Neoliberalism, Education and Citizenship Rights of Unemployed Youth in Post-Apartheid South Africa


  • Dalene M. Swanson University of Stirling, United Kingdom



South Africa, Youth, Unemployment, Authoritarianism, Injustice, Nationalisms, Neoliberalism


Via the evocation of two personal narratives of lived experiences of/with youth in South Africa, the paper addresses issues relating to youth, unemployment, education and structural injustice. These narrative vignettes reflect events of injustice that occur within the human sphere and fall within the interstices between competing discourses as sites of struggle for meaning and supremacy. It is here where the lived effects of unjust political structures can be witnessed as violent assaults on individual and collective bodies, psyches and souls, while the indomitability of the human spirit rallies to rise above such adversity. Both experiences, while specific, nevertheless articulate a difficult ‘glocalising’ relationship with ‘the general’ and ‘universal’ in the global interconnectedness of injustice and the effects of a dehumanising ideology. They are underscored by a historical legacy of apartheid and authoritarianism, but advanced through a newer discourse of neoliberal, globalising modernism. Both ideologies converge in untroubled alignment through similarly operational codes of control and the endemic forms and frames of (in)difference. The paper argues that racialised unemployed youth in South Africa carry the burden of structural political dysfunctionality and state ineptitude, and they are pathologised and differentially constructed as ‘failed’ citizens as a consequence. Not only are South African youth expected to carry the burden of unemployment, but also the flag of the nation’s political transformation as well, in a context of contradiction and maladministration overlaid by the debilitating effects of neoliberal governmentality. Youth identity is framed in nationalist economic terms, justified and advanced through the contemporary, global, modernist condition, supported by neoliberal capitalist relations. The historical, embodied and material injustices shape what is possible for youth, specifically unemployed youth, in South Africa today.


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Author Biography

Dalene M. Swanson, University of Stirling, United Kingdom

Dalene M. Swanson is a senior academic at the University of Stirling in Scotland and leader of the Curriculum and Pedagogy Research Group. She holds an adjunct professorship at the University of Alberta, is a research associate at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and a research faculty associate of the Centre for Culture, Identity and Education at the University of British Columbia. Dalene’s research interests span curriculum studies, mathematics education, cultural studies, critical theory, international education, socio-  political perspectives in education, citizenship and democratic education, as well as indigenous epistemologies and indigeneity. Dalene writes from post-structural and postcolonial perspectives and her educational work and commitments are to democracy and human rights; social, economic and ecological justice; anti-oppressive education; and decolonizing epistemologies and ontologies. Dalene, who was born and raised in South Africa, is particularly interested in African philosophies and ways of knowing such as Ubuntu, their contribution to democratic engagement and ways of being, and the intersections of these with the critical study of economic development. These experiences and perspectives have also contributed to her philosophy of holistic praxis, democracy and critical engagement with dominant discourses, especially in providing counter-hegemonic alternatives to globalizing neoliberal models of education and society. Her website can be found at: