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Social Justice in Times of Crisis and Hope: Young People, Well-being and the Politics of Education

reviewed by Meghan A. Kessler - February 16, 2021

coverTitle: Social Justice in Times of Crisis and Hope: Young People, Well-being and the Politics of Education
Author(s): Shane Duggan, Emily Gray, Peter Kelly, Kristy Finn & Jessica Gagnon
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1433162148, Pages: 250, Year: 2019
Search for book at Amazon.com

Duggan, et al.’s Social Justice in Times of Crisis and Hope: Young People, Well-being and the Politics of Education (2019) arrives at a crucial moment. Currently, the world is entering a second year of the historic COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused disruptions in economic activity, schooling, and social services. This crisis has threatened the health and safety of individuals and communities, and it poses significant long-term implications for education. Further, the pandemic has taken place alongside an historic reckoning with racial injustice and distinct political polarization, both of which place disproportionate hardships on the shoulders of historically marginalized communities, including those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Additionally, as the authors state in the introduction, pre-existing challenges to well-being and social justice remain, including discrimination against individuals who are LGBTQ+, rising wealth inequality, poverty, numerous humanitarian crises, and the layered threats of intensifying climate change. Some of these salient issues, and others, are addressed in Duggan et al.’s text.

Duggan et al. provide this text to illuminate the ways in which the social justice challenges listed above are filtered through the regulatory and discursive influences of neoliberal capitalism, and how these interact to influence educational and social realities for young people. They frame this text as one that may serve to expose how continued reliance on market logics is a flawed response to many of the complex social problems today’s youth face, education in particular. As Duggan, et al. state in the introduction:

Neo-Liberal governmentalities, and neo-Liberal capitalism require, even demand, that young people, their families and communities, imagine themselves as being responsible for identifying and managing the paradoxes of a globalised, risky, bio-genetic and digital 21st century capitalism. In these rationalities the idea of the actuality of social justice makes little sense. (p. 10)

So long as individuals are seen as the responsible entity, the authors argue, well-being as a social justice issue may be compromised. The tension between the individual and the systemic is felt throughout the chapters of Social Justice in Times of Crisis and Hope.


Duggan, et al. and contributing authors present Social Justice in Times of Crisis and Hope as a challenge to individualization and marketization. They refer to these trends as neoliberal capitalism’s “undeclared war on young people” (p. 7) through continued commodification of students and privatization and education systems. They, therefore, provide this collection of chapters as a means to “troubl[e] the illusion of choice and the ambivalence of freedom” (p. 9) presented by neoliberal capitalism and its impacts.

The text is an edited collection of fourteen chapters, broken into four, themed parts. Each part features research from a diverse set of international scholars who have explored social justice issues in education while attending to the influence of neoliberal governmentality in formal and non-formal PK-20 education contexts (although most chapters address these issues from a higher education or post-secondary perspective). It is the diversity and complexity of perspectives that set this text apart from others. The breadth of topics covered calls for a brief description of each section. While not exhaustive, these are intended to provide a few illustrative examples.

Part One (“Access, Experience, and the ‘Problems’ of Social Justice in Educational Pathways”) presents four chapters that explore post-secondary pathways for youth in Sweden, the United Kingdom, Spain, Egypt, and the United States. Chapter One, for example, provides moving illustrations of the experiences of students in medicine and law degree programs in the U.K. and Sweden. These examples reveal how the emphasis on competition and gendered expectations in such programs may threaten students’ well-being, even in what some may consider an elite context. Chapter Three takes a more structural approach in identifying the reinforcement of inequities in access to higher education, including access for “non-traditional” students in Catalonia. Chapter Four combines the individual with the structural by examining the ways in which the mayoral policies of one large urban school system in the U.S. (Chicago Public Schools) reinforced market logics for the city’s students. The influence of neoliberal capitalism is apparent in each of these chapters.

Part Two (“Identities/Intersections and the Spatial Character of Social Justice”) provides three chapters that examine issues of identity and place in post-secondary educational contexts in the United Kingdom, United States, and the Italian island of Sardinia. These chapters explore how neoliberal mechanisms communicate possibilities for the selves of young people. Chapter Seven, for example, examines the discourse of mobility as a cultural and institutional phenomenon for students in Sardinia, Italy. The theme of mobility, and the sociopolitical implications thereof, is a throughline among all three chapters, and is a particularly relevant concern for European and American societies and educational systems in the current era.

Part Three (“Community, Citizenship, and the “Boundaries'' of Social Justice”) provides a critical analysis of the neoliberal process of assigning individual, family, or community responsibility for institutional or structural problems. This analysis is grounded in research conducted in several sites across Australia, as well as in Peru. This section provides more examples of social justice issues for youth in non-formal educational settings, such as community-based arts programs (Chapter Eight), social media (Chapter Nine), as well as formal policy contexts (Chapter Ten and Chapter Eleven). Although diverse in setting, these chapters provide compelling portraits of the justice tensions for young people in the neoliberal era.

Part Four (“Gender, Sexualities, Violence, and the Challenges for Social Justice”) presents scholarship from Australia and six nations in the European Union. This collection of chapters provides a look at the acquisition, maintenance, and protection of social and human rights for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning. This section is an important contribution to this text, bringing attention to the specific needs of youth who are forming their identities while navigating social and educational structures in the neoliberal era. Chapter Twelve, in particular, offers an analysis of the relationship between influential narratives about queer communities and equality and suicidality among LGBTQ youth.

Duggan et al. and their collection of contributors provide color and shape to the threats and hopes for social justice in our current moment. The sheer breadth of topics presented in Social Justice in Times of Crisis and Hope makes it a compelling read for anyone interested in the manifestations of neoliberalism and threats to social justice across a variety of social, cultural, economic, and political contexts. The text would be a useful source for those studying and teaching in the areas of youth studies, education policy, globalization of education, and international perspectives in education. After reading this text, one feels it is imperative that education scholars and practitioners situate their work in a manner that furthers equity and social justice, challenging the current reliance on market ideologies in education. The authors of this text themselves contribute to this effort, presenting specific scholarship as reason for hope in light of the many challenges we face as a global community.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 16, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23600, Date Accessed: 3/4/2021 3:53:35 AM

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About the Author
  • Meghan A. Kessler
    University of Illinois Springfield
    E-mail Author
    MEGHAN A. KESSLER, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of teacher education at the University of Illinois Springfield.
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