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Engagement mentoring for socially excluded youth: problematising an 'holistic' approach to creating employability through the transformation of habitus

Colley, Helen (2003) Engagement mentoring for socially excluded youth: problematising an 'holistic' approach to creating employability through the transformation of habitus. British journal of guidance and counselling, 31 (1). pp. 77-99. ISSN 0306-9885

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Abstract

This paper traces the emergence of engagement mentoring, which seeks to re-engage socially excluded youth with the formal labour market by altering their attitudes, values, and beliefs. Engagement mentoring has been promoted in European and British policy as an holistic response to social exclusion, for example, in the new Connexions service. However, the original meaning of 'holism' has become contested, and policies and practices which claim to be holistic require clearer analysis. Drawing on Bourdieuian theory, and evidence from recent research, this paper interrogates the holistic claims of engagement mentoring from the perspective of its intended effects on mentees. It argues that the model treats personal disposition--habitus--as a raw material to be wrought into 'employable' dispositions, with little or no acknowledgement of institutional or structural fields of power. However, habitus is highly complex, with deep-rooted and collective aspects not easily transformed. A greater understanding of habitus might result in more genuinely holistic approaches to mentoring, and counter a perceptible policy drift towards totalitarian rather than holistic practice.

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