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PhD Dissertation Defence: “Working Joblessness: Young People Deploying 21st Century Skills in Post-Conflict Liberia”

April 13, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm

PhD Candidate: Frances Fortune

Supervisor: Dr. Andrea Brown

Committee: Dr. Rianne Mahon, Dr. Reina Neufeldt

Internal/external: Dr. Stacy Wilson-Forsberg

External Examiner: J. Andrew Gran, Queen’s University

In Liberia, state economic development policies based on the resource extractive industry’s short-term needs have produced too few job opportunities for young people. The development policies have failed to grow the private sector to create jobs, recognize the importance of urbanization, or expand the informal economy’s contribution to employment in urban areas. As a result, young people are obliged to use their creativity and digital connections to make a living outside of the normative models of work using an organic social process of bricolage. Bricolage is a type of entrepreneurship or a form of action which can occur in resource-scare environments and is centred on cocreation and the combining of socially embedded resources. This dissertation explores young people’s bricolage in the urban ecosystem of a post-conflict state, showing how they are tapping into global connections, and revealing the influence of global regimes on their work.

The dissertation, using a qualitative research methodology, examines young people’s work, focusing on their agency and access to appropriate support in post-conflict states’ challenging circumstances. It explores two central questions through interviews with young people and authorities in Liberia and Sierra Leone: How are young people leveraging global connections through and in their work lives? What skills and strategies are they developing and deploying in response to global connections? Both questions relate directly to the impact of global flows on youth agency, especially the expanding informal economies, the global marketplace, technological development, and global practices such as the liberal peacebuilding model. These global flows impact young people’s working lives, shape their skills, and influence policy and development programming, which in turn affect their productivity and engagement in the national economy.

The dissertation offers an alternative to the prevailing views of the ‘youth problem’ in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where legions of underemployed young men are considered dangerous by policymakers. The central argument is that young people are bricoleurs creating their work, building their self-efficacy and assets, and enacting multidimensional agency. They are rarely idle. Self-employed workers are operating in workscapes at the intersection of the local and the global forces, demonstrating their twenty-first-century skills. Government policies and neoliberal development practices largely ignore these young people, and their inventive bricolage warrants more recognition.

States’ inability to address young people’s priorities is embedded in the policy prescriptions of global neoliberal regimes and the liberal peacebuilding model; youth marginalization is a direct consequence. Rather than preparing young people for jobs that do not exist and enterprise development not yet imagined, as policy currently does, recognition and support for the existing working strategies of the self-employed would result in increased productivity, higher incomes, and increased agency for young people.

There are limited spaces available to attend the defence. Email events@balsillieschool.ca if you would like to attend.

Francis Fortune


April 13, 2021
2:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category:


Balsillie School of International Affairs, 67 Erb Street West
Waterloo, ON N2L 6C2 Canada
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