Enterprise, identity and structure: a longitudinal study of youth enterprise experiences

Rouse, Julia Christine (2004) Enterprise, identity and structure: a longitudinal study of youth enterprise experiences. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Youth enterprise programmes (YEPs) have received substantial government funding and influenced the lives of thousands of young people yet have rarely been the subject of in-depth research. Consequently, there is little evidence on which to assess youth enterprise as a form of public policy. This thesis presents new research to help address this 'gap' in knowledge. This thesis presents a longitudinal study of youth enterprise experiences. It asks what sorts of identities 'disadvantaged' young people hoped to actualise through youth enterprise, how identities are influenced by a YEP and how identities develop through the process of planning, launching, trading in and, often, failing in business. These processes are conceptualised using a novel theoretical framework, the Relational Identity Development Model, which conceptualises identity as emergent from biographical experience and as in relationship with discursive and material structures. The 'disadvantaged' young people in this study hoped to actualise a range of frustrated identifications by starting a YEP business and, so, cannot be understood as simple 'types'. They wrote business plans that can be understood as lifeplans based on the discourse of enterprise as an open route of opportunity. These lifeplans were largely actualised during business launch (although few young people actualised the 'intention' in their business plans to become independent of benefits while trading). When start-up capital was exhausted, YEP participants lacked the material and social resources required to sustain their businesses. Business failure was interpreted in individualised terms, resulting in either devastating self-blame or a belief that, by learning from experience, each individual could employ their personal agency to found a new, profitable business. Business failure most commonly led to planning a new business but, again, these ventures were poorly resourced and seemed likely to fail. Ultimately, then, this thesis challenges the assumption that youth enterprise leads into paid work and argues that, as it stands, youth enterprise cannot be seen as an effective policy of social inclusion.

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