Contradictions of Social Investment Strategies for Disadvantaged Youth in Times of Crises

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Roland ATZMUELLER, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Department of theoretical sociology and social analysis/Institute of Sociology, Austria
Alban KNECHT, FH-Campus Wien, Austria, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Department of theoretical sociology/Institute of Sociology, Austria
The crisis tendencies since 2008 have put new pressures on the adaption of welfare systems. Debates are focusing on the necessity to replace activation (based on welfare cuts and pressurising the unemployed) through so-called social investment strategies, which aim at improving the quality of the workforce through an expansion of (certain) social policies (education, childcare etc). These debates have also come to influence the dynamics of social policies (education, labour market policies, VET) for young people in Austria, as these groups present a testbed for the reorientation of the welfare system. The situation of youth in Austria is increasingly described in educational and labour force categories as “early school leavers”, “low educated”, “difficult to place” or NEET.

Based on data with gathered in the FP7-project SOCIETY (2013-2015) our findings show that social investment strategies legitimise a deepening of the scope of welfare activities and its grasp on young peoples subjectivities and their behaviours. Through a specific construction of the “deficits” of young people and their family background, social policies for young people are more and more reorganised to “optimise” the transition from school to work and to adapt the latter to the alleged requirements of the market. Social investment oriented strategies have not simply led to welfare retrenchments but to qualitative changes in social policy interventions (the so-called Austrian training guarantee – soon to become mandatory - is an example for this). The goal is to make young people to adapt their subjectivities to demands of a smooth transition to employment. Interviews with policy makers revealed that a pathologisation of family backgrounds as well as deviant behaviours allows these policies to re-legitimise themselves as rational forms of support. This raises the question whether social investment really offers an alternative to activation.