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Accepted Paper:

The false promise of choice in 'left behind' places  
Rachel J. Wilde (University College London (UCL))

Paper short abstract:

Focusing on employability schemes in two cities traditionally seen as 'left behind', this paper reflects on the policy discourse of individual responsibility which offers the promise of choice, without acknowledging the constraints of labour market opportunities.

Paper long abstract:

The promise of neoliberalism is that the intensification of market based forms of life grants individuals freedom to choose (Harvey 2005). Individuals who do not realise their dreams are understood, in this discourse, to not be working hard enough in exercising their choices. Despite claims that greater individualisation has weakened the effects of structuring forms such as social class (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2002), this narrative conceals the structure of opportunities that much social sciences research has demonstrated has significant effect on life chances (Leonard and Wilde forthcoming; Furlong and Cartmel 2007). Social trajectories of progress are frequently represented as an individual responsibility, both in policy discourses and interventions. Conceptually, this paper argues that deploying 'personhood' in conversation with neoliberalism forces recognition that the notion of the individual self who is individually responsible is a contemporary and contingent representation of personhood, rather than an a priori way of being. This paper explores this issue in the case of youth employability schemes, where the focus is frequently on 'fixing the individual' without reference to local labour market opportunities. Focusing on two cities traditionally seen as 'left behind' due to constrained labour market opportunities, this paper argues that even efforts to support young people result in the reproduction of their liminal position. While the schemes purport to offer freedom to control one's own condition of existence through upskilling, the constraints upon choice in the labour market goes unacknowledged.

Panel A09
'Left behind places': unequal social trajectories of progress
  Session 1 Wednesday 4 September, 2019, -