People & research: Kalle Mäkelä examines the discursive practices in the context of Finnish outreach youth work and youth workshops

The AGORA Research Centre brings together a wide diversity of researchers and research groups interested with current issues of social justice and equality in education. Here, we present their research. This week it is Kalle Mäkelä's turn, whose PhD research centers around the question of how subjectivities of young people are shaped in outreach youth work in the context of neoliberal governance.

What is the focus of your research?

The focus of my research is on the analysis of discursive practices in the Finnish youth support systems. I focus on the question of how subjectivities of young people are shaped in Outreach Youth Work and Workshop in the context of neoliberal governance. I claim that young people in these support systems are governed on one hand through poverty and indebtedness, and, on the other hand, through psychologisation and therapisation.

Through individualisation, entrepreneuralisation and therapisation young people in economic troubles are cultivated to become more employable and flexible for labor market but also more adaptable for rehabilitative work, work training or part time work, all with low pay and short term work contracts.

In my researh, youth support systems form a space for discursive practices which are often taken-for-granted ways of doing things which can be also called regimes of practices. In my research I intend to unpack these naturally felt ways of doing things and bring forth possibilities of alternative ways of doing things in the youth support systems.

How does your research relate to issues of social justice and equality?

Due to ubiquitous neoliberalism and its hegemonic power/knowledge flows accross the globe, youth support systems are influenced by neoliberalism as much as other institutions in the societal sectors of health, education and social welfare. 

My research relates to issues of justice and equality by asking how youth support systems are part of the global process of neoliberalization of our societies, especially the sectors of health, social, education and even most intimate human relations from parental relationships to friendships. What is at issue in my research is how societal inequalities and injustices in this situation of hegemonic neoliberalism, have been turned to individual defecencies, abnormalities and insufficienses.

Turning the gaze away from the inequalities and injustices created by neoliberalist way of governing and targeting the gaze instead to individuals psychological problems and delinquance of the youth, we mask, consciously and unconsciously, the technologies of systematic exploitation of the poor and precariously laboring people.

 Addressing the individual and free, autonomous and enterprising subject, neoliberalism rules its subjects by promises of increasing range of possibilities of choosing careers, jobs and studying places, while in reality it lessens the possibilities of young and poor people to advance in their life, that is, neliberalism suffocates the possibilities of social mobility among the populations. In my research this can be seen in the discursive spaces where individual empowerment and psychologisation overrules the possibilities for critical discussions about societal inequalities and injustices.

Tell something abot your latest/current research?

My latest research is focusing on my third article manuscript entitled ”Shaping the selves of ”at risk” youth in debt and poverty in Finland” where I analyze the process of becoming a subject in the context of poverty, indebtedness, youth support systems and neoliberalist practices, policies and politics.

In my current research I delineate a picture of survival and scavenging strategies of young people in the practices of youth support systems and how the subjectivities of young people are shaped via these practices that are not isolated from the neoliberal practices and policies of the private sector and financialized and privatized nation state of ours.

I propose that young people in debt and poverty are shaped to become compliant clients for the service of cheap labor force for exacerbating labor market, and, in addition, to craft themselves to become grateful docile bodies for precarious low paid work for rehabilitative work, work training and rental labor. These shaped subjectivities are also grateful and positive, learning to become not only employable, but also being able to take responsibility and care of themselves, to learn optimism and happiness even in a cruel and anxious ways.

What kind of discussions would you wish to initiate with your research?

I would like to initiate a discussion where we could ponder how dangerous the latest phase of finance capitalism is on towards equality, justice and democratic principles among different populations accross the globe.

I would use my research as an example, in the multitude of other possible examples, to highlight how difficult it is to discuss about matters of equality and justice in the context of ubiquitous neoliberalism since our practices, speech acts and whole discursive spaces where we live, are saturated with hegemonic neoliberalist ethos. One example of this ethos is the way how we have learned to mold ourselves as enterprises, powerful, empowered little autonomous and individual units of economic survival and competition.

I would like to discuss about a future, where it is possible to advocate alternative possibilities for neoliberalism which produces and reproduces both extremely cruel capitalist class society and accelerating ecological crises.

Find out more also at Kalle's Researchgate profile.

Published 24.7.2020