Thompson, Ron, Russell, Lisa and Simmons, Robin (2012) Exploring the lives of NEET young people: using structuration theory to conceptualise the experience of ‘disengagement’. In: Youth in Crisis and Community Interventions: Past, Present and Future Priorities, 21-22 February 2012, University of the West of Scotland. (Unpublished)

Official discourse in the UK and many other OECD countries emphasises education and training as a vehicle for social inclusion and economic growth. Accordingly, those who do not participate are seen to be at risk of long-term exclusion. This paper presents findings from the first year of a three-year ethnographic study of NEET young people in the north of England, and examines the opportunities and barriers such young people experience as they attempt to negotiate the complex territory following the end of compulsory education. The NEET category comprises a diverse range of circumstances, and in this paper we focus on a particular subgroup of participants in our study, NEET young people aged 16-18 who are living independently. Drawing on Giddens’ structuration theory, we discuss the narratives underlying the actions of these young people, their relationships with practitioners and their decisions about post-school education, work and training. Structuration theory proposes a duality of agency and structure, in which structure persists only through the practices of agents yet nevertheless provides constraints and opportunities for the exercise of agency. The paper explores the limitations young people experience, how they adapt to and exploit the experience of being NEET, and the relationship between present and future motivations and aspirations. Whilst arguing that young people are able to draw on a wide range of resources, the paper highlights the role of material and cultural inequalities in shaping the practices of NEET young people and thereby continuing the production and reproduction of disadvantage for those on the margins of education and employment.

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