People & Research: Saara Vainio examines behavioural governance in youth policies and educational practices

The AGORA Research Centre brings together a wide diversity of researchers and research groups interested in current issues of social justice and equality in education. Here we will present their research. This time, we introduce PhD Researcher Saara Vainio, University of Helsinki.

What are your research topics?

My research focuses on behavioural governance, mainly on psychologisation in national and international youth policies and educational practices. In political discourses, behavioural governance includes an increasing concentration on one’s feelings, competencies, employability skills, and a range of self-directing capacities and personal qualities in education and beyond. In my research, I seek to examine how does behavioural governance shape and enable youth education targeted at young people at ‘risk’, and with what consequences.

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

I think it is important to challenge the taken-for-granted nature and benefits of behavioural governance of young people in youth education by questioning the basis for various ‘solutions’ offered to young people ‘at risk’. Those young people, who are not in employment, education, or training, or otherwise at risk of multiple harms, are provided with a range of educational support measures to help them gain skills and competency needed for employment.

In other words, there is a strong tendency to find both problems and solutions from young people themselves by governing bodies and their implementations, with complex societal and structural issues overlooked. There should be more critical consideration about how inequalities are produced and maintained through political language. Questioning these seemingly objective realities is highly acute in terms of social justice and equity. 

Tell something about your latest/​​​​​current research?

I’m currently working as a PhD researcher in the AGORA Centre in the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki. I’m also affiliated with the FuturEd – Interrupting Future Trajectories of Precision Education Governance research project, in which I have taken part in developing novel conceptual work to analyse the ongoing and future changes in education with my supervisors. Recently, we published an article with Katariina Mertanen and Kristiina Brunila called “Educating for the Future? Mapping the Emerging Lines of Precision Education Governance”, in which we explore and clarify the concept we have developed to deepen the understanding of a new form of governance, precision education governance.

Currently, I’m also working on a manuscript concerning youth policies in the European Union. I’m interested in how political discourses are positioning young people based on their assumed potential to contribute to societal future building and economic growth. Additionally, I’m also writing a joint article about different imaginaries and perspectives on youth participation in Finnish youth policies. 

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

I wish to introduce new perspectives to the ongoing discussion of changing educational governance, especially in terms of the increasing demands on youth economic productivity and behavioural governance. In addition, I want to increase understanding and critical discussion about the changes in youth education targeted at young people ‘at risk’. I simply wish for more understanding and permissive attitudes towards youth and young people in general.


Mertanen, K., Vainio, S., & Brunila, K. (2021). Educating for the future? Mapping the emerging lines of precision education governance. Policy Futures in Education, 14782103211049914.

Published 13.4.2022