Society for Economic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Policy discourses of “youth employability” have frequently reified entrepreneurship as solution to individual and regional unemployment. Aligned with neoliberal understandings of the state, governments encourage the necessary conditions for entrepreneurship to blossom, and individuals are enabled to create their own opportunities as enterprising selves. Enterprising selves are considered to embody a typical mindset, they are innovative, self-motivated, dynamic (Wilde and Leonard 2018) and develop a flexible, reflexive habitus (Sweetman 2003). Although policies are aimed at business startups, the skills and attitudes of enterprising selves are equally valued in contemporary labour markets, particularly with regard to flexibility (Freeman 2014).
This paper demonstrates how this notion of the enterprising self permeates and shapes the discourse and practices in youth employability and personal development programmes catering for young people in Britain from diverse social backgrounds. Drawing on Foucauldian analyses of governance and technologies of the self (Rose 1989; McKinlay and Starkey 1998), the paper charts the ways personal development programmes seek to develop the enterprising self through activities aimed at producing reflexive narratives of self, revealing the ways in which non-governmental organisation interact with, and become proxies for state governance.
Through comparative ethnographic case studies, the paper offers an in-depth analysis of the underlying discourses informing the structure and content of these schemes, and how they are experienced by the young people participating in them. Despite claims that selfhood is increasingly determined by individual choice (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002), class emerges as key in individuals’ familiarity and ease with forming a reflexive habitus.