The problematic concept of adversity capital as a basis for preparing young people for uncertainty: A provocation and pointer for policy and practice

Youth Research Centre Seminar Series 2017

Associate Professor Lucas Walsh, Associate Dean (Academic Staff) in the Faculty of Education at Monash University.

Labour market volatility and uncertainty urge deeper reflection on how sociologists, educators and policy-makers respond to the impact of these trends on young people. This presentation explores the challenges arising from the author’s attempt to conceptualise possible understandings of, and responses to, these trends using the concept of adversity capital.

It is based on the premise that in a fluid and often precarious workforce, young people need to develop certain capabilities and dispositions to be resilient and adaptive to change. The concept is bundled with an understanding of resilience that is situated within a wider social ecology consisting of key actors and support networks surrounding young people. Moreover, it includes the ability to critically navigate prevailing neoliberal norms.

One challenge arising from this notion relates to the possibilities for young people to critically question and interrogate the pervasiveness of neoliberalism, which has been subject to debate in recent youth sociology. The argument that young people can be freed from their own ‘false consciousness’ has been challenged by France and Threadgold (2016) who argue that “Young people are not passive dupes, but are in a constant reflexive struggle to respond to circumstances not always of their own making.” Is the development of adversity capital a way forward, or is it reinforcing neoliberal forms of governance?


Associate Professor Lucas Walsh is currently Associate Dean (Academic Staff) in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. He was previously Director of Research and Evaluation at the Foundation for Young Australians. Lucas has worked in corporate, government and not-for-profit sectors and held four research fellowships. His recent book, from which this presentation draws, is entitled Educating Generation Next: Young People, Teachers and Schooling in Transition(Palgrave Macmillan). Forthcoming books include: Rethinking Youth Citizenship After the Age of Entitlement with Rosalyn Black and Youth, Digital Society and Citizenship: Control Shift , with Amanda Third, Philippa Collin and Rosalyn Black.