Beyond hope and outrage: conceptualizing and harnessing adversity capital in young people

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


Young people’s worlds are characterized by fluidity, exclusion, uncertainty and change. These are evident in the political, economic and cultural dimen- sions of their lives, which can be exacerbated by austerity measures and other forms of policy seeking to promote neoliberal perspectives. A good example of this, which had the potential to reverberate across the lives of young people, emerged during a short-lived government whose policy vision arguably represented a new chapter of neoliberalism in Australia.
This discussion focuses on a political moment and source of outrage in response to Tony Abbott’s leadership of the Liberal National Party (lnp) coalition government (2013–2015). This brief conservative government signalled a lurch in Australian politics farther to the right and pushed the boundaries of austerity government. It reflected a form of neoliberalism that was questionable even by the lnp’s own senior ministry (Hartcher and Massola, 2015). In this chapter I briefly provide three examples of how the neoliberal language of that government fostered forms of economic, political and cul- tural exclusion. Specific proposals and inactions are identified that directly and inadvertently sought to lock out ways of belonging and participating in contemporary society, promoting a lack of security and an erosion of trust.
The discussion then develops a conceptual framework for equipping young people with the skills and competencies to navigate conditions exacerbated by neoliberalism. Building on previous work (Walsh 2016, 2017) it develops the concept of adversity capital as both a way of understanding, and as a basis to respond to, certain challenges confronting young people today. It includes a brief overview of renewed international interest in developing certain “soft skills,” competencies and literacies in young people to navigate uncertainty, ex- clusion and precarity. These “skills” include problem solving, communication, digital literacy and other employability skills, as well as cultural competencies and political literacy. This chapter further develops and positions the concept in the areas of work, political participation and culture.
While adversity capital seeks to enable young people to be more adaptive, flexible and resilient, the development of these skills as part of adversity capi- tal could be seen to reflect a shift towards reinforcing the neoliberal “entre- preneurial self,” in which subjectivity is characterized by responsibility and individual self-management (Kelly 2013). To address this potential limitation, the following discussion critically locates the theoretical concept of adversity capital in a moral economy of youth. This dimension of adversity capital also offers a basis for resistance. Written from the perspective of an educator, this conceptual approach is about equipping young people to navigate and chal- lenge dominant neoliberal views.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationYoung People and the Politics of Outrage and Hope
EditorsPeter Kelly, Perri Campbell, Lyn Harrison, Chris Hickey
Place of PublicationLeiden Netherlands
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9789004387492
ISBN (Print)9789004337077
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameYouth in a Globalizing World
ISSN (Print)2212-9383


  • Neoliberalism
  • Soft skills
  • Policy
  • Adversity capital
  • Civics and citizenship

Cite this