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Youth at Risk: Processes of individualisation and responsibilisation in the risk societyIn what ways does Peter Kelly suggest that risk discourses are a means of governing young people? Discuss what this governance entails and consider how we might think about the politics of this social regulation.




According to Kelly, the crisis of youth as become a topic of discourse in the recent years, may it be politicians, intellectuals, bureaucrats or social commentators. The risk here points out towards the danger, harm, the youth is on the verge of today. The major point of concern in the discourses is about a safe and secure youth, it should be a secure transition from a normal childhood to a normal adulthood. Freeland (1991, 1992, 1996) constructs youth as a ‘stage of life between childhood and adulthood. However, such discourses discuss all the aspects of behavior of youth right from psychology, physiology and stress experienced by the youth during adolescence. Withers and Batten (1995) argue that the psychological, physiological and ‘social stresses and tensions’ experienced during adolescence mean that ‘all youths are in some sense at risk’ (p. 1). However, Kelly throws light on the fact that such discourses on youth at risk also provides techniques and methods for governing the youth. Apart from that, such discourses also make youth more responsible towards their conduct and the consequences. Kelly quotes the views of Ulrich Beck that in the past few years, modernization has converted a secure industrial society to a risky industrialized society. One consequence of processes of reflexive modernization is the prominence of ‘institutionally structured risk environments’ (Giddens, 1991). This is the result of various forms of autonomous changes and processes going on at various levels. This is called reflexive modernization and points out towards a major concern of control over time (Hope, 2014). In such an atmosphere, the monitoring of the temperament and behavior of youth gives rise to more discourses on this topic. Such rapid changes in the society lead to individualization. In this wind of individualism, the concept of “self” emerges where an individual wants to take all decisions for himself whether its his education, job or family. It is like self produced. With the increasing individualization, risks of institutions are also increasing. The Foucault’s theory of the Governmentality provides a link between the discourses of youth at risk and the practice of the government. The neo-liberalization is regarded as a problem in the smooth working of a welfare government. The Foucault’s theory advocates moving away from liberalism in matters of ideology, polity and philosophy and shift focus to liberalism in the field of styles of thinking, typically associated with the governance and about methods and techniques, which facilitate the government (Hope, 2007).


A liberal government is possible if the focus is shifted from a monolithic state to a state comprising of experts from various fields who play different roles in the working of a government. In the first half of the 20th century, the concept of social welfare emerged along with the concept of liberal government. This required the transformation in the relationship between the management of social welfare and political field. The social welfare concept could be materialized only by conferring certain responsibilities upon the political authorities who can balance between the individual freedom and the private enterprise (Meadmore and Symes, 1996). The social work and social insurance were the two areas, which constituted main parts of the changing government. Various techniques such as funding of schools by state, practices of child welfare, widows’ pension schemes, etc. were all adopted by the liberal welfare state in an effort to socialize the risk associated with the less modern reflexive society. Social work led to interfere into the personal lives of people by a set of people called experts. Moreover, with this liberalization, came the problem of instability in the wages of workers. The result of such interference was that the major target within the structure of families was the diseased (mentally or physically) youth, who were considered as would be citizens and thus should be made perfect. Hence the concept of social welfare meant additional security, education and protection to the youth with their additional responsibility and social obligation in return for maintaining the character of liberalism in the state’s freedom. In this era of reflexive modernization, the traditional methods become less capable of handling this modernization (Tait, 1995). In this way, the risk associated with the control of the youth can be considered the initiation of such individualization processes. This indirectly leads to the ungoverned state. Thus, a range of problems come with a liberal welfare state. The literature available on governmentality does not define these problems as confined to party politics, ideology or philosophy, but rather defines in terms of problems associated with governable subjects.

In the reflexive modernization, the truth struggles for. It becomes difficult to regard some particular claims of knowledge as being truthful. In such a scenario, the risk discourses mobilize the various processes like identification, measurement and interference and make the operation of government possible. Discourse of youth-at-risk, throw light on various truths like the future of a nation, risks involved with globalization is one of the aspects of the problems of the liberal government (Niesche, 2012). With the emergence of (neo) liberalization, there emerged the problem of the anti-competitive effect in the society rather than the anti-social effects. The central problematic of government ‘is not the anti-social effects of the economic market, but the anti-competitive effects of society’ (Gordon, 1991, p. 42). Society is made up of individuals and does not have any independent existence, so the behavior of the individuals should be governed rather than society so as to facilitate the governing of a liberal welfare government. The emergence of liberal government enables the youth to come forward and participate in various actions of the government and resolve those issues, which were regarded as the responsibility of the government agencies till now. However, the main implication of such a system is that the youth should take responsibility of actions as well as the results of their actions. Youth refers to the stage of transition, becoming an adult, becoming mature and independent. Thus, it refers to the future stage. The youth is at a continuous risk of endangering its future by its actions and behaviors of the present. The discourses of youth at risk presents a picture of ideal adult and its comparison with the youth’s wrong behavior. It is thus used as a technique for making the youth responsible. Examples of discourses help in highlighting the truths about the raising of children and enable families to adopt methods of its own choice and risk of reflexive modernization is reduced. However, who do not adopt these are being perceived as at risk. Thus, transformed practices given by discourses enable the youth to become rational and responsible and also results in distinguishing among youth by identifying risky behaviors.


Hope, A. (2007). Risk Taking, Boundary Performance and Intentional School Internet “Misuse”.Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 28(1), pp.87-99.

Hope, A. (2014). Schoolchildren, governmentality and national e-safety policy discourse. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, pp.1-11.


Meadmore, D. and Symes, C. (1996). Of Uniform Appearance: a symbol of school discipline and governmentality 1. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 17(2), pp.209-225.

Niesche, R. (2012). Deploying educational leadership as a form of governmentality. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 35(1), pp.143-150.

Tait, G. (1995). Shaping the ‘At‐Risk Youth’: risk, governmentality and the Finn Report. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 16(1), pp.123-134.



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