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Young people's unemployment and social exclusion-the so-called 'youth problem'-is one of the main focuses in Finnish youth policies. We examine youth policies and youth support systems by applying a framework of policy analysis developed by Carol Bacchi. We ask 1) what kind of problematisations in youth policies and their implementations produce this 'youth problem' in Finland, 2) what are the assumptions behind these problematisations, and 3) what are the similarities and differences of these problematisations in youth policies and their implementations? We analyse youth policy documents and ethnographic and interview data from two youth support systems: One-stop Guidance Centres and outreach youth work. We suggest that both the policies and their implementations produce two discourses: the lack of young people's participation in economic activities, and the immaturity of young people. We also conclude that these discourses are attached to two contradictory ways of governing: neoliberal and paternalistic governing.
What’s the Problem (represented to be) in Finnish Youth Policies and
Youth Support Systems?
Katariina Mertanena*, Kalle Mäkeläb and Kristiina Brunilac
aFaculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland; bFaculty of
Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland; cFaculty of
Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
M. Ed. Katariina Mertanen
PO Box 9
00014 University of Helsinki
Tel: +358 45 897 2280
What’s the Problem (represented to be) in Finnish Youth Policies and
Youth Support Systems?
Young people’s unemployment and social exclusionthe so-called ‘youth
problem’is one of the main focuses in Finnish youth policies. We examine
youth policies and youth support systems by applying a framework of policy
analysis developed by Carol Bacchi. We ask 1) what kind of problematisations in
youth policies and their implementations produce this ‘youth problem’ in
Finland, 2) what are the assumptions behind these problematisations, and 3) what
are the similarities and differences of these problematisations in youth policies
and their implementations? We analyse youth policy documents and
ethnographic and interview data from two youth support systems: One-stop
Guidance Centres and outreach youth work. We suggest that both the policies
and their implementations produce two discourses: the lack of young people’s
participation in economic activities, and the immaturity of young people. We
also conclude that these discourses are attached to two contradictory ways of
governing: neoliberal and paternalistic governing.
Keywords: governing, youth policy, youth support systems, post-structural policy
The global financial crisis after 2008 left Finland struggling with mass youth
unemployment, better known as the ‘youth problem’ (Mertanen, Pashby & Brunila,
2020). As a reaction to this ‘youth problem’, Finland established several policies and
services, to which we are referring as youth support systems, such as the Youth
Guarantee, outreach youth work (OYW), and Steering Cabin (Ohjaamo) One-Stop
Guidance Centres (Määttä, 2018; Youth Act, 2016). Consequently, Finland is now
identified as being in an exemplary position in the European Union, and the Finnish
provision of youth work and youth support systems has been described as a success
story and an example of so-called ‘best practices’ (COM, 2016b, 2016a)
In this article, our aim is to take a closer look at youth policies and youth support
systems as those policies’ implementations in Finland. Our starting point is Carol
Bacchi’s (2012) insight that policies and their implementations work from the
assumption that policies are a response to existing ‘problems’ that need to be solved.
This view of policy questions the taken-for-granted nature and existence of these
‘problems’ and suggests shifting the aim of policy analysis from comparing and
analysing different procedures and solutions to the in-rooted societal norms and values
these ‘problems’ disrupt in one way or another (Bacchi, 2012; Bacchi & Goodwind,
2016). Interrogating how the ‘youth problem’ is constituted as a problem enables us to
further examine what the (possibly contradictory) norms and values towards which
young people are governed in Finnish society are (see Ball, 2013; Foucault, 2010). We
The term ‘young people’ is used here to refer to those aged 15-29 years (SWD, 2018, Youth
Act, 2016)
are also able to do a comparison between legislation and youth support systems in order
to see whether they are relying on the same set of problematisations or not.
In order to analyse policies from this point of view, Bacchi (2009) has introduced a set
of six different questions
aimed to analyse specific policies, from which we are
applying two in this article: What is the ‘youth problem’ represented to be in youth
policies and their implementations in Finland, and what are the assumptions behind the
representations of this ‘youth problem’?
Finnish Youth Policies and Youth Support Systems
Finnish youth policies and their implementations are in part regulated by legislation,
mainly by the Youth Act (2016), and in part by the EU’s governing bodies, such as the
European Commission and the European Parliament (Mertanen et al., 2020). EU’s so-
called ‘soft’ policy-making affects Finnish youth policies and their implementations
(Kuusipalo & Alastalo, 2019; see also Alexiadou et al., 2010). The most prominent
example of this in Finland is the Youth Guarantee—an EU-wide policy
recommendation guaranteeing that after three months of unemployment, young people
under 25 years of age will be offered employment, or a place in education or training
(CEU, 2013; MEAE, 2015). The implementation of the Youth Guarantee led to an
increase in services and support systems offered for young people, namely outreach
youth work and other services such as One-Stop Guidance Centre Steering Cabins
(Ohjaamo) (Gretschel, Paakkunainen, Souto, & Suurpää, 2014).
1. What’s the ‘problem’ represented to be in a specific policy or policy proposal? 2. What presuppositions or
assumptions underpin this representation of the ‘problem’? 3. How has this representation of the ‘problem’ come
about? 4. What is left unproblematic in this problem representation? Where are the silences? Can the ‘problem’ be
thought about differently? 5. What effects are produced by this representation of the ‘problem’? 6. How/where has
this representation of the ‘problem’ been produced, disseminated and defended? How has it been (or could it be)
questioned, disrupted and replaced? (Bacchi, 2009)
The purpose of outreach youth work (see Szeintuch, 2015), as the name entails,
is to find and reach out to young people who are seen as needing intervention
(Bamming & Walldén, 2019). The latest addition to the support systems, One-Stop
Guidance Service Steering Cabins (Ohjaamo), gather a network of public and private
services, such as Public Employment Services, youth work, the social work office, and
municipal healthcare under one roof, providing individual counselling and training to
young people seeking help (MEAE, 2015; Määttä, 2018). In Figure 1 we have mapped
the relations between these different actors and the policy implementations that have
resulted from different policy initiatives. Different governing bodies and organisations
are encircled. So-called ‘hard’ (direct and binding) policy regulations are drawn with
solid arrows, and so-called ‘soft’ governing is indicated with dashed arrows. Policy
documents are indicated with solid-bordered rectangular boxes, different youth support
systems with dashed boxes.
[Insert Figure 1 here]
These youth support systems mentioned above have been established as a part of
the Finnish welfare state. They represent typical forms of youth work consisting of
short-time and publicly funded interventions with multi-sited actor networks and multi-
professional teams (Brunila et al., 2019; Brunila & Ryynänen, 2017). In their conduct
and principles, they follow the ideals of a Nordic welfare state: a strong public sector,
government responsibility for supplying welfare services, equality, care, and fostering
tight social ties among citizens (Esping-Andersen, 2013).
Yet, as can be seen in Figure 1, the support systems form a network connecting
multiple actors. They are following a tendency through which the public sector has
become more market-oriented, and business- and market-oriented thinking has
permeated activities that Finnish welfare state has traditionally arranged and regulated
(Brunila, 2011; 2013). In this market-oriented thinking, young people are primarily seen
as individual customers, who are freely choosing which services to use from multiple
different options (Mertanen & Brunila, 2018; Mertanen et al., 2020).
Market-oriented thinking and the ideals of a Nordic welfare state are thus
working hand in hand in Finnish youth policies and youth support systems, which
sometimes might cause tensions in the ways in which young people are treated and
guided. For example, in her ethnographic research, in which she observed guidance
discussions of young people at the Public Employment Office, Haikkola (2019) noticed
that unemployment benefits are tied to visible ‘activity’ and the perceived self-
responsibility of young people. She concludes that the managing of and caring for
young unemployed young people is thus disciplinary in nature, in spite of the neoliberal
ideals of freedom to choose what steps to take. (Haikkola, 2019; see also Kurki et al.,
2018) Similar tensions can be found in outreach youth work (see Mäkelä, Mertanen &
Brunila, in review). For example, Juvonen suggests, based on her ethnographic research
on outreach youth work in Finland, that control is an essential part of outreach youth
work since young people do not necessarily have the abilities to navigate the ‘adult’
world by themselves. In this way, control and care are entwined: care and help are
possible in the situation where young people depend on the steering and control of the
youth workers. (Juvonen, 2015, pp. 99–100, 135-136.) This forms an interesting
contradiction with the aim of the OYW, which is stated in the Outreach Youth Work
Handbook as to strengthen young people’s abilities to move forward in life (Vilen 2018,
pp. 4).
In our previous research, we have analysed these multi-sited and multi-faceted
networks with concepts such as network governance (see Brunila & Ryynänen 2017) or
policy steering (Mertanen et al., 2020). In this article, however, we are developing a
new framework to scrutinise these entagled networks with: governing with
Governing with Problematisations
In order to scrutinise the ways in which the ‘youth problem’ is produced in Finnish
youth policies and their implementations, we scrutinise policies and policy
implementations as a way of governing (Dean, 2010; Rose & Miller, 2008). Governing
here does not refer only to a fixed system of established institutions, but rather to
different ways of arranging and creating conditions for people to act according to shared
norms and values (Foucault, 2010; Rose, 1999). These shared norms and values are
constituted on both providing and producing knowledge that shapes the ways that guide
people’s choices, conduct and self-understanding (Bacchi 2012; Foucault 2010; Rose &
Miller 2008).
On the level of populations, governing works through distinguishing and
recognising that different parts of the population have different needs. It relies on
calculation and defining the situations and problems as a population as meticulously as
possible (Alexiadou, Fink-Hafner, & Lange, 2010; Mertanen et al., 2020). This rings
true with young people as well—young people as a part of the population have often
been described as having specific needs and requirements, such as a need for guidance,
education, counselling, and different life-management and employability skills (see
France, 2007, Masoud et al., 2020). The apparatus of youth policies and their
implementation presented in Figure 1 relies on the particular way of governing in youth
policies through best practises, imagined futures, values, and norms. Following
Bacchi’s thinking about policies as problematisation, in youth policies the specific
needs and requirements of young people as a population are formulated as ‘problems’
that legitimise directing and steering both the policy implementations directed to help
young people and the young people themselves to aspire towards more or less
normative goals (see Bacchi, 2009; Dean, 2010; Kelly, 2000). This mechanism of
governing we have named ‘governing with problematisations’ derives from this
perception that some sections of the population, such as children or young people, are
not able to self-govern and follow the norms and values shared in society (Bacchi, 2009;
see also Foucault 1975; Haikkola, 2019).
In the case of youth policies, the framework of governing is ‘governing by
example’, where knowledge about ‘best practices’ and ‘what works’ in the area of
specific policies is circulated as examples of knowledge that propels the“...steering in
the absence of direct control.” (Simons 2015, pp. 726) In this article we refer to these
circulating knowledges as discourses (see Bacchi & Bonham, 2014; Foucault, 1982,
2010; Rose, 1999). We are following Brown’s definition of discourse in the context of
policies: “…’discourse’ may be specified as an order or ensemble of normative speech
acts that constitute a particular field and subjects within it; in discourses, norm and
deviations are the means by which subjects and objects in any field are made, arranged,
represented judged, and conducted.” (W. Brown, 2015, pp. 117.) Bacchi, on the other
hand, iterates that discourses are practices ‘where things happen through their truth
status’ (2009, pp. 35; see also Bacchi & Bonham, 2014). We are referring to both the
policy texts and the practices of youth support systems as discursive practices producing
knowledge about young people and their situations in the Finnish context. This enables
us to ask what kind of problematisations are produced in these discursive practices
targeting those young people seen as a population deviating from the normative path.
Data and Analysis
In this article we are asking how the ‘youth problem’ is represented in Finnish youth
policies and youth support systems, and what the assumptions about young people
produced by these ‘problem’ representations are. This study was conducted as a part of
the research project Interrupting Youth Support Systems in the Ethos of Vulnerability
led by Brunila, where Mertanen and Mäkelä are conducting their Ph.D. research. In the
project we ask how youth support systems shape the interests of young people who are
considered ‘at risk’ or vulnerable (see Mertanen et al., 2020). For this article, we have
analysed two sets of data: 1) policy documents relating to Finnish youth policies; and 2)
ethnographic and interview data produced in two youth support systems: Steering Cabin
service points and outreach youth work.
The policy documents we analysed included Finnish youth legislation: the
Finnish Youth Acts (2006; 2016) and preparatory legislative documents, the Finnish
Youth Council’s reports from 2007 to 2015, and the Youth Strategies from 2006 to
2017. We also included two communications from the Ministry of Economic Affairs
and Employment (MEAE) related to Steering Cabin service points, and European Social
Fund (ESF) reports about Steering Cabin service points. All documents were acquired
from public archives. Yet, policy texts are only the first step in their implementation and
their outspoken goals, values and intentions are not translated to the ‘field’ or practices
in a straightforward way, but rather in various, nuanced and often contradictory ways
(Brunila, 2013; see also Määttä & Eriksson, 2015).
Because of this, in addition to the policy document data, Mertanen produced
ethnographic and interview data on Steering Cabin service points during March and
April 2016. She conducted four interviews with staff members and a short ethnography
at two Steering Cabin service points. The first Steering Cabin was in a large city in the
Helsinki metropolitan area. Mertanen spent three days doing observations, listening to
guidance conversations and conducting lengthier interviews with three staff members.
The second Steering Cabin was in a city in Northern Finland, where similar kinds of
observations were made for one day, and an employee was interviewed. Two of the
staff members interviewed were social workers, one was a counsellor at the Public
Employment Agency and one interviewee was the public relations manager of the
service point.
Mäkelä produced the third data set on outreach youth work in a medium-sized
city in southern Finland between 2016 and 2017. During a ten-month-period of
ethnographic fieldwork, he conducted 20 one-to-one or group interviews with youth
workers and young people in outreach youth work. Mäkelä made observations at formal
and informal meetings with employees who work with young people, and took part in
the work and leisure of young people. The work included both observations at the office
of OYW and moving around the city with young people and OYW workers. For this
article, we focused on the interviews with the OYW staff.
Brunila, who is the leader of the project under which all the authors work, has
studied youth policies and support systems since 2010 by visiting a range of educational
institutions, prisons, youth projects and programmes and interviewed over 100 young
people and over 30 youth workers. Brunila’s data and findings have been published
elsewhere (e.g Brunila, 2012; 2013; 2014) and her work forms the background material
of this article.
Since our data is multi-voiced and multi-sited, we do not wish to present our
findings as all-encompassing and representative statements from youth workers or
legislators, but rather consider them as particular discursive practices that produce both
knowledge and assumptions about young people (Bacchi & Bonham, 2016). To secure
the anonymity of interviewees, we removed and/or categorised information that could
compromise their anonymity.
We started our analysis by reading policy documents alongside our field notes
and transcriptions from interviews. In the policy documents, we looked for the parts that
described young people, young people’s situations, measures that young people needed,
and problems young people were considered to face. We then narrowed down the
ethnographic and interview data to episodes in which employees described the young
people they were working with, described the purpose of the institutions they were
working in, and contemplated the wider social meaning of their work. We decided to
focus on the employees’ perspectives, since they were the ones making decisions and
allocating resources within their respective support systems. In our analysis, we first
looked into the ways in which young people and their situations were constructed in the
data as ‘problems’, and further deduced what the assumptions behind that
problematisation were. Finally, we compared the problematisations from legislation and
policy documents to the data from Steering Cabin service points and outreach youth
Young People and Problem Representations in Youth Policies and Youth
Support Systems
Constructing the ‘youth problem’ in Finnish youth policies
Policies executed through legislation and national strategies have a distinct purpose—in
the context of this article, the Youth Act and the National Youth Strategy address issues
seen as universal to all young people. Although these documents aim towards
universalism, they also specify how different issues are relevant to different young
people, especially with regard to the prevention of youth unemployment and young
people’s participation in society. For example, in the Youth Act, its purpose in relation
to young people’s participation and opportunities in Finnish society is described as:
“The purpose of this Act is to:
1) Enhance young people’s participation in and opportunities to affect society, and
their skills and abilities to be a part of society
2) Support young people’s growth, independence, socialisation and learning skills
and knowledge related to them […] (Youth Act 2016, §2, emphasis added
In the first part of the legislation, participation in society is connected to the
skills and abilities young people need in order to function as members of society.
Following Bacchi’s (2009) insight about policies as responses to existing ‘problems’,
we analysed that the first part of the Youth Act produces young people’s level of
participation in society as ‘a problem’. By stating that young people’s participation in
society needs to be enhanced, the Youth Act directly suggests that young people are not
participating enough in society. In addition, the Youth Act states that another ‘problem’
it aims to solve is the lack of young people’s opportunities to affect society and
continues to add that young people are not necessarily skilled or able enough to function
at a preferable level as members of society. The Youth Act creates a ‘problem’
representation of un-skilled and non-participating young people, who have unrealised
potential that needs to be supported. In this way, young people are constructed as being
‘almost’ or ‘future’ citizens. We read that this construction works as a definition of the
specific need for governing and steering young people as a distinct part of the
population (see Dean, 2010; Kelly, 2000).
The second part of this piece of legislation continues to produce a similar kind
of ‘problem’: young people are defined as a specific part of the population that needs to
learn skills and knowledge related to their growth, independence and socialisation. In
All quotes and excerpts are translated by Author 1.
the legislation, the assumption behind this ‘problem’ representation is that young people
are growing towards being independent and socialised but lack the skills and knowledge
to bridge the gap in order to become fully functioning members of society. As a solution
to these ‘problems’, the Youth Act suggests providing options for young people to
participate in society, later described in legislation as participating in youth work, youth
parliaments and activities at local youth centres. (Youth Act 2016, §3, §4). The second
part of the ‘problem’ solution is providing education in a range of disciplines and skills
related to independence and the socialisation of young people (see Mertanen & Brunila,
The National Youth Council, evoked by the Youth Act, takes a strong stance
towards increasing youth employment and participation. In the Youth Strategy for
2017-2019, the Council also implies that young people’s employment is more prone to
change with economic changes than that of other age groups, and thus young people are
inherently in a more precarious position in the labour market. In the Strategy, there is a
notion that young people’s lack of employment is in part a structural issue as well as an
individual problem:
The high unemployment rate of young people is caused by the lack of
suitable jobs, but also by the fact that some young people clearly need more
support in order to apply for employment and to function in employment
than they are now receiving. (Youth Strategy 2017-2019, 11, emphasis
The strategy notes that the ‘problem’ of youth unemployment is due a lack of
suitable jobs. Although this issue is raised, the Youth Strategy continues to suggest that
some young people’s personal attributes are at the root of this ‘problem’. We interpret
this as a way to construct criteria for different support systems to detect and recognise
those young people who are seen as problematic. This, in our reading, continues the
way in which young people are constructed as a distinct part of the population in need
of a specific kind of governing and control.
As one possible solution to the ‘problem’ of youth unemployment, the strategy
focuses on young people’s education and training to overcome these problems. Later in
the strategy, it is mentioned that these ‘some young people’ need to be found,
recognised and provided with access to the services:
Sometimes, despite preventative measures, a young person might still end
up in a situation where they need specific support to participate and
experience being involved. For young people, services that are easily
accessed and enhance young people’s own resources, such as Steering
Cabin Guidance Centres, outreach youth work and workshops, must be
secured. (Youth council's statement, 2017: 6, emphasis added)
The purpose of these support systems targeting those who are missing out on
preventative measures is to offer support to young people with the emphasis on
enhancing their own resources. The need for these services is stated through the
conviction that their existence must to be secured to help these outliers. Steering Cabins
are emphasised in the Youth Strategy as one of the most important services for young
It seems that in legislation the ‘problem’ of young people’s participation in
society is defined within a framework of adequate skills and maturity that are seen as
essential in order to become a productive citizen. Although the Youth Act does not
specifically focus on young people’s employment as such, in the Youth Strategies
employment is used synonymously with participation. Even though there is a
recognition of structural issues such as a lack of suitable jobs for young people the
‘problems’ in these policy texts are located within individual young people’s skills and
One-Stop Guidance Centres – solving ’problems’ of all young people?
One-Stop Guidance Centre Steering Cabins have been a part of the Finnish
implementations of the Youth Guarantee, and they originally were established as a
project funded by the European Social Fund. At the core of what a Guidance Centre
does is to provide services for young people that enhance young people’s employment,
education and life management skills (Määttä, 2018). Because these one-stop guidance
centres are a relatively new addition to Finnish youth support systems, policy
documents concerning them are rather scarce. The latest Government Programme
(Programme of Prime Minister Marin’s Government 2019, pp. 133, 175) mentions One-
Stop Guidance Centres only in two instances – first in relation to enhancing young
people’s employment, and then with the aims of reducing young people’s social
In order to scrutinise the problematisations produced in the ‘official’ writings of
Steering Cabins, we looked at how their purpose is described on their web pages:
“Steering Cabins are places situated across Finland, where all people
under 30 years of age get free help and support for many different things,
such as applying for work or education. You are welcome to go to a
Steering cabin just the way you are, alone, with parents or with a friend,
with a reservation or without.
When you come to a Steering Cabin, you don’t have to know which
direction is the right one for you, or which professionals are the right ones
to help you. It’s enough for you to find your nearest Steering cabin and step
right in. Professional employees in Steering cabins are sure to help you
forward.” (Steering Cabin national web pages, emphasis added)
In the description of the purpose of the Steering Cabins, the ‘problem’ is yet
again young people and their lack of participation in education and work. Although
public employment services are not the only programmes Steering Cabins provide, they
are specified as examples of potential problems Steering Cabins can help with. By
stating that young people coming to a Steering Cabin do not have to know which
direction is the right one, the assumption constituting the ‘problem’ is that at least some
young people do not have enough information
about their options. In our interpretation,
this ‘problem’ representation relies on the idea that, once provided information and
guidance, young people can overcome their struggles and make decisions and choices
that are in line with the norms and values of wider society (eg. Rose, 1999; Rose &
Miller, 2008).
In Author 1’s interviews with Steering Cabin employees, the ‘problems’ of
young people were mainly attached to questions of employment. According to the
employees, most young people presented themselves with the hope of finding
employment, as one youth worker explained:
They all come here with the same thing, that they need a job and assistance
to apply for it. But when you sit down with the young person and you start
going a bit deeper, all manner of needs for support start to emerge. Not
ready for the workforce although one might think so. These young people
need to be addressed personally to make sure that they understand what
their situation really is. (Youth worker in Steering Cabin)
The main ‘problem’ of young people coming to the Steering Cabins, or ‘cases’
as the employees refer to them, was lack of employment. The second ‘problem’
employees brought up was young people’s unawareness about their own situations. As a
solution to these two problems, the employees’ position at the Steering Cabins seemed
to be two-fold. They need to assist these young people the best they can, but at the same
Yet, it is important to note that Finnish welfare systems are often described as fragmented,
bureaucratic, complicated, incomprehensible and inherently difficult to navigate, so this
assumption of cluelessness could be expanded to include all people in the midst of these
services (see Juvonen, 2014; Määttä, 2018).
time they must also evaluate whether these young people are able to function in the
labour market. Employees at Steering Cabins described this evaluation as scratching
beneath the surface and luring the truth out.
These problem representations relied on two quite different assumptions. The
problem of young people’s lack of employment was based on the assumption that young
people were active in searching for their place in the labour market but, because of
young people’s lack of adequate knowledge and skills, they failed to achieve that goal.
Yet, it was also assumed that in addition to a lack of employability skills, young people
were considered to lack self-knowledge and insight, were in desperate situations, or
were considered especially sensitive and vulnerable. Employees in Steering Cabins
interpreted these attributes as unreadiness for entry to the labour market.
Still, Steering Cabin employees appeared to agree that most of the young people
with whom they worked were mainly in situations in which it was reasonably
straightforward and easy to help. The employees referred to young people with multiple
issues and dire need of support as ‘hard cases’. With ‘hard cases’, they immediately
indicated that Steering Cabins were not the place for them:
We really don’t get the ‘hard cases’ here. And we can’t really help them.
Most who come here are really easy and fast to help. (Social worker at a
Steering Cabin)
If we can’t help them right away, we ask for their number and call them
back. Or if it’s a really hard case, we give their number to Outreach.
(Employee in Steering Cabin)
The ‘problem’ of ‘hard cases’ was defined as something that did not belong to
the domain of the Steering Cabins. The employees recognised that ‘difficult’ young
people did not necessarily even seek assistance through their services. In really hard
cases, young people were directed straight to ‘more suitable places’, to quote one social
worker interviewed by Mertanen. This ‘more suitable place’ was often mentioned to be
outreach youth work. Our interpretation is that this ‘problem’ is based on the
assumption that despite the outspoken goal of Steering Cabins as a place meant for all
young people, some young people’s problems are too vast and difficult to be solved
without further expertise. It seems that although One-Stop Guidance Centres are built
upon a promise of individualised help for each young person with their own wishes and
needs, the young person’s own awareness of their situation is often questioned, and
some are outright categorised as ‘hard’ cases.
The ‘Problematic’ of Young People – ‘Hard Cases’ in Outreach Youth Work
In contrast to One-Stop Guidance Centres, outreach youth work is well regulated
through legislation. In the Youth Act, outreach youth work is presented as a solution to
the problems and questions of young people who are identified as being most ‘at risk’
(or ‘hard’ cases as mentioned previously). In the Youth Act, the purpose of outreach
youth work is described as follows:
“The purpose of outreach youth work is to get in contact with a young person in
need of support and help them to access such services and other support that
helps their growth, independence, participation in society, and other life
management skills alongside with access to education and the labour market.
Outreach youth work is based on voluntary participation and cooperation of the
young person” (Youth Act 2016, §10, emphasis added)
In this piece of legislation, the main ‘problem’ concerning young people is that
those young people in need of support are somehow ‘lost’ or do not have access to the
support systems. The solution for this ‘problem’ is for outreach youth work to contact
those ‘lost’ young people and help them access the services and support systems they
need. Here, the ‘problem’ representation is based on three assumptions: first, those in
need of support and help are not using the services they are eligible to; second, the
‘problematic’ young people are not participating in society through education and work;
and third, these young people lack life management skills and independence. The Youth
Act underlines voluntary participation by young people and their cooperation, but later
gives extended information gathering rights to outreach youth work—rights that can
breach legislation-based confidentiality in other institutions and public services (Youth
Act 2016, §11).
This focus on the ‘hard cases’ could be seen also in the interviews with outreach
youth workers. When Mäkelä asked a youth worker in outreach about the main purpose
of their work, they answered:
“In my opinion, it is to get those that are most below the societal surface,
the “most deep downs”, exactly those that have hidden themselves in the
fortresses inside their homes, behind their pizza boxes. To get them back
into society.” (Youth worker in Outreach Youth Work)
In this interview, the ‘problem’ of young people from the perspective of
outreach youth work was young people’s distance (figurative or actual) from society.
The solution for this problem was thus to reach out and find those people who have
locked themselves away from society or are below the societal surface. The outreach
youth worker’s position is akin to the work of a detective
, finding clues, searching for
young people and their whereabouts and getting them ‘back’, away from exclusion.
Young people were described as hiding behind pizza boxes, and they were assumed to
be excluding themselves from society.
On the other hand, in outreach youth work, another assumption attached to
young people’s exclusion from society differs from this idea of deliberate self-
exclusion. In another interview, a youth worker described the young people’s situation
and the societal meaning of outreach youth work:
The Finnish term for outreach youth work is ‘etsivä nuorisotyö’. A literal translation of the
word ‘etsivä’ means either ‘to search’ or ‘a detective, a sleuth, a private eye’.
“Probably pretty important. We support those young people who won’t
easily find their own path, or the track they would want to grow in, or from
where they would want to arise, and how they could rise. We want them to
find their self-esteem, we want to strengthen their own self-strengthening,
and we want to make them to believe in themselves. We are the bridge that
leads them forward so that they wouldn’t start to drift in the direction of
social exclusion.” (Interview with a youth worker in Outreach youth work)
In this interview excerpt, the ‘problem’ produced for young people was a lack of
the skills needed in order to function as a self-reliant and self-directing member of
society. As a solution, the youth workers describe themselves as bridges that lead young
people forward. Young people, seen as people who have not yet found their own path,
were described as being in need of rising upwards from the pits they currently were in.
This ‘problem’ representation produces assumptions of young people as being
vulnerable, dependent on specialised help, and in need of someone supporting their self-
esteem and strengthening their self-strengthening. Without outreach work, previously
mentioned vulnerabilities would lead to the young people passively drifting in the
direction of social exclusion.
The perspective to the ‘youth problem’ in outreach youth work is unique in a
sense that their target group are young people seen as excluded or marginalised. The
unifying ‘problem’ of young people from the outreach viewpoint is exclusion from
society—whether this exclusion is seen as a result of a young person’s self-isolation or
passive drifting. To simplify, solving the active self-isolation needs active searching and
finding akin to detective work from the outreach youth workers’ part. Passive drifting
towards exclusion can be tackled by focusing on the individual’s vulnerabilities and
self-esteem issues seen as the root cause of the ‘problem’.
Conflicting Discursive Practises in Finnish Youth Policies
In both the policy documents and the practices in the Steering Cabins and outreach
youth work, representations of the ‘youth problem’ are varied. As can be seen in Table
1, where we have collected the problematisations we showed in our analysis, legislation
and youth support systems approach the issue of young people’s participation in society
from varied perspectives and viewpoints.
As can be seen in Table 1, although the ‘problem’ representations are varied, they
produce two overlapping discourses: first, a lack of participation in society, and second,
a lack of life-experience and maturity of young people. To illustrate this, in Table 1,
‘problem’ representations producing the first discourse are marked in bold font, while
the ‘problem’ representation producing second discourse are italicised.
We suggest that the first discourse, lack of young people’s participation in
society, produces membership of society as employment, or participation in other
economically recognised activities such as education or training. Similarly, the ‘youth
problem’ in this discourse is produced as synonymous with unemployment. In youth
policy documents and in interviews with employees of the support systems the ‘youth
problem’ was handled by steering young people towards full citizenship through
encouragement to participate in either economic activities (education, employment) or
disciplinary activities (workshops, outreach youth work). This steering was often
reinforced with a threat of sanctions through losing social security or other benefits in
case young people did not comply.
The second discourse of the ‘youth problem’—not being mature or experienced
enough to function in society—produce according to our analysis a liminal stage in
which young people are in relation to the ‘adult’ population in the overall society. The
young people produced in this discourse do not have the skills to exist in the ‘adult’
world of independence and responsibilities because of a lack of experience and
knowledge, and they are either not being informed enough, or ‘passive’, ‘dependent’, or
‘lost’ about their own situation. Both in legislation and in the practices of both Steering
Cabins and outreach youth work this can be seen in the ways in which young people are
describe as ‘not knowing their situation’ or at its worst, as ‘hiding behind pizza boxes’.
Even though young people’s lack of participation in society and immaturity
were produced as a part of the ‘youth problem’ throughout our data, the problem
representations both in legislation and youth support systems also had profound
differences. In policy documents concerning those ‘at risk’, this group of young people
were constructed more or less as a homogenous group. The main ‘problem’, lack of
participation in society, was used almost synonymously with lack of participation in
economic activities, and further the ‘youth problem’ was seen as a threat to the future of
society as a whole. In other words, young people were seen not only ‘at risk’, but as a
risk that needed to be governed. The assumptions about young people in policy
documents produced young people in need of steering and guidance in order to mitigate
this future ‘risk’.
In the support systems, the ‘youth problem’ was produced more in relation to
individual young people’s issues than in policy documents. Lack of participation in the
labour market or education was produced as a lack of the individual’s skills, insight or
maturity. The support systems were presented either as a way of guidance, care and
support in finding the ‘right’ direction, or more straightforwardly finding young people
and preventing their exclusion or isolation from society.
Analysing youth policies as governing with problematisations has enabled us to
draw a nuanced and complex picture of how the ‘youth problem’ is produced in Finnish
youth policies and youth support systems. In our application of Bacchi’s (2009)
formulation of policy analysis, we have been able to scrutinise how this ‘youth
problem’ is produced as an issue that disrupts the preferred future of wider society.
Further, by including the very same implementations that the analysed policies have put
in motion, we were able to not only question the neutrality of youth policies in Finland,
but to see whether their implementations were constructing a similar understanding
about young people and the ‘youth problem’.
Based on our findings, we suggest that in our data the ‘youth problem’ is
produced and ‘made sense of’ within two conflicting rationalities: neoliberalism and
paternalism. What can be seen as a shared view in both modes of governing is the
perception of young people as a group whose members have seemingly similar
characteristics of immaturity, vulnerability and dependence (see France, 2007) and that
is separate and distinct from the ‘rest’ of society (see Bacchi, 2009; Dean, 2010). In
Finnish youth policies, following neoliberal ideals of risk-detection and management,
young people are labelled as a homogenous group ‘at risk’, or as vulnerable in order to
be recognised and directed to the suitable support system (see K. Brown, 2015; Yates &
Payne, 2006). The use of ‘at risk’ as a marker of ‘problematic young person in need of
help’ easily reduces young people’s participation in society to their activity in the labour
market or education, and leaves structural conditions such as economic recession and a
lack of entry-level jobs untouched (Hirvonen, 2014; Kurki et al., 2018). It is also
noteworthy that this governing seems to evade other societal issues, such as poverty,
health, gender, ethnicity, and disability, to name a few.
The tensions between the Nordic welfare model and neoliberal marketized
arrangement of youth services are evident. This is in line with the research we have
presented earlier (eg. Brunila et al., 2019; Haikkola, 2019; Juvonen, 2015), where the
‘youth problem’ is solved with a combination of neoliberal ideals of self-responsibility
and risk-management, and paternalistic ideals of surveillance and control. In the
paternalistic mode of governing more present in youth support systems declared as ‘best
practice’ by the European Commission (2018), the ‘youth problem’ is framed as caring
for young people, controlling their activities, finding them and helping them ‘back’
from ‘below the surface’ of the society (see Mertanen & Brunila, 2018; Brunila et al.,
2019; K. Brown, 2015). The ‘positive’ outcome for the young people in these support
systems is getting closer to a normative life path of education, employment and self-
management—and reduced costs and risks to wider society.
The consequences of this uncomfortable alliance put young people in an
impossible situation—on the one hand they need to function as free individuals aiming
for success in life, but on the other they are not to be trusted due to being irresponsible
and immature. What both modes of governing have in common is that young people’s
needs, characteristics and problems are defined by people who ‘know better’ about the
lives and experiences of young people than young people themselves. Equally
problematic in these modes of governing is their tendency to label all young people
from 15 to 30 years of age as a homogenous group with similar properties and
Young people are expected to be ‘active’, take ‘full responsibility’ for their own
lives, educate themselves, and get a proper place in employment in a labour market
where there are roughly ten unemployed people for one open position (OSF, 2020). If
(and when) young people under 30 years of age fail in this, they are directed to various
education and training programmes, unpaid work try-outs, and workshops in order to
get their unemployment benefits (see Haikkola, 2019; Brunila et al., 2019). We believe
that it is noteworthy to point out that even though ‘young people’ as a category are
constructed as homogenous in youth policies, most of the ‘young people’ that these
policies apply to are in other legislation considered adults, with full adult rights and
responsibilities. That leaves us with an interesting question we have aimed to answer in
this article —what ‘problem’ representations legitimise producing these ‘young people
at risk’ as dependent on the control and governing of the Finnish state?
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Table 1. Problem representations in Finnish youth policies and youth
support systems
Constructing the 'youth problem' in policy documents
Youth Act:
Lack of participation in society
Lack of opportunities to participate in society
Lack of skills needed to participate in society
Lack of independence and growth
National Youth Strategies:
Lack of suitable jobs for young people
Lack of support for young people
Lack of participation in the labour market
'Youth problem' in Steering Cabin guidance centres
Policy level:
Lack of employment or education
Lack of life management skills
Young people's social exclusion
Interviews with employees:
Lack of employment
Lack of sufficient information about one's situation
Lack of insight and maturity
'Youth problem' in outreach youth work
Policy level:
Lack of access to support systems
Lack of participation in society
Lack of employment or education
Lack of life management skills, independence and growth
Interviews with employees:
Young people are excluding themselves from society
Young people are excluded from society
Lack of self-esteem and strength
Figure 1 - Youth policy regulation and implementation in Finland
Youth policy and
Policy implementations
Youth Act
National Youth Committee
Finnish Government
Finnish Parliament
National Youth Strategy
Outreach Youth Work
Steering Cabin - One-stop Guidance Centre
Non-governmental organisations
Private sector
There is general agreement overall about the desirability and importance of youth support systems as being crucial for young people ‘at risk’ to help them cultivate their subjectivities about employability. In this article, we take a closer look at these support systems and especially at outreach youth work in Finland. We focus on the construction of knowledge and subjectivities of young people related to it. We argue that among the good intentions in cultivating young people’s subjectivities, outreach youth work tends to operate as a practice for enhancing the construction of psycho-emotional vulnerabilities and employability of young people while translating wider societal questions of austerity, poverty and inequality into questions of individualised deficiencies.
Full-text available
In this dissertation, I scrutinise how the ‘youth problem’—young people’s unemployment, social exclusion, and marginalisation—is governed in the European Union’s and Finland’s youth policies and youth policy implementation in Finland. The ‘youth problem’ as well as young people ‘at risk’ are constructed as a threat to the unity and prosperity of future life in the workforce and social cohesion. To tackle the ‘youth problem’, both the EU and Finland have launched multiple policy initiatives and implementations such as short-term projects to get young people ‘back’ into the workforce and undertake in education and training. These ranges of implementations include EU-wide policy measures, such as the Youth Guarantee and calls in Finland for centralised services for youth guidance and counselling. In my dissertation, I have analysed both national and EU policy documents along with interviews and observations produced with teachers, other employees, and young people in short-term education programmes in a closed prison, and in two One-stop Guidance Centres for young people. I ask how the ‘youth problem’ is governed in youth policies and their implementations, and what rationalities are involved in the governing of the ‘youth problem’. This dissertation includes three research articles and a summary report. As the methodology of this study I developed a discursive reading of policies and their implementations as problematisations. Reading discourses as problematisation draws inspiration from Carol Bacchi, that policies are simultaneous representations of desired futures from the policy maker’s point of view and representing a ‘problem’ that disrupts this desired future. By applying Michel Foucault’s theorisations about discourses, power, subjectification, and governing I have been able to study youth policies and their implementations as discursive practices. In youth policies, these discursive practices are legitimised in normative discourses based on political rationalities. Similarly, these discursive practices can be found in policy implementations by offering certain types of subjectivities for those young people they are targeting. Furthermore, these discursive practices in policies and their implementations produce several different ‘problems’ of young people that carry inherent assumptions about young people’s situations, properties, and abilities. In my results, I suggest that young people are produced as ‘at risk’ of social exclusion and marginalisation with discourses of employability, precariousness, and therapisation in youth policies and their implementations. The label ‘at risk’ produces a well-intentioned response, in which governing takes shape in skill-based behavioural training derived from employability and therapisation of youth formal and informal education. These skills include emotional and life-management skills. Discourses of employability, precariousness, and therapisation have a common premise: not being excluded or marginalised are synonymous with signs of visible and measurable activities, such as participating in education and training. Discourses in youth policies and their implementations both rely on and produce neoliberal political rationality along with paternalistic rationality, which promotes care and control of young people. Although seemingly contradictory, these rationalities work together in a plethora of ways. The arrangement and governing of youth policies and their implementations are constructed in a way in which vast networks of governmental, private and non-governmental organisations come together in short-term programmes and projects offered to young people, and in which young people are positioned as customers and expected to choose ‘right’ options for their situations. Yet, the ways in which young people are governed in these programmes rely on paternalistic rationality through which young people are seen not to be mature and insightful enough to know what is best for them and their future, and thus need strict discipline and guidance to move ‘forward’ in life. Finally, I conclude in this dissertation, that the whole notion of the ‘youth problem’ is based on the ideal of an economically productive citizen, who through a measurable input during their working life or from education provides continuity for the society as a whole. The notion of young people as a future is not only attached to the future hopes of young people themselves, but rather to the hopes and predictions of a range of governing bodies, such as the European Commission or the Finnish Government. In this way, multiple societal issues including poverty and unemployment are channelled to be young people’s ‘problems’, which can be solved by guiding those young people as individuals. In the governing of the ‘youth problem’ in youth policies and their implementations, young people have mainly instrumental value – their lives and futures are measured in relation to the narrow view of ‘good life’ as productive, obeying, and tax-paying future citizen.
Full-text available
This essay is about the ethos of vulnerability, young people, and policies and practices related to youth support systems in Finland. Our aim is to scrutinize the alliance of the ethos of vulnerability and neoliberal rationality as well as its outcomes in terms of support systems and young people from various backgrounds. In the end, we take our analysis further to see how this alliance is associated with education and how it works by de-politicising, narrowing, and individualizing education toward a new kind of highly tailored precision education governance
Full-text available
In official integration policies, refugees are successfully integrated once they have found a job. Integration programmes promise an easy way to employment: through adopting new skills and a profession. We utilize a discursive approach in our analysis of the official documents of integration policies and practices, as well as interviews with refugees, integration training project managers, and teachers/trainers. This chapter focuses on how integration policies and training practices shape the employable refugee subjectivity. We ask how people categorised as refugees constitute their subjectivities and are being constituted within these integration policies and practices. We argue that integration policies and training practices form a particular kind of ideal subjectivity that we refer to as employable. Keywords Refugees, subject/subjectivity, integration training, skills, employability, discursive practices
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Activation policies form the core of employment policies in most OECD countries. They are part of ‘active’ welfare states and associated neoliberal forms of governance that seek to govern through freedom by producing self-governing and responsible subjectivities. Ethnographies of governmentalities have been used in the research reported in this article to examine if and how such subjectivities are put in practice in street-level encounters in local welfare delivery. Based on an ethnographic research of youth services in the Public Employment Services (PES) in Helsinki, Finland, it is shown that despite the policy focus on active citizenship the street-level practice entails not only liberal ideas of self-governing individuals but also authoritarian measures. What is governed in the meetings is not the young people’s selves but their time and behaviour. In the process, the notion of active citizenship is emptied and transformed to mean participation in supervised activities offered by the PES. Such practice also reworks the temporal structures and creates insecure and eventful experience of time for PES clients. In contrast to governing through freedom, the localized interpretation of activation policies represents the authoritarian and paternalistic side of neoliberal governance.
There is general agreement overall about the desirability and importance of youth support systems as being crucial for young people ‘at risk’ to help them cultivate their subjectivities about employability. In this article, we take a closer look at these support systems and especially at outreach youth work in Finland. We focus on the construction of knowledge and subjectivities of young people related to it. We argue that among the good intentions in cultivating young people’s subjectivities, outreach youth work tends to operate as a practice for enhancing the construction of psycho-emotional vulnerabilities and employability of young people while translating wider societal questions of austerity, poverty and inequality into questions of individualised deficiencies.
First published in 1990, this book was the first to explore Foucault's work in relation to education, arguing that schools, like prisons and asylums, are institutions of moral and social regulation, complex technologies of disciplinary control where power and knowledge are crucial. Original and challenging, the essays assess the relevance of Foucault's work to educational practice, and show how the application of Foucauldian analysis to education enables us to see the politics of educational reform in a new light.
The EU has embraced the use of indicators as policy instruments for achieving common aims. One of the indicators, ‘early school leaver’ (ESL), depicts the proportion of young people leaving education and training prematurely. Initially defined as an education policy indicator, it has been transformed into a performance indicator measuring the targets of the current Europe 2020 strategy. In this article, we examine how the indicator works as a policy instrument at different levels of governance applying the conceptual tools provided by the policy instrumentation approach to unpack the components, pinpoint the political effects, and reveal the power relations they produce. Thus challenging the taken-for-grantedness of comparison as a way of knowing we have intended to shift the focus of discussion concerning the role of large-scale comparisons in education towards more productive directions: moving from problematisation and deconstruction of comparison to engaging with processes of measurement.
This article focuses on neoliberal governing by the European Union of cross-sectoral youth policies directed at young people ‘at risk’. The aim is to show how the alliance of discourses of employability and precariousness in these policies has emerged and how these discourses operate in policy. In the article, we analyse European Council and European Commission policy documents from 2000 to 2016 by drawing on the idea of discourses and governing with neoliberal political rationality. Our results show that the financial crisis and policy initiatives launched to mitigate its consequences made it possible to mainstream the neoliberal rationality of individual competition and flexibility as an inseparable part of youth policy steering.
Undoing democracy : neoliberalism's remaking of state and subject -- Foucault's birth of biopolitics lectures : the distinctiveness of neoliberal rationality -- Revising Foucault : homo politicus and homo oeconomicus -- Disseminating neoliberal rationality I : governance, benchmarks and best practices -- Disseminating neoliberal rationality II : law and legal reason -- Disseminating neoliberal rationality III : higher education and the abandonment of citizenship -- Losing bare democracy and the inversion of freedom into sacrifice.