Individualising the future: the emotional geographies of neoliberal governance in young peoples’ aspirations

2015-09-22T15:06:57Z (GMT) by Helena Pimlott-Wilson
In response to record levels of youth worklessness and socio-economic inequalities, the UK Coalition government has sought to scale back public spending through welfare cuts, emphasising self-reliance for financial provision. Education, as a tool for both personal progression and national economic competitiveness has risen up the political agenda, as the Government champions an ‘aspiration nation’ which rewards ‘hard-working’ people. Young people are increasingly tasked with looking toward the future, taking responsibility and ‘raising’ their aspirations in order to contribute through economic production as active citizen-workers. The power to achieve is placed firmly at the feet of individuals; yet broader inequalities which characterise the contemporary climate and powerfully shape the life chances of young people are overlooked. This paper explores the hopes and expectations of young people living in the north west of England as they think about their own future school-to-employment ambitions. Firstly, the paper reflects on the structural changes which have occurred within the local economy over the last generation before secondly, examining how the task of responding to changing labour market conditions is internalised by the young people, with ‘success’ (or lack thereof) framed as an individual enterprise. Young people are negotiating a set of contradictory beliefs. They acknowledge their own responsibility as future adult citizens whilst also reflecting on the role of government in addressing inequalities, as contemporary economic restructuring and fiscal policies are reducing opportunities. The paper makes visible the emotional burdens young people anticipate as they endeavour to achieve a successful future in the context of economic uncertainty and an individualising political milieu of aspiration.