Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


In Australia there are a significant proportion of young people existing in debilitating lives, who, for a range of reasons, are no longer attending school. In this thesis I ask, what work is required of schools to reconcile these young people with education following their, often, incapacitating engagements with educational and social disadvantage and exclusion.

This thesis comes from an eighteen month ethnographic study conducted across the four school sites of one Australian organisation, Youth Off The Streets (YOTS). Fieldwork involved the use of two ethnographic techniques: in-depth interviews with 20 young people and 18 staff, and observations of over 100 staff, young people, volunteers, parents and community members. The use of ethnographic techniques has been combined with a document analysis that argues for an understanding of these young people as educationally ‘displaced’.

I have drawn predominantly on the work of Foucault and his understandings of power relations as the vehicle of analysis. In particular his work on states of domination, sovereign power, silence and freedom have been useful in developing an understanding of young people’s lives as embedded in complexity and chaos through a range of debilitating relationships. This has been combined with the work of Goffman, Lyng and Hope to frame these young people as skilled ‘edgeworkers’. I argue that through YOTS’s construction of a number of conditions that involve the production of alternative knowledges, the realisation of relations of care and practices of care, and an innovative use of power relations that create freedom, the staff at the YOTS schools have been able to begin a process of reconciliation between these young people and their education.