Global Grammars Of Enterprise in the COVID-19 Crisis (Part 2)

Authors: Peter Kelly & Diego Carbajo.

The EU and The Foundation for Young Australians.

In this second contribution of the series of blog posts around the notion of Global Grammars of Enterprise, we will address two significant and parallel institutional processes that have taken place both in Australia and Europe. The analysis of these two cases of “governmental fostering” of entrepreneurship among young people not only reveals that they share the same core values, attitudes or dispositions, but that, as we want to demonstrate in this series, they are part of a global circuit of ideas that is not coincidental. First , we will review some of the European policies implemented in the last decade with regard to entrepreneurship and youth and, second, we will review a series of reports (The New Work Order series) by the Foundation for Young Australians. Overall, these two cases will help us to give shape to what we have named as a Global Grammar of Enterprise (there are some linkages here to this earlier post on young people and the EU’s new green deal – link).

Global grammars
image credit

Since 2003 the European Union has implemented a range of incentive mechanisms  to promote entrepreneurship among individuals, businesses and society as drivers of European economic long-term growth. The three main objectives of the pasted image 0Entrepreneurship 2020 Action plan: Reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe have been 1) developing entrepreneurial education and training; 2) creating the right business environment; 3) identifying and promoting role models and reaching out to specific groups (—unemployed— young people women, seniors, immigrants, etc). All of these policies seek, among other things, a far-reaching cultural change to make entrepreneurship the engine of economic growth in Europe. It is apparent that these policies are based on a strong market oriented rationale where entrepreneurship is directly associated with job-rich recovery and prosperity. Indeed, as all of these objectives are aimed at individual entrepreneurs, and at Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), they create a sense, often ambiguous, that an enterprise as an institutional product is both a personal quality of (initiative), and/or that individuals contain the qualities of an enterprise (Armstrong, 2005, p.6). This ‘grammar’ is evident in the European Commission Website :

Europe’s economic growth and jobs depend on its ability to support the growth of enterprises. Entrepreneurship creates new companies, opens up new markets, and nurtures new skills. The most important sources of employment in the EU are Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). The Commission’s objective is to encourage people to become entrepreneurs and also make it easier for them to set up and grow their businesses.

Apart from laying the main argument on a plain cause-effect rationale in which the mere creation of enterprises would generate and distribute wealth, the definition of entrepreneurship that this Act establishes is close to an attitude, a skill and to a moral disposition:

Entrepreneurship is an individual’s ability to turn ideas into action. It includes creativity, innovation, risk taking, ability to plan and manage projects in order to achieve objectives.

But more importantly, this definition is wide and ambiguous enough to include in it those self-employees, social enterprises and all kind of collectives (especially young people) who, after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) were defined by various EU agencies as a priority group that required urgent intervention.

It is in this frame that youth becomes a paradigmatic case of the governmental processes, (close to a biopolitical program [Foucault, 2008]) around entrepreneurship.  Especially when it is argued that entrepreneurial learning promises the most significant and important solution to improve young people’s employability (Serrano & Martín, 2017) are identified. In the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan: Reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe  the EU (p.6) suggests that:

Whether or not they go on to found businesses or social enterprises, young people who benefit from entrepreneurial learning, develop business knowledge and essential skills and attitudes including creativity, initiative, tenacity, teamwork, understanding of risk and a sense of responsibility. This is the entrepreneurial mind-set that helps entrepreneurs transform ideas into action and also significantly increases employability.

The Foundation for Young Australians and Grammars of Enterprise

The Challenge

We need the next generation of young Australians to be more enterprising, innovative and entrepreneurial to drive our nation’s future. (Foundation for Young Australians (2016) 2016-2021 Strategic Plan, FYA, Melbourne: 6)

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) is an influential Australian Third Sector youth advocacy Organisation (TSO). For much of the last decade FYA has commissioned research on the changing world of work, on the education and training regimes that can meet the ‘needs’ of this changing world of work, and on the attributes and characteristics of the forms of personhood that young people must develop to meet these changes. These reports comprise its New Work Orders series.

FYA (2015: 7) identifies three broad themes in its telling of the story of labour market change:

Automation: Ever-smarter machines are performing ever-more human tasks – taking, replacing or eliminating the need for whole categories of employment.

Globalisation: Our workforce is going global and the global workforce coming to us

Collaboration: Technology is increasing the potential for cooperation and collaboration across multiple platforms.

FYA’s research and advocacy response to these ‘disruptions’ is framed by a sense that, given the trajectory of the changes it identifies, governments, education systems, businesses and community agencies need to develop approaches to young people’s education and training that fosters, and enables young people to develop what it sees as ‘enterprise skills’, so that they can be actively engaged in work in their future lives.

For FYA  enterprise skills are ‘transferable skills that enable young people to engage with a complex world and navigate the challenges they will inherit’. These skills, it is claimed, ‘are not just for entrepreneurs; they are skills that are required in many jobs. They have been found to be a powerful predictor of long term job success’. What are often called generic, soft, or 21st century skills include: ‘Problem solving; Communication skills; digital literacy; presentation skills; critical thinking; creativity; financial literacy’.

Indeed, ‘We need’, suggests FYA, ‘ the next generation of young Australians to be more enterprising, innovative and entrepreneurial to drive our nation’s future’. The aspiration here is for young people to be able to embody the enterprise and entrepreneurialism that many organisations and governments have come to see as structuring the purposes of education at the start of the 21st century.


The education system is the space which will have the greatest responsibility for developing these skills. FYA’s CEO Jan Owen (2015: 2) in a Foreword to The New Work Order, indicates that in relation to these enterprise, generic, soft, or 21st century skills:

An enterprising skills education would:

> begin early in primary school and build consistently, year on year, throughout high school

> be provided in ways that young people want to learn: through experience, immersion and with peers

> provide accurate information and exposure about where future jobs will exist and the skills to craft and navigate multiple careers

> engage students, schools, industry and parents in codesigning opportunities in and outside the classroom.

Going Forward…

So, to finish this post, it is important to keep in mind that even though the notion of entrepreneurship has a trajectory of at least twenty years in the architecture of the employment policies of the European Union (Bröckling, 2015, p.11), and the last 10 or so years elsewhere, including in the work of the FYA, it was not until the GFC that the concepts of self-entrepreneurship and social enterprises were definitively fostered as a solution to the high unemployment rates among young people in Europe, in Australia, and in the developed and developing economies.

In other words, the concepts, the core ideas and the objectives of these policies were already evident before the GFC happened, but it seems that they couldn’t have been fully developed and implemented until the GFC and, for example, when the subsequent EU sanctioned austerity measures definitively altered the previous labour market regulations or shrunk the functions of the Welfare State.

As we proceed in this series of posts, we want to stress that grammars of entreprise should not, only, be understood as a vertical “grammatical” structure external to individuals. It is also a norm, or a general rule of a code, that is subject to changes of meaning and direction as the different actants involved in it translate it, make use of it, and embody it. Such an approach seeks to include in the analysis the capacity of action of non-human and humans not so much as subversion, resistance or opposition (such a move would once again would romanticize youth as the revolutionary, or creative, historical subject of social change), but as the co-producers of renewed, contingent and ambivalent practices and meanings.

None of the agencies, organisations, institutions or individuals that we have identified as being important in shaping and articulating these grammars of entrepreneurship are reticent, even shy, about the claims they make about New Work Orders, or about the opportunities and challenges that young people face, or the promise that being and becoming entrepreneurial offers young people who are living precarious lives. Indeed, many are evangelical in their invocations. Self-righteous about the self-evidence of their diagnoses and prognoses. Entrepreneurial about enterprise. The challenge as we see it, both here, and in future research, is to examine how these grammars function to produce these truths about contemporary and future labour markets, what it is that young people must become, the forms of freedom that they must practice in order to ‘survive and thrive’ under these conditions, and the consequences, intended or otherwise, of creating these moral obligations for young people to be and to become entrepreneurial.

(*) All the references and bibliography will be gathered in the last blog entry of this series


By Diego Carbajo

Lecturer at the Dept. of Sociology and Social Work. University of the Basque Country.

2 replies on “Global Grammars Of Enterprise in the COVID-19 Crisis (Part 2)”

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