Re-shaping personhood through neoliberal governmentality: Non-formal education, charities, and youth sport programmes

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This PhD research explored how neoliberal governmentality influenced the UK charity SportHelp and its youth sport programmes. Despite charities being significant providers of non-formal education for young people in the UK, there has been limited work exploring how the neoliberal landscape shapes these organisations and their programmes in practice. Therefore, this thesis addresses this gap in knowledge by a) furthering the limited literature on charities and their operation, b) providing an empirical illustration of how neoliberal governmentality functions, and c) contributing to the ongoing debate about the purpose of non-formal education in the neoliberal marketplace. This case study research focused on a single charity – SportHelp – whose remit is to improve socio-economically disadvantaged young people’s lives through the provision of sport. Over a 9-month period, data were collected through semi-structured interviews with a selection of SportHelp’s managers, coaches, and young people. Furthermore, participant observations of three coaching sessions (featuring previously interviewed coaches and young people) were undertaken to complement the interviews. The data were subsequently analysed using thematic analysis. Findings suggest the neoliberal landscape shaped SportHelp and its youth sport programmes profoundly. To maximise its chances of economic survival, SportHelp re-configured itself into a ‘quasi-market’. In doing so, it adopted a deficit-reduction approach towards improving young people’s lives: the charity assumed socio-economically disadvantaged young people were inherently ‘deficient’ (because of their lower socio-economic status) and required ‘fixing’. Using sport, SportHelp coaches ‘fixed’ young people’s personhood by instilling the neoliberal values of individual responsibility, discipline, and life skills. These values were readily internalised by young people because SportHelp operates in the realm of non-formal education; a space where coaches could foster passion, relationships, and a sense of belonging.
Date of Award31 Oct 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSam Carr (Supervisor) & Ceri Brown (Supervisor)


  • Neoliberal governmentality
  • Charities
  • Non-formal education
  • Disadvantaged youth
  • Youth sports

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