Filipino youth who arrived in Canada as children. In fact by certain measures, and at certain times, male childhood immigrants from the Philippines have had the lowest levels of university graduation of any racialised immigrant community.
The reasons behind this pattern, at least among Filipino youth in general, have been explored elsewhere (Farrales, 2017; Kelly, 2014; 2015; Kelly and Maharaj, 2019). What has often been missed, however, are questions of gender disparity and masculinity (although see Waters, 2010). Conversely, while masculinity has been extensively addressed in relation to class reproduction in general (going back to the classic by Willis, 1980), the intersectional context of masculinity in racialised and immigrant families has been less explored (although there are some recent exceptions in the geographical literature, including Hardgrove et al, 2015a; 2015b; and McDowell, 2014; 2020).
Over the last decade, UK governments appear to have utilised various discursive frames of childhood to claim that they are tackling child poverty (despite putting in place no real measures to do so), and to shift the blame for poverty from their own decimation of structures for economic advancement and protection, to the so-called ‘troubled’ cultures of poor families. This chapter interrogates this policy climate and argues that part of what has allowed governments to justify and obfuscate their abandoning of poverty as a key policy focus was, and is, deployments of discourses of ‘childhood’. The Coalition (2010–15) and Conservative (2015–) governments, we argue, have mobilised two distinct discourses of childhood, simultaneously infantilising poor parents and adultifying poor children. Together, these somewhat contradictory processes suggest that the frame of childhood is central not only to the discourses that continue to blame the poor family for their own poverty, but also to the processes that have seen children and young people bear the brunt of a decade of austerity and anti-welfare politics in the UK. Evoking childhood to substantiate their spurious frames of ‘worklessness’ and ‘troubled families’, the austerity-era governments have worked to move poverty discourse away from material and towards cultural and criminalised understandings of poverty. Our chapter thus investigates these shifts with reference to the frame of childhood, focusing specifically on how ‘childhood’ is deployed as part of the individualisation, culturalisation and criminalisation of disadvantage or poverty.
To make this argument we must first explain what we mean by childhood as a framing device. Here, childhood is understood as both a lived stage of life, and a figuration.
This collection gives voice to children, young people and families at the sharp end of contemporary processes of neoliberalisations, austerities and economic crises in diverse global contexts. We wish this book was not necessary or timely. However, as three geographers who have worked with many children, young people and families in different settings over the last 15 years, we are writing from a deep sense of sadness and urgency. This book has developed out of our anger and concern that the lives and prospects of so many of our research participants have demonstrably been adversely affected by manifestations of neoliberalisations, austerities and economic crises. The book is also written from heartbreak that our own communities, families and lifecourses have been profoundly affected by the same horrible processes. So as a point of departure, the following three vignettes from our research introduce some key terms, processes and deeply affecting encounters which echo throughout the following chapters.
During the global financial crisis of 2007–08, John was in the middle of several research projects based in spaces of play, youthwork and social care in the English Midlands. These spaces and communities were radically transformed by subsequent public sector funding cuts. Literally all of the youth organisations John worked with back then have now closed; literally all of the youthworkers and practitioners he worked with were made redundant. Within a few years entire, taken-for-granted categories of work/space (‘the public library’, ‘the statutory youth service’) were downsized, decommissioned and – apparently permanently – deemed unviable.