Affective histories of youth vulnerability

Year: 2019

Author: McLeod, Julie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper revisits arguments presented in earlier genealogical account of policy discourses of vulnerable youth citizens (McLeod 2012) in light of escalating interest in vulnerability as a site of educational interventions and a trope to characterise the present. Framed as an attribute of certain types of educable subjects and not others, the prospect of vulnerability also galvanises and arguably helps produce a politics of despair, in which there is often a slippage between seeing vulnerability as a consequence of structural disadvantage and as an affective state. Drawing on research for the Making Futures (2017) project – a longitudinal study of young people, generational change and senior schooling in three contrasting communities – this presentation turns to the history of emotions as a route into repositioning or at least adding to how notions and experiences of vulnerability are engaged in educational discourse – from wellbeing affirmations to psy-knowledge critiques, from accounts of precarious livelihoods to resilience training. In particular, it considers Walkerdine’s notion of ‘affective history’, which she deploys to understand contemporary aspects of social class and specifically working-class experience; she argues that in order to grasp the ‘the present of class, it was necessary to understand its affective landscape, and to do this needed engagement with the ways in which embodied responses to historical events are transmitted to the bodies of descendants and to think about the ways in which this might relate to the embodied responses to classed inequalities over generations’ (Walkerdine 2016). Taking such an affective historical lens onto vulnerability – as represented, attributed, experienced – helps not only to situate it in time, place, over time and across generations. It also demands that we give greater attention to precisely how affective dynamics of the past echo in the everyday present, what that means for how youth vulnerability is understood, and the educational diagnoses and solutions proposed.



McLeod, Julie (2012) ‘Vulnerability and the Neo-Liberal Youth Citizen: A View from Australia’, Comparative Education 48, no. 1: 11–26.

Walkerdine, Valerie (2016) ‘Affective History, Working-Class Communities and Self-Determination’, The Sociological Review 64, no. 4 (1 November 2016): 699–714,