Burnt by Democracy: Youth, Inequality and the Erosion of Civic Life

Drawing on her most recent book, Professor Jacqueline (Jackie) Kennelly explores how democracy is lived and understood by young people, with exemplars from both ends of the spectrum of political engagement to illustrate the contours of liberal democracies after forty years of neoliberalism.

Narrating the growth of wealth inequality within each liberal democratic country in the study, Burnt by Democracy traces the political ascendance of neoliberalism and its effects on youth, both materially and symbolically. With significant cuts to social and affordable housing, increases in the individual costs of higher education, and the transformation and erosion of state benefits systems, the book makes a distinct argument about the damage to democracy under neoliberalism and the role of young people within it.

Importantly, Kennelly argues that democracy’s decline and the erosion of civic life are not occurring because young people are apathetic, or focused on informal politics, or unaware of their civic duties. Rather, this is occurring because of our deep collective misunderstanding about how democracy is actually structured, how individuals learn to participate, and how growing wealth inequality and welfare state retrenchment has undermined the capacity of those at the bottom to meaningfully participate in democratic processes that might improve their conditions and those of their families.

Jacqueline Kennelly

Dr. Jacqueline Kennelly is a Full Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and the founding Director of the Centre for Urban Youth Research (CUYR) at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada).

Dr. Kennelly’s current research focuses on activist and homeless young people’s experiences of democracy, citizenship and public life, schools as sites of youth homelessness prevention, and the experiences of young people who have left homelessness and are now living in diverse forms of affordable housing. She uses qualitative and participatory methods, with a strong commitment to engaging young people as co-researchers and knowledge-producers. Her forthcoming book is called Burnt by Democracy: Youth, Inequality, and the Erosion of Civic Life (University of Toronto Press, 2023). Past books include Olympic Exclusions: Youth, Poverty, and Social Legacies (Routledge 2016), Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), Lost Youth in the Global City: Class, Culture, and the Urban Imaginary (co-authored with J. Dillabough, Routledge, 2010), and Phenomenology of Youth Cultures and Globalization: Lifeworlds and Surplus Meanings in Changing Times (co-edited with S. Poyntz, Routledge 2015). Her work has appeared in a number of national and international peer-reviewed journals, including British Journal of Sociology of Education, British Journal of Criminology, Sociology, Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, Citizenship Studies, Visual Studies, Journal of Youth Studies, Ethnography, Feminist Theory, Young, Sociological Research Online, Gender and Education, Canadian Review of Sociology, Qualitative Research, and Gender, Place, and Culture.


4.00 pm—5.00 pm Thursday 29 June 2023.


Deakin Downtown, Level 12, Tower 2 Collins Square, 727 Collins Street, Docklands – and online via Zoom.

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Event 29 June 2023
Keywords: DemocracyEventinequalityyouth