Three notes on a political economy of youth: Challenges and opportunities for youth research

Presented by Professor Peter Kelly, School of Education, RMIT University

In this presentation, Professor Peter Kelly will add to a recent debate in the Journal of Youth Studies about what a political economy of youth might look like. He will take up aspects of Mayssoun Sukarieh and Stuart Tannock’s (2016) response to the initial contributions by James Côté (2014, 2016) and Alan France and Steven Threadgold (2015), and will take the form of three ‘notes’:

  1. Capitalism: From the first industrial revolution to the third industrial revolution;
  2. Youth as an artefact of governmentalised expertise;
  3. The agency/structure problem in youth studies: Foucault’s dispositif and post-human exceptionalism.

These notes will suggest that 21st century capitalism is globalising, is largely neo-Liberal, and is being reconfigured in profound ways by the Anthropocene, bio-genetics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT). A political economy of 21st century capitalism, let alone a political economy of young people, must be able to account for a capitalism that in many ways looks like the capitalism of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, but which is at the same time profoundly different as it enters what has often been described as the Third Industrial Revolution. These profound emergences pose significant challenges for engaging with a political economy of youth, and for the conduct of youth research (in all its diversity).


Peter Kelly is Deputy Head of School (Research and Innovation) and Director, Centre for Education, Training and Work in the Asian Century, in the School of Education, RMIT University. He is a social theorist who has published extensively on young people, the practice of youth studies, social theory and globalisation. His books include A Critical Youth Studies for the 21st Century (2015), Young People and the Aesthetics of Health Promotion: Beyond Reason, Rationality and Risk (2016), and Neo-Liberalism and Austerity: The Moral Economies of Young People’s Health and Well-Being (2017).