Generational Precarity and Youth Politics in an Age of ‘Anti-Politics'.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Distributed Paper
Judith BESSANT, RMIT, Australia
Rys FARTHING, Oxford University, United Kingdom
Rob WATTS, RMIT University, Australia
Generational Precarity and Youth Politics in an Age of ‘Anti-Politics’.


Many people in both the Global North and South born since the early 1980s have experienced unprecedented socio-economic disadvantage.   In many countries, an already bad situation was exacerbated by the  2008 Great Recession and by the subsequent imposition of ‘austerity’ policies.  There is increasing evidence of declining returns for young people who spend more and more time in education while adding to their burden of education-related debt. Equally basic aspirations like accessing affordable decent housing or achieving employment and economic security needed to start their own families are moving beyond the reach of many young people.  In this paper we report on our study of the way young people in the USA, United Kingdom, France, Spain and Australia are affected by inequality and how they are responding to it.

We note firstly, that governments and many researchers point to factors like new labour-displacing technology, ‘globalisation’ and ‘risk society’ as the primary sources of generational disadvantage.  Against this tendency, we argue that it is public policies, developed by states wedded to advancing market capitalism, that first promoted age-based inequality and adversity in the 1980s, while more recent ‘austerity’ measures have exacerbated the situation for many young people. We offer a heuristic for making sense of often complex policy developments in each of the five countries.  

Secondly we argue against the popular idea of youth as ‘anti-political’ or ‘apolitical’ by documenting the many and varied ways young people are engaging politically by responding to particular forms of injustice.  Attention is given to  ‘new’ forms of political actions that typically are not recognised as political because they do not fit conventional ideas of what constitutes politics.   We explain how these actions are political and identify their capacity to promote social and political change.