Social enterprises in vocational education and training: can Bourdieu’s social theory enhance understanding of their potential?

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Lawler, Madeleine Ruth (2018) Social enterprises in vocational education and training: can Bourdieu’s social theory enhance understanding of their potential? PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This thesis examines social enterprises providing education and training for disengaged young people in the state of Victoria, Australia. Young people in Australia are increasingly struggling in the transition from education to the full-time labour market (Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) 2016) and young people who become disengaged from employment, education and training are vulnerable to entrenched disadvantage (OECD 1998). It has been suggested that social capital is an important factor in the prevention of disengagement for young people and assists with successful transitions (Bynner 2001a; Bynner & Parsons 2002). The Victorian state government in 2017 endorsed the use of social enterprise to address some of the state’s most significant social issues (Victorian Government February 2017), including youth transitions. Given this enthusiasm for the model, this thesis is concerned with undertaking a theoretical exploration of the potential, limitations and contributions of social enterprise. The critical social theory of Pierre Bourdieu offers a conceptualisation of social capital (1980, 1986), embedded within a rich theoretical framework (Wacquant 2017) which is underused in social research (Foley and Edwards 1999, Wacquant 2018). This is in contrast to the normative framework of social capital derived from Putnam (1993) that has been popularised in the social sciences. To test the value of a Bourdieuian framework, a multi-site tri-level case study was employed using focus groups at the social enterprise level with a short-term longitudinal case study by semi-structured interview with program participants. The case study was conducted over two program intakes with three social enterprises. Applying Bourdieu’s theories was valuable for exploring the theoretical potential of social enterprise. Crucially, it was also useful in demonstrating some tempering limitations and challenges in the use of social enterprise. This study found that social enterprise education has a positive impact on the lives of the program participants. Social capital is found to be of secondary influence in the operations of the social enterprises, with cultural capital being the most significant factor in the successful operation of a social enterprise. Finally, the sociopolitical climate has become increasingly supportive of social enterprise as a means to deliver public services, as a neoliberal rationality continues to dominate both sides of the Australian political landscape.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education
Historical > FOR Classification > 1607 Social Work
Historical > FOR Classification > 1608 Sociology
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities
Keywords social enterprises; training; education; vocational education and training; VET; youth; unemployment; Melbourne; Pierre Bourdieu; social capital; neoliberalism; social capital; Bourdieuian social capital; NEET; Australia
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