Youth, Neoliberalism, Ethics: Some Questions

Joe Austin

[1] As Hai Ren notes elsewhere in this issue, the analytical framework of neoliberal governmentality, initiated by Foucault and developed in a number of important works during the 1990s, has been ignored by most scholars of contemporary youth subcultures in the US and UK. [i] This claim can be extended to the academic work on youth and youth cultures in general, with very few exceptions. [ii] On the other hand, terms that are frequently associated with governmentality — neoliberalism, risk, agency, conduct — are in relatively common use in contemporary youth studies. How might these two bodies of work — one on governmentality, the other on youth and youth cultures within neoliberalism and the risk society — be usefully brought into dialogue to address the fields of conduct in which contemporary youth becomes governable? How might we incorporate the issue of ethics — a central concern of Foucault, but rarely addressed in the literature on neoliberalism — into this dialogue? This essay briefly takes up these inquiries through reviews of three recent works: Ronald Strickland's edited volume Growing Up Postmodern: Neoliberalism and the War on the Young (2002), Mark Cieslik and Gary Pollock's edited volume Young People in Risk Society: The Restructuring of Youth Identities and Transitions in Late Modernity (2002), and Alain Badiou's Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (1993; trans., 2001).

Growing Up Postmodern and Young People in Risk Society

[2] Wide-ranging in its topics, assumptions, archives, and approaches, the articles in Growing Up Postmodern cover youth-oriented consumerism, advertising, and popular culture; the slow fall of the juvenile justice system, the staggering increases in youth incarceration, the recent discourses of youthful criminality, and the emergence of a "prison-industrial complex"; the problematic interchanges between the late-60s counterculture, consumerism, race, and gender; the positioning of "third wave" feminism and female adolescence; and academic knowledge production about youth, including its sometimes-unhappy relationships with contemporary youth activism.

[3] At first glance, the collection's title, with its gesture toward Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd (1960) would seem more consistent with the volume's themes than its subtitle, "Neoliberalism and the War on the Young." A partial accounting can be found in the ways the notions of postmodernism and neoliberalism are related and deployed in Strickland's introduction to the volume. There he notes that the "chronic problems of modernity have become the accepted status quo of postmodernity; to many people they now appear no longer as problems but as the natural and unchangeable order of things." [iii] Thus, the "absurdities" that Goodman identified as confounding the transition to adulthood in the late 1950s are now accepted as the given terrain. Neoliberalism is then posed as "the hegemonic ideology of postmodern consumerism," a globalist ideology that promotes free market economic policies that insert or expand the rationality of the market into new areas of social life, including the long-established, state-supported social security and mass socialization programs for adolescents. [iv] These definitions frame one of the dominant themes of this collection, namely a critical concern with the ways in which the predatory aspects of the free market have been allowed to breech the "social contract of adolescence" that provided, in some measure, a special protected status as well as certain social benefits for young people.

[4] Strickland groups the thirteen articles into four broad topical categories. For brevity, I want to consider only one of these categories, "consumers and criminals," and then draw some connections to articles grouped under other categories. The topics grouped under "consumers and criminals" evoke the contradictory yet linked views within the Anglo/American post-WW2 imaginary of youth as simultaneously the monstrous criminal and the ideal consumer. [v] Henry Giroux's article, "The War on the Young: Corporate Culture, Schooling, and the Politics of 'Zero Tolerance'," traces the multiple connections between the increase in the youth prison population, the defunding of public schooling, and the decreasingly need for young people's labor beginning in the 1980s and 1990s. Giroux's arguments are supported and further elaborated in articles by Gary Smith, on the steady erosion of the juvenile justice system (particularly in the consideration of youths as young as 13 years old as adults for some crimes) in the same time period, and by Elizabeth Kleinfeld on the political economy of illiteracy within the prison-industrial system that now replaces the school as the "public" institution for socializing an astounding number of newly-adult youth criminals. [vi]

[5] The key justifications for amplifying the criminal/consumer split in representations of youth took place within the United States during the early to mid-1990s, when ideologues such as John DiIulio were warning that nation's citizens about an approaching criminal youth generation, a "wave of superpredators." [vii] Like Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the prophesied crime tsunami did not actually come to pass, but was empirical evidence — actual crime — the real motivation for these forecasts? Smith shows that by the late 1990s, with a dramatic drop in crime as well as the incredible cost of increasing youth incarcerations already evident, draconian legislation (such as the Violent Youth Predator Act of 1996) were still being persistently introduced (and sometimes successfully passed) in the U.S. Congress, all with the intention of ending juvenile justice as an institutionalized "second chance" for young offenders. [viii] This marks a shift from an ideological justification for juvenile justice and penal institutions ("correction" through reformation of the malleable adolescent individual) to simply warehousing "others" within brutal institutions for adults deemed beyond redemption.

[6] The changes in contemporary disciplinary practices have been much discussed in the governmentality literature, particularly questions about whether a risk regime or a "post-disciplinary" order has replaced the disciplinary order that Foucault described in Discipline and Punish (1977). [ix] What a dialogue between youth studies and governmentality might yield is more focused questions on the ways in which legal and penal practices are being used to dismantle existing social categories as well as what kinds of "governed" youthful subjectivities these practices might produce. As I have argued elsewhere, there are indications that the established notions of adolescence, first developed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, may be under revision by the state apparatus, which played a key role in their institutionalization. [x] As neoliberalism seeks to dismantle the welfare state, does it also seek to dismantle adolescence and youth as well? If so, how will this institutional transformation reconstruct the "transitional" subjects (adolescents) that have been governed as they passed through the public school, the juvenile justice system, and/or the juvenile penal system? Giroux provides one concise answer: "Rather than being at risk in a society marked by deep economic and social inequalities, youth have become the risk." [xi]

[7] But if neoliberals have been engaged in a "war on the young," they have simultaneously continued to uphold young people as the idealized spokesmodels for consumer desire and "fun." The neoliberal coalition is based on a free market circulating within economies that depend mightily on consumer spending, so youths' ideological position in this configuration is not insignificant. Bill Osgerby shows that the niche marketing techniques that now characterize contemporary advertising strategies were in evidence among U.S. marketers in the 1940s and 1950s, as the print advertising industry attempted to match "teenage" consumers with product manufacturers. It is tempting to take up the trope of "war" to also describe the creation of consumer desires. Certainly, Andrew Kurtz's article on the interpellative functions of first-person shooter video games like Doom, Marathon, and Half Life, and Margaret Henderson's history of the Australian counterculture's cooptation into a kind of sexist masculine consumerism might bolster such an argument. Neither would the trope of "war" be entirely incompatible with Timothy Scheie's analysis of Roland Barthes' silence about the development of his sexuality. Scheie positions Barthes' insistent refusal to narrate his youthful sexual experiences and desires as a resistance to a stable/essential "gay" identity (from which consumerism might proceed), and uses Barthes' refusal to reflect upon various strategies for imagining contemporary queer youth identities. [xii]

[8] But the trope of war (a war made on youth) dodges the issue of youthful consumer agency — a kind of "freedom" that the governmentality perspective might usefully interject into the conversation. Rather than deny agency (a frequent claim of its critics), the literature on governmentality is more concerned with ways in which agency is produced, promoted, and shaped (see the discussion below). We need not engage in an uncritical celebration of the "fun" of youthful consumerism to see that it is a way of constructing a "governed freedom" that stands as a kind of citizenship school for adolescents to make "good choices." Indeed, if the "social contract" is being renegotiated along a more strict market logic, as suggested above, consumerism may be seen as the new "public school" where acceptable decision-making is publicly governed.

[9] While Growing Up Postmodern is an interdisciplinary undertaking that gestures broadly toward neoliberalism as an evolving economic ideology in evidence since the Second World War, Young People in a Risk Society is more strictly contemporary and more disciplinary-focused (the collection originated in the British Sociological Association Youth Study Group), with several articles closely tied to social work concerns and more or less traditional analyses of the effects of social policy. Seven of the nine articles cite Ulrich Beck's foundational work on the risk society, and five of the nine in some measure take up the concept of "transitions," although both concepts are subjected to critique, and neither is found to be unproblematic. [xiii] The articles in Young People in Risk Society deal with young people's transition to adulthood in employment and housing; critiques of British "Third Way" state employment policies; and consumerism, lifestyle, and identity.

[10] Again, for brevity, I want to take up a pair of topics from the volume rather than considering each article separately. Risk and agency are consistent themes in Young People in Risk Society, and offer potential terminological bridges between this collection and the literature on governmentality. Despite its prevalence, the research presented in Young People in Risk Society does not unambiguously embrace or support Beck, Giddens, or any of the other framers of risk society. For instance, Geoff Nichols examines the use of risk in "outdoor adventure" rehabilitation programs ("adventure education") of "at risk" or offender youth, concluding that Giddens' and Beck's work on risk society is difficult to translate into this sort of rehabilitative practice, which has otherwise proven to be effective within limits. Similarly, Tracy Shildrick's qualitative research on youth drug use, while not wholly rejecting postmodern/reflective sociological models, finds that more traditional, structural and socio-economic models still have a great deal of explanatory merit. Gary Pollock's quantitative and historical analysis of underemployment likewise calls the uniqueness of the contemporary risk society (and thus, its usefulness as a concept) into question; indeed, he points out that it may be the post-1950s "boom" that is the anomaly, and employment "risk" may be closer to the historical norm.

[11] Three other chapters in the collection, by Steven Miles, Ben Carrington and Brian Wilson, and Tracy Skelton, differ markedly from Nichols', Shildrick's, and Pollock's measured considerations of the risk society and the postmodern era, as well as their assumptions of a more or less naturalistic transition between youth and adulthood. In particular, Miles, and Carrington and Wilson, take up postmodern models (including those describing aspects of globalization), although they too selectively challenge the idea that contemporary social life is inherently more difficult or constraining ("risky") for youth. Youth have often appeared within social criticism as the victims of social change, and in fact, as Miles asserts (and I concur) this may be their primary representation in the main disciplinary branches of youth studies. Indeed, among the thirteen articles included in the Growing Up Postmodern collection reviewed above, only four contain suggestions of youthful agency of any significance, and but two take up youth agency as their primary object of study. In his article for Young People in Risk Society, "Victims of Risk? Young People and the Construction of Lifestyles," Miles argues that this predominant trope of youth-as-victim covers over the significant ways in which young people have successfully made functional adaptations to the contemporary social flux. As he states, "young people are not victims of their own transitions, but ... in a sense they actively collude with elements of the risk society in order to construct a coherent sense of identity in what is an ever-changing world." [xiv] Carrington and Wilson, examining the global flows of dance club musics and their relationships to "local" club cultures, sound a similar note in claiming that globalization (perhaps unintentionally) has constructed a realm in which "opportunities for cultural intermediaries and producers — DJs, promoters, event managers, club designers, and so on — are being created by young people themselves." [xv]

[12] Tracy Skelton's article extends Miles' critique of the literature on the "transition" between youth and adulthood, noting their developmentalist tropes of progress, passing through a stage rather than finding value in the time period itself, and arriving at some stable (preferred and normalized) endpoint of adulthood. Citing Morrow and Richards (1996), Skelton argues that the developmental trope "undervalues children's competencies and points to the fact that even if children are listened to, then they are not to be taken seriously or trusted." [xvi] Drawing on ethnographic research with lesbian and gay youth, she demonstrates that the individualization that characterizes "flexible modernization" (yet one more of the plethora of names used to imagine recent history and the contemporary moment) allow a much wider range of options, experiences, opportunities, and complexities than the received notions of youth-to-adult transition allows; she concludes that only by embracing this diverse range can the concept of transition continue to be of use to youth studies scholars. Sue Heath, considering the experiences of young people in their twenties and early thirties, comes to similar conclusions. Like Skelton's, her work suggests that the reconstruction of "youth" in the risk society in turn implies a reconstruction of "adulthood" that disturbs traditional linear notions of transition between these two states.

Risk, Neoliberalism, Governmentality, and Youth

[13] The terminological and topical overlaps between the three frameworks considered above — risk society, neoliberalism, and governmentality — suggest that some dialogue, particularly when directed towards youth, might be productive. While a full consideration of this suggestion is well beyond the scope of this essay, some initial inquiries can be readily drawn out. I will begin those suggestions with a very briefly outline of some of the relevant portions of the governmentality framework.

[14] Nikolas Rose, in Powers of Freedom, describes the notion of governing under this framework as:

all endeavours to shape, guide, direct the conduct of others ... it also embraces the ways in which one might be urged and educated to bridle one's own passions, to control one's own instincts, to govern oneself ... Governing is a genuinely heterogeneous dimension of thought and action — something captured to some extent in the multitude of words available to describe and enact it: education, control, influence, regulation, administration, management, therapy, reformation, guidance." [xvii]

Practices of governing have some dimension of rationalization, intention and calculation, although these dimensions may not be fully conscious to any particular actor. Two other general points are worth bearing in mind. First, the governmentality framework is less concerned with distinctions between macro- and micro-level scales than most political analyses. That is, the framework is does not privilege one scale (in most political thought, the macro-level), with the other (typically, the micro-level) posed as a reflection, effect, homology, or some other subsidiary. Second, the governmentality framework is not concerned with domination in its most simplistic sense — to govern, the subject must have some range of agency and a capacity to act:

To govern is to action upon action. This entails trying to understand what mobilizes the domains or entities to be governed: to govern one must act upon these forces, instrumentalize them in order to shape actions, processes and outcomes in desired directions ... to govern is to presuppose the freedom of the governed." [xviii]

As this quote suggests, agency in this framework does not spring from some inherent or essential source within the individual or collective; agency here is a socially and discursively mobilized construction, albeit a construction that is never fully predictable.

[15] How might this framework usefully interact with the articles collected in the two anthologies mentioned above? The term neoliberalism and the risk society in their titles are more or less equivalent to "advanced liberalism" in the governmentality literature; all three are terminologies used to describe recent history, if not the present moment. [xix] That moment is characterized by an expansion of economic logic to encompass and describe larger segments, if not the whole, of human behavior. In particular, advanced liberalism is set against the institutions and practices innovated during the prior welfare state era. However, as Colin Gordon points out, neoliberalism is not a simple return to nineteenth century laissez-faire capitalism. Unlike its predecessor, advanced liberalism does not set aside a moral space that is "outside" of the market where an essential self resides, nor does advanced liberalism understand the market to be a "natural" phenomenon that human intervention might falter — the conditions that allow the market to exist, as well as the subject that would activate that market must be constructed and governed together. (xx)

[16] This is perhaps most clear in the contemporary moves to privatize institutions and practices that were once within the sphere of the social. As the edited volumes considered above show, for young people, this would include things like schooling, the juvenile justice and prison systems, cultural education, and state-sponsored unemployment and housing benefits. In the edited volumes, these matters are taken up as a loss or repression rather than as a transformation of productive practices. A key difference is the standards of measurement; in most instances, the welfare state acts as that standard from which neoliberalism is posed as a loss — of security, of opportunity, of equality, and of inclusion. The governmentality framework does not so much challenge these critiques as ask different question: what is being produced by the new practices?

A Militancy for the Neo-Liberal Age? Badiou's Ethics

[17] The governmentality framework will not, nor has it ever proposed to, resolve the contradictions now faced by many who critique neoliberal economic thought and policy in the name of youth, namely the contradiction that most progressive intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s shared some critiques and viewpoints (until recently) with neoliberals. Most generally, they agreed that the welfare state had failed those it sought to protect and support (including youth). [xxi] Is the call of the current critiques, then, for a return to something like a neo-Progressive movement to establish more adequate state protections of youth? [xxii] Unfortunately, the full consideration of this important question is well beyond the scope of this humble essay. However, I note that many of the authors in the volumes considered above are implicitly calling for something like "human rights" for young people. Certainly, there would seem to be a consensus among these authors that adults (and the institutions they have constructed and administer) have something like a moral or ethical obligation to youth that is distinct from the obligations to other populations. Critiques of those adults and their institutions are leveraged in the name of those moral and ethical obligations.

[18] These observations bring us to the potentials of a second framework for thinking the lives of contemporary youth. Specifically, they ask us to position the work on the contemporary crises of youth within the complex relationships between neoliberalism and "the turn to ethics." [xxiii] This positioning is no easy task for any number of reasons, but two stand out as particularly significant. The first difficulty is the paucity of writing that relates neoliberalism and ethics. Where does ethics fit into discussions of neoliberalism? A second difficulty: the word "ethics" is nowhere to be found in the works reviewed above, and that "lack" is characteristic of the academic scholarship on youth.

[19] It might reasonably be argued that a conversation about youth and ethics —fragmented, unaware or unacknowledged, imprecise, coded in other terms — is implied in some of the articles in Growing Up Postmodern and Young People in Risk Society. One might arguably find a ground for bringing an ethical perspective to the conjuncture of youth and neoliberalism in these volumes by considering whether youth is, in whole or in part, constructed as an "other" to adults.

[20] There is plenty of evidence that young people are constructed as "other" to adults in the consensus realities of everyday life. Myriad "status" laws apply only to the young; thus, a part of the state carefully patrols and manages the boundaries between "minor" status and the age of full citizenship. In the vast majority of life situations, youth are in continual contact with (and under surveillance by) adults holding significantly more legal rights and responsibilities. Those adults — teachers, police, shop owners, bosses, co-workers, parents, adult siblings, relatives, and others — are tasked with, at a minimum, "watching the kids," but they are not themselves so tightly monitored. As with so many "others," youth are thus more open to being victimized by the state as well as being victimized by adults on whom they depend, who supervise them, or encounter them in public or private space generally. The fact that most youths later become adults — who will also pose these risks to a new generation of youths — does not diminish young people's status as "other" in the (always-temporary) present; if anything, the generational process affirms youths' "otherness" all the more by demonstrating its structural-historical duration.

[21] The two anthologies reviewed above also offered strong evidence of a moral or ethical abandonment of the responsibilities adults took on themselves during the twentieth century. "Zero tolerance," the increasing number of minors in adult prisons (with adult sentences), the collapse of public education within the planet's richest nation, the limitation of governmental assistance to young people entering the job market without consideration for the obvious structural flaws in a free market capitalist economy: all this and more demonstrates that young people are now ambiguously identified with adults, and in most respects, less secure. In some work, these sorts of facts seem to be mobilizing toward an argument concerning the human rights of youth. Of course, a discourse of human rights for youth would not be a historically unwarranted response to discourses that situate youth as other; this rhetorical strategy has won some important struggles in maintaining minimum standards of survival that neoliberalism might be tempted to dismantle. But is there no third alternative, one that does not trap us in the human rights/other dichotomies, which can be reasonably seen as a strategic, if not tactical, dead end in terms of the social change it seeks to advocate? I will take up this question in a review of Alain Badiou's Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil.

[22] Keep in mind that the word "essay" in the book's title is meaningful — Badiou's writing takes up less than 100 pages of this small book, and as both Badiou (in his introduction to this English translation) and Hallward (in this introduction) both point out, the ethic of truths is not completely rendered in this essay of 1993. Still, this is one of the two preferred gateways into Badiou's thinking (the other being the equally brief, but much more dense St. Paul: The Foundation of Universalism), and his thinking is one of the more interesting and promising options amongst the "turn to ethics."

[23] To audiences that have frequently found French theoretical work difficult to decipher, I am pleased to report that Peter Hallward's translation of Badiou's writing in Ethics is (classically?) accessible, concise, and clear, as in keeping with the "universal" intention of Badiou's ethics. [xxiv] The new ethical turn — "the major 'philosophical' tendency of the day" in Badiou's analysis — is best understood as a humanist return to the "rights of man" (and the experiential common sense of Descartean individuality) in the wake of the erosion and collapse of revolutionary possibilities, particularly those associated with Marxism. [xxv] The first three chapters set about critiquing the two current dominant views of ethics, both mentioned above: the ethic of human rights ("the consensual representation of Evil") and the ethic of difference" ("concern for the other"). Given that these two ethical positions have, at least partially, underpinned all sorts of calls for tolerance, multiculturalism, and activist engagement since the 1970s, it may be difficult for some readers to get past Badiou's critiques.

[24] For Badiou, the ethic of human rights assumes a universal subject who transparently suffers; a second universal subject — a white, Western, adult savior? — stands behind this "suffering beast," able to observe, judge, and act upon the first's victimization. Badiou finds this figuration to be a product of the West's own self-satisfied and accepting gaze at the misery of the Third World. But this is but one flaw in the dominant ethic. Badiou also argues that human rights are impoverished "rights to non-Evil." [xxvi] That is, the ethic of human rights, drawing upon a naturalized understanding of evil, cannot imagine the Good, and "prohibits every broad, positive vision of possibilities" in fear that such a vision will inevitably lead to totalitarianism, leaving us with only a "stodgy conservatism." [xxvii] Finally, the universalities contained within the ethic of human rights "prevents it from thinking the singularity of situations, which is the obligatory starting point of all human actions." [xxviii]

[25] The second dominant ethics, the ethic of difference or concern for the other, falters when the other refuses to respect differences; this leads not to differences, but to an insistence on the other's sameness with self. Badiou argues that the "Absolute Other" envisioned by Levinas is an artifact of "decomposed religion": the Altogether Other "is quite obviously the ethical name of God." [xxix] On the other hand, Badiou dismisses cultural differences as "nothing more than the infinite and self-evident multiplicity of human-kind." [xxx] Consideration of this mundane existential plurality will not lead to significant change; claims of difference simply enflame neoliberalism's homogenizing rampage of equivalence.[xxxi] Badiou concludes that these two dominant ethical programs are nihilistic. In their place, Badiou proposes an ethic of truths: "a truth is, as such, indifferent to differences ... a truth is the same for all." (italics in original) [xxxii]

[26] At the center of the ethic of truths is a human potential to "enter into the composing of a subject" that is able to carry a truth forward in time. Such a potential subjectivity is "convoked" by an extraordinary event, something that goes beyond (and punctures) the mundane frameworks for understanding the situation, and here he turns to well-known examples: the French Revolution, Schoenberg's invention of the twelve-tone scale, but also "a personal amorous passion." [xxxiii] Fidelity to such an event convokes a subject that carries forward the truth-process thus initiated, but this subject is "in excess" of the individual in the psychological sense. This fidelity constructs a (partial) coherence within the uncontainable multiplicity of the individual, and that subjectivity then bears or carries forward a truth, achieving her own individual immortality in that practice. It is important to grasp this central anti-humanist perspective: the subject is not an individual; the subject "rides" the individual, who must persist in the difficulties of asserting a truth that is beyond (everyday) knowledge, beyond everyday self-interest. Ethics, then, is what guides the individual to carry the truth-process forward, rather than becoming mired in the flux of everyday pluralities.

[27] In chapter 5, he returns to the topic of Evil from within the perspective of the ethic of truths, recasting Evil as tripartite. First is terror, or the mis-taking of a mere occurrence for an evental break, or the mis-identification of a truth. Second is betrayal, or the inability to sustain the strength to carry a truth forward. Third is disaster, which is the movement to force a truth onto others. Although Badiou rejects the notion of "radical evil" (often particularized in the Holocaust by the dominant ethics) as a point of consensus from which a notion of human rights might be grounded, he nonetheless takes the Holocaust and Nazism as his central example of the three evils that are always possible, but only as particular historical sequences. That is, Evil does not exist before the truth process; Evil exists because there is a truth process, allowing a simulacrum (a mis-taken event) capable of giving rise to a fidelity.

Badiou's Ethics and neoliberalism: Where does it leave youth?

[28] Badiou's Ethics responds to the prevalent mood of profound political stasis, the feeling that there are no revolutionary alternatives, which pervades the contemporary left. Badiou positions this mood within the turn away from utopian and revolutionary thinking after World War 2, when many have accepted the victories of capitalism as the necessary (or inevitable, or permanent) "end of ideology" that ultimately underpins neoliberalism's "necessity." [xxxiv] Although not without its problems — as recognized by Badiou himself —Ethics attempts to think past this historical impasse, suggesting that the impasse itself might be connected to a mis-taken event: has an evental break in "freedom" truly occurred in the West during the last half of the 20th century? Are we immortal subjects carrying forth a truth of freedom initiated by such an event? Cleary, Badiou would answer these questions in the negative; Ethics initiates another thinking, and is perhaps — not unlike Foucault's work on governmentality — an event in itself.

[29] Does the ethic of truth open a new way to consider the conjunctures of neoliberalism and the lives of young people? Once again, this is an important question worthy of consideration beyond a meager review essay. That limitation aside, I will conclude with a few suggestions. First, Ethics points away from the tradition of seeing young people as "suffering beasts" always in need of adult agency for their rescue. This critique displaces the idea that adults are simply "watching out for the kids," and thus shakes accepted hierarchies of all sorts. It might also assist in sorting out the tensions surrounding the family in youth studies: is a parent's love for a child of the sort that Badiou proposes as an event? Second, Ethics suggests that a great deal of what has been researched within youth studies has amounted to a cataloging of mundane differences, newly "discovered" as innovations. Certainly, his critique of cultural differences, a topic of central concern for youth studies, suggests that the trajectory of the field since the late 1970s needs reexamining, particularly the issue of commodification and incorporation which have been important since Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style. [xxxv] Finally, the ways in which adolescence has been structured in the West has made it a "special time" of ethical and moral development, often characterized by passionately following an event, an ideal, or a love in a way that have some similarities to those described by Badiou. Does the ways in which the current life course is constructed mean that the move from adolescence to adulthood stands as the model for rejecting fidelity? That is, has the West created a subject in which fidelity to any ideal (other than self-interest) is shown to be juvenile, immature, "a passing phase," something to be discarded for the (supposed) pleasures of adulthood that are withheld for so long?

[30] Confronted with the literature on governmentality, and the recent translation of Badiou's work, youth studies scholars now face a host of new questions.


[i] An adequate appreciation of the literature on governmentality is beyond the scope of this essay, but any good bibliography on the topic would include: G. Burchell, C. Gordon and P. Miller (eds), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); A. Barry, T. Osborne, and N. Rose (eds), Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, Neo-liberalism and Rationalities of Government (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); M. Dean, Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society (London: Sage, 1999); N. Rose, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), and the founding works by Foucault listed in the bibliographies of these four books. Foucault's 1978 lecture on governmentality is reprinted in Burchell, Gordon, and Miller (eds.), cited above.

[ii] Among the exceptions, see V. Bell, "Governing Childhood: Neo-liberalism and the Law," Economy and Society 22:3 (1993): 390-405, and R. Ericson and K. Haggerty, "Governing the Young," in R. Smandych (ed.), Governable Places: Readings on Governmentality and Crime Control (Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1999), pp.163-190.

[iii] R. Strickland, "Introduction: What's Left of Modernity," in R. Strickland (ed.), Growing Up Postmodern: Neoliberalism and the War on the Young (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), p.2.

[iv] Strickland, p.2.

[v] See D. Hebdige, "Hiding in the Light: Youth Surveillance and Display," in D. Hebdige, Hiding in the Light (London: Routledge, 1988), pp.17-36. Osgerby briefly discusses this dichotomy in the context of Hebdige in B. Osgerby, "'A Caste, a Culture, a Market': Youth, Marketing, and Lifestyle in Postwar America" in Strickland, p.22-23.

[vi] G. Smith, "'Remorseless Young Predators': The Bottom Line of 'Caging Children,'" in Strickland (ed.), p.65-86; E. Kleinfeld, "Growing Up Incarcerated: The Prison-Industrial Complex and Literacy as Resistance," in Strickland (ed.), p.87-106.

[vii] J. DiIulio quoted in G. Smith, "'Remorseless Young Predators': The Bottom Line of 'Caging Children,'" in Strickland (ed.), p.71.

[viii] Smith, p.72-73.

[ix] See R. Castel, "From Dangerousness to Risk," in Burchell, Gordon, and Miller (eds.), 281-298.

[x] J. Austin, "Barbarian Threats to the New Rome: Urban Youth, Graffiti Writing, and the End of Adolescence in New York City," paper read at Children in Urban America conference, Marquette University, Institute for Urban Life, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 5, 2000.

[xi] H. Giroux, "The War on the Young: Corporate Culture, Schooling, and the Politics of 'Zero Tolerance,'" in Strickland (ed.), p.35.

[xii] B. Osgerby, p.15-34; A. Kurtz, "Ideology and Interpellation in the First-Person Shooter," p.107-122; T. Scheie, "Trouble Child: Barthes' Imagined Youth," p.123-140; M. Henderson, "The Big Business of Surfing's Oceanic Feeling: Thirty Years of Tracks Magazine," p.141-168, all in Strickland (ed.).

[xiii] U. Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: Sage, 1992).

[xiv] S. Miles, "Victims of Risk? Young People and the Construction of Lifestyles," in M. Cieslik and G. Pollack (eds.) Young People in Risk Society: The Restructuring of Youth Identities and Transitions in Late Modernity (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002), p.58.

[xv] B. Carrington and B. Wilson, "Global Clubcultures: Cultural Flows and Late Modern Dance Music Culture," in M. Cieslik and G. Pollack (eds.), p.75.

[xvi] Tracy Skelton, "Research on Youth Transitions: Some Critical Interventions," in M. Cieslik and G. Pollack (eds.), p.104.

[xvii] Rose, p.3-4.

[xviii] Rose, p.4.

[xix] See Rose (1999), p.137-166; Dean (1999), pp.149-197; C. Gordon, "Governmental Rationality: An Introduction," in Burchell, Gordon, and Miller (eds.), p.41-46. My intent here is not to argue for a strict one-to-one mapping of concepts, which is neither desirable nor possible, as Gordon's article, cite above, demonstrates.

[xx] C. Gordon, "Governmental Rationality: An Introduction," in Burchell, Gordon, and Miller (eds.), p.1-52.

[xxi] See the discussion of this situation in Rose (1999), p.139-142.

[xxii] Much of the fundamental governmental infrastructure that institutionalized modern notions of adolescence, and the historical grounds for contemporary notions of youth, were established in the US during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a historical period of middle class urban reform know as the "Progressive period" in most US historiography. For historical perspectives on the construction of US youth in this period, see J. Kett, Rites of Passage: Adolescence in America, 1790 to the Present (NYC: Basic Books, 1977); D. Nasaw, Children of the City (NYC: Oxford University Press, 1985); E. West, Growing Up in Twentieth Century America: A History and Reference Guide (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996).

[xxiii] The phrase "the turn to ethics" is borrowed from M. Garber, B. Hanssen, and R. Walkowitz (eds.), The Turn to Ethics (London: Routledge, 2000).

[xxiv] A. Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil ,trans. P. Hallward, (London: Verso, 2001). See Hallward's and Badiou's introductions, notes, and prefaces, which discuss the circumstances of the work's production, intentions, and translation.

[xxv] Quotes from Badiou, p.3 and p.4, respectively.

[xxvi] Badiou, p.9.

[xxvii] Badiou, p.13-14.

[xxviii] Badiou, p.14.

[xxix] Badiou, p.22.

[xxx] Badiou, p.26.

[xxxi] This is most clearly spelled out in Saint Paul: "There is ... nothing more amenable to the invention of new figures of monetary homogeneity, than a community and its territory or territories. The semblance of a non-equivalence is required so that equivalence itself can constitute a process. What inexhaustible potential for mercantile investments in this upsurge — taking the form of communities demanding recognition and so-called cultural singularities — of women, homosexuals, the disabled, Arabs! And these infinite combinations of predictive traits, what a godsend! ... Each time, a social image authorizes new products, specialized magazines, improved shopping malls, "free" radio stations, targeted advertising networks, and finally, heady "public debates" at peak viewing times. Deleuze put it perfectly: capitalist deterritoriaization requires a constant reterritorialization." A. Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, trans. Ray Brassier (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), p.10.

[xxxii] Badiou, p.27.

[xxxiii] Badiou, p.40. Italics in original. Badiou identifies four subjective types: "political, scientific, artistic, and amorous," p. 28.

[xxxiv] Among the important literature critiquing the "end of ideology" theses, I recommend D. W. Noble, The End of American History: Democracy, Capitalism, and the Metaphor of Two Worlds in Anglo-American Historical Writing, 1880-1980 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) and G. Lipsitz, Class and Culture in Cold War America: A Rainbow at Midnight (South Hadley, MA: J. F. Bergin, 1982).

[xxxv] D. Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London: Routledge, 1979).