Simmons, Robin and Smyth, John (2016) Crisis of youth or youth in crisis? Education, employment and legitimation crisis. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 35 (2). pp. 136-152. ISSN 0260-1370

This paper uses the Habermasian concept of legitimation crisis to critique the relationship between post-compulsory education and training and the chronic levels of youth unemployment and under-employment which now characterise post-industrial Western economies, such as the UK. It draws on data from an ethnographic study of the lives of young people classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training), or at risk of becoming so to challenge dominant discourses about youth unemployment and the supposed relationship between worklessness, skills deficits and young people’s lack of ‘work-readiness’. The central argument of the paper is that the labour market insecurity experienced by many young people in the UK and elsewhere derives not from some supposed crisis of youth but is symptomatic of the inherent contradictions contained within capitalist modes of production which, it is argued, are exacerbated under neo-liberal policy regimes. Following Habermas and drawing on Strathdee, the paper contends that various government-led initiatives which purport to prepare young people for the workplace, create links between the individual and the labour market, or force the unemployed into the labour market are, in Habermasian terms, part of an attempt to resolve the crisis of legitimation associated with contemporary capitalist societies.

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