4 Get on Your Feet, Get Happy: Happiness and the Affective Governing of Young People in the Age of Austerity

  • Deirdre Duffy


Happiness is a central theme in the current well-being agenda both implicitly—when couched in the language of therapy and ensuring contentment (Ecclestone and Hayes 2009; Brunila 2012)—and explicitly—through the adoption of ‘happiness measures’ and the emergence of Happiness Studies (Ahmed 2007/08). However, this chapter suggests that the happiness agenda, which dominates neo-Liberal well-being discourses, operates not as vague well-intentioned support but as a form of affective governance. The happiness project represents the production and regulation of neo-Liberal subjects through the manipulation of emotion and futurity. The term affective refers to the ‘pre-reflexive and preconscious [...] embodied encounters that influence the capacity of the mind and body to act’ (Pimlott-Wilson 2015, p. 3). This form of governing orients subjects towards objects or ways of being by connecting them to desired emotional states (e.g., joyfulness, pride, happiness) that are felt viscerally before they are subjected to reflection. The actions of subjects are thus pre-consciously governed by the potential possessions or ways of being of the future (Berlant 2011; Staunæs 2011; Sellar 2014; Bjerg 2013). Under neo-Liberal austerity these ‘happy objects’ are principally financial stability, employment and economic success (Ahmed 2007/08)—artefacts of the moral economy. Young people, the chapter proposes, are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon, as their ways of being in the present are already oriented towards ways of being in the future. As a result, the chapter concludes, the promotion of happiness under the discourse of well-being is part of a strategy of both orienting young people towards particular ways of being and, in doing so, regulating young people in the present.


Young People European Union Good Life Financial Stability Term Affective 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Ahmed, S. 2004. The cultural politics of emotion. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. ———. 2007/08. The happiness turn. New Formations 63(1): 7—14.Google Scholar
  3. ———. 2010a. The promise of happiness. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  4. ———. 2010b. Killing Joy: Feminism and the History of Happiness. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society Signs 35(3): 571–594.Google Scholar
  5. Amsler, S.S. 2011. From ‘therapeutic’ to political education: The centrality of affective sensibility in critical pedagogy. Critical Studies in Education 52(1): 47–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ayres, S., ed. 2014. Rethinking policy and politics: Reflections on contemporary debates in policy studies. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bauman, Z. 2012. This is not a diary. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  8. Berlant, L.G. 2011. Cruel optimism. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bjerg, H. 2013. Staging the future—potentializing the self. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 26(9): 1169–1191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boler, M. 1999. Feeling power: Emotions and education. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Brunila, K. 2012. From risk to resilience–The therapeutic ethos in youth education. Education Inquiry 3(3): 451–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cameron, D. 2012. Speech to Conservative Party Conference. Birmingham: Conservative Party Conference.Google Scholar
  13. Campbell, S. 1994. Being Dismissed: The Politics of Emotional Expression. Hypatia 9(3): 46–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ecclestone, K., and D. Hayes. 2009. The dangerous rise of therapeutic education. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Eckersley, R., W. Ani, and W. Johanna. 2006. Success and Well-being: A Preview of the Australia 21 Report on Young People’s Well-being. Youth Studies Australia 25(1): 10.Google Scholar
  16. Eckersley, R. 2011. A new narrative of young people’s health and well-being. Journal of Youth Studies 14(5): 627–638.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. European Commission, 2011. On EU indicators in the field of youth—Commission Staff Working Document [SEC(2011)401]. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2015.
  18. Furedi, F. 2004. Therapy culture: Cultivating vulnerability in an uncertain age. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Furlong, A. 2013. Youth studies: An introduction. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Hochschild, A.R. 1983. The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  21. Jeffrey, C. 2010. Geographies of children and youth I: eroding maps of life. Progress in human geography 34(4): 496–505.Google Scholar
  22. Kelly, P. 2013. The self as enterprise: Foucault and the spirit of 21st century capitalism. Gower: Farnham.Google Scholar
  23. Kelly, P., and A. Kamp. 2015. A Critical Youth Studies for the 21st Century. Brill: Leiden.Google Scholar
  24. Kulz, C. 2013. ‘Structure liberates?’: Mixing for mobility and the cultural transformation of ‘urban children’ in a London academy. Ethnic and Racial Studies 37(4): 685–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lorde, A. 1984. Sister outsider: Essays and speeches. Trumansburg: NY. Crossing Press.Google Scholar
  26. Lyman, P. 1981. The Politics of Anger: On silence, ressentiment and political speech. Socialist Review 57: 55–74.Google Scholar
  27. ———. 2004. The Domestication of Anger: The Use and Abuse of Anger in Politics. European Journal of Social Theory 7(2): 133–147.Google Scholar
  28. Nietzsche, F.W., W.A. Kaufmann, and R.J. Hollingdale. 1967. The will to power. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  29. Pimlott-Wilson, H. 2015. Individualising the future: The emotional geographies of neo-Liberal governance in young people’s aspirations. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12222.Google Scholar
  30. Sartre, J.-P. 1962. Sketch for a theory of the emotions. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  31. Sellar, S. 2014. A feel for numbers: Affect, data and education policy. Critical Studies in Education 56(1): 131–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Siivonen, P., and K. Brunila. 2013. The making of entrepreneurial subjectivity in adult education. Studies in Continuing Education 36(2): 160–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sparks, H. 2014. Mama Grizzlies and Guardians of the Republic: The Democratic and Intersectional Politics of Anger in the Tea Party Movement. New Political Science 37(1): 25–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Staunæs, D. 2011. Governing the potentials of life itself? Interrogating the promises in affective educational leadership. Journal of Educational Administration and History 43(3): 227–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Telegraph.Co.UK. 2015. Budget 2015: Full text of George Osborne’s speech. [online]. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2015.
  36. Wyn, J. 2007. Learning to ‘become somebody well’: Challenges for educational policy. The Australian Educational Researcher 34(3): 35–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Youthindex. 2015. The Global Youth Well-being Index. [online]. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2015.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deirdre Duffy
    • 1
  1. 1.Manchester Metropolitan UniversityManchesterUK

Personalised recommendations