Changing the subject?: Alternative school student identities in the global economy
Smythe, Melissa Kristen
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This ethnographic research explores the contours of youth identity construction among so-called "at risk" adolescents attending an alternative high school in the deindustrialized Rust Belt of the United States. The global economy, the basis of deindustrialization and the rapid growth of the service and knowledge economies, dictates that individuals fashion themselves as an entrepreneur of the self. This neoliberal subject must be capable of making and remaking themselves as the moral individual who is responsible for their own economic security, given the systematic dismantling of the welfare state under neoliberal regimes that cater to corporate interests. As well, such subjects are expected to shed their collective class, race and gender identifications. Schools are charged with the production of this neoliberal subject. Because the alternative setting functions as an extension of the mainstream, as it is still bound by the regulatory and surveillant techniques of the state, it represents not only a "second chance" for students to graduate from high school, but a "second chance" to shape them as the enterprising subject of the global economy, although it attempts to achieve this end in novel ways relative to the mainstream. Class, race and gender—particularly at their intersections—are especially durable structures in the identity construction processes of this group of adolescents, in many cases limiting their potential to become the entrepreneurial self, theoretically marginalizing them based on structural inequalities that are paradoxically denied by neoliberal regimes. This is important, as exposing such inequities provides a basis for policy recommendations that can potentially interrupt such hegemony through the establishment and implementation of critical pedagogies.