Against disengagement: non-participation as an object of governance

Fergusson, Ross (2013). Against disengagement: non-participation as an object of governance. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 18(1-2) pp. 12–28.



The discourse of disengagement has achieved ascendancy just as young people’s employment prospects have declined – in many countries to crisis levels. Conceptualising and interpreting young people’s non-particiapiton in dominant modes of education, training and employment has been a preoccupation of academics, policy-makers and journalists. This paper offers a critical analysis of the discourse of disengagement. It queries the primacy of particiapiton as the dominant policy response to mass youth unemployment, identifies some paradoxes of this policy priority, and locates them within a political-economic analysis of youth unemployment. It proposes a view of prevailing policy responses as a mode of governance of problematised populations of young ‘non-participants’. By juxtaposing two ostensibly incompatible analytical frameworks, the paper draws attention to some potentially illuminating tensions between materialist and governmentalist analyses of dominant policy responses to ‘disengagement’, and considers how these might be exploited in researching and re-conceptualising non-participation.

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