Capabilities Without Rights? The Trespassing Project in Naples

Capabilities Without Rights? The Trespassing Project in Naples

Lavinia Bifulco, Raffaele Monteleone and Carlotta Mozzana, Università di Milano-Bicocca[1]


In recent times the issue of young NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) (Bynner and Parsons, 2002) has become relevant in Europe: a growing number of young adults is trapped in the transition between the educational system and the labour market. Moreover, the support they receive is inadequate also due to the welfare state crisis: the high rate of youth unemployment and school drop out highlights the distress of public policies, that are less and less able to intervene in this scenario.

This paper presents the experience of the Trespassing Project. It is an innovative project aimed at young NEETs living in Naples, the capital city of the Campania region, in southern Italy. One of the poorest regions in Western Europe, it is affected by both social and economic problems: the condition of young people is critical, the unemployment rate is very high and illegal work is widespread. At the same time, since the end of the ‘80s, Naples has been an important test bed for experimental projects aimed at addressing problems in the school-work transition process: the Trespassing Project picks up where they left off, developing new strategies for intervention, through which on-the-job placement works on the development of basic skills[2].

In the wake of almost two years of analysis of the project practices, the research pays particular attention to the specificities of the socio-economic context in which the project operates, as well as the framework and functioning of social, educational and employment policies on a territorial level. Little by little, the analysis circumscribes the field of observation: from the regional context to the city to the neighbourhood, attempting to investigate whether and how an institutional framework which combines autonomy and scarce coordination opens up opportunities for change, and if so, with what perspectives.

The analysis focuses on the institutional, social and individual factors that hamper or promote the conversion of formal resources and rights into capabilities for work, voice and education, and tries to understand what the outcomes are for beneficiaries. It highlights on the one hand the critical elements, and on the other the creation of innovative itineraries designed to promote such capabilities.

In the conclusion, we discuss what lessons and indications may be drawn in terms of policies, as well as the theoretical and analytical implications for the capability approach.

The work starts out from a general research question: how is it possible to promote capabilities (Sen, 1985; 1992) in a context of lack of resources and rights? This question is then broken down into more specific research questions concerning the capabilities for voice, work and education:

·         Which institutional, social and individual factors impede or promote the development of beneficiaries’ capabilities? And how?

·         What is the role of local stakeholders in the implementation of programmes (in terms of influence, roles in decision-making processes, constraints and administrative rules)?

·         How does the project affect the personalised careers of young school dropouts?

·         What is the role of beneficiaries? Are they able to choose what to achieve, to refuse to engage? Can they affect the structure and contents of the project?

·         The research process required almost two years of analysis of the project practices. It foresaw:

·         10 semi-structured interviews and two group interviews with policy makers from the Regional Council of Campania, project leaders and social workers from the Associazione Quartieri Spagnoli;

·         10 semi-structured interviews with company tutors;

·         15 semi-structured interviews with beneficiaries;

·         participant observation in various phases of the project activities;

·         analysis of project documents, calls, counselling reports, assessment reports.

The methods adopted facilitated the investigation of conversion factors (institutional, social and individual) and their implementation and let us focus specifically on the beneficiaries’ point of view.

1        Contextual framework

In order to analyse the project, particular attention must be paid to the specificities of the context in which it is rooted and deployed, as well as the structuring and functioning of social, educational and labour policies on a territorial level. Italy is in fact characterised by a high level of institutional fragmentation, which translates into weak co-ordination between the various levels of government, in a context of highly sectorial public policies, with precious little integration between labour, development and education policies (scarce multiscalarity and multidimensionality of policies) (Paci and Pugliese, 2011). In particular, the institutional resources assigned to education seem insufficient to allow for the different starting points of the students to be taken into account and for upholding pupils’ capacities. The school system is unable to emancipate those who start with social and cultural disadvantages by redistributing opportunities via education. Consequently, the areas where most poverty is concentrated generally feature a high level of drop outs (Rossi-Doria, 2009, Fondazione Agnelli, 2010). Inequality and imbalance are substantial on a national level, especially in the north/south divide. Moreover, as for the employment policies, measures aimed at activation are few and far between, be they part of the overall system or at the service of policy end-users (Bifulco, Bricocoli, Monteleone, 2008).

The Campania Region displays particularly serious problems, closely bound up with the issues linked to economic and social development, against a national context generally characterised by great territorial differences and inequalities, uncertainty with regard to rights, resources and rules (Kazepov 2009). Within this framework, the local government enjoys a relative degree of autonomy and dynamism, and a number of factors over recent decades have strengthened its powers and areas of competence, opening up to the potential of innovation and policy change[3] (Bifulco, 2011).

Therefore, in our analysis we shall proceed by honing down our field of investigation little by little, trying to investigate whether and how an institutional framework that combines autonomy and fragmentation may lead to opportunities for change, and if so with what perspectives for the future.

1.1         The Campania Region: outlining the social context

Campania is one of the poorest regions in Western Europe, and suffers from a double-edged deficit: both institutional and of civicness, which are both long-standing and deep-seated (Bifulco, Centemeri, 2008). In 2008 Campania recorded the lowest GDP in Italy: it registered a GDP 75% lower than the EU25 average, and it is included in the convergence objective of the EU cohesion policy[4]. The indicators on schooling are lower than the national average and the Lisbon target. There are high levels of school dropouts between the ages of six to 14: Campania is in fact one of the Italian regions where many middle-school children are regularly enrolled though often never attend. The highest concentration of young NEETs is in the province of Naples: it stands at 37% compared to an average in the Campania Region of 33.5% (Italia Lavoro Spa, 2011). The data show a labour market with a great deal of structural problems: the level of unemployment is about 14.3% (national average is 8.2%), while among 15-24 year-olds it stands at 38.8% (national average is 24%), there is a high level of illegal labour which stood at 23.4%, (national average is 13.4%)[5] (Istat, 2011a; 2011b).

With the aim of achieving the targets set by the Lisbon Strategy, Campania has invested in education and training over the last few years. Nevertheless, the investments have not produced the desired results. In a context of a labour market with ample margins of undisclosed labour and a very high percentages of unemployment, the resources destined for youth vocational training and adult lifelong learning are often used improperly as sidelines for social welfare, and funds are often used for patronage. In particular, EU funds seem to have ended up taking the place of State intervention, in a situation that has worsened over the last few years, partly due to the economic crisis.

Despite the fact that regional programming in the field of social policy is currently undergoing a major overhaul, welfare support continues to be of a residual nature. In a national context characterized by weakness and lack of social rights, Campania stands out for an insufficient and poorly distributed quota of socio-sanitary infrastructures and an increase in poverty and unemployment supply fertile grounds for social unrest and ever-rising criminality.

As the regional policy making has a relevant role in Italy, due to the devolution process that started in the 1970's and reached its peak with the constitutional reform in 2001, the role of Campania Region is very important. Its institutional structure presents a high level of fragmentation: between 2000 and 2005 an integration process was attempted, and a unique welfare department was established, which included education, vocational training, work and social services. Subsequently, however, the departments have again been separated due to political reasons. Educational policies are above all scarcely integrated with social and employment policies. The sectorial nature of interventions does not lead to sufficiently structured courses, not taking into account pupils’ social background. This explains why lower-performing individuals are creamed out and discriminatory processes are not forestalled.

1.2         Naples and the Spanish Quarters

Naples, the capital city of the Campania region, is one of the most densely populated cities in Italy. Here, the critical issues discussed above come to the fore and intertwine: the condition of young adults is problematic, the unemployment rate is very high, as is the number of the “non-attendings” and the level of school dropouts. The lack of stable occupational opportunities constitutes a structural weakness of the labour market, and off the records work is commonplace. Many young NEETs therefore face the risk of undertaking deviant paths.

The neighbourhood of the Quartieri Spagnoli, on which the Trespassing Project focuses, is made up of a dense network of criss-crossing narrow streets situated on a slope leading onto via Toledo, the main shopping street and centre of the city. In this territorial context, in which almost 4,000 families or about 15,000 inhabitants live, economic, social and housing problems all add to one another. While on the one hand, poverty and criminality in this area are rife, it should be noted that the Quartieri Spagnoli are characterised by a notable level of economic vitality, with some 250 small crafts workshops, and 360 business activities overall (Laino, 2001).

1.3         The Trespassing Project: history, practices and informational basis

In order to introduce the project, we need to briefly outline the history of the Associazione Quartieri Spagnoli (AQS) which planned it, with the aim of understanding the organisational context in which the intervention takes place, how and why it was developed.

The AQS was founded formally around the end of the 1980s on the basis of the social work that a small group of people close to the notion of critical Christianity had undertaken in the area ever since the end of the 1970s. The current president of the AQS, Anna Stanco, after abandoning her work as a teacher, decided to move into a basso[6] and together with other volunteers, provided the first interventions offering support and counselling aimed particularly at prostitutes and transsexuals. Anna’s basso has operated ever since it opened as a very low threshold service, capable of supplying support and guidance to the most disadvantaged inhabitants of the neighbourhood.

Over the years, these interventions became more structured. In the 1990s, Naples City Council recognised the importance of the Association’s work, and granted the use of a number of spaces where a youth centre was founded, and still committed to various projects aimed largely at minors, youths and their families, financed both by public bodies and private subjects.

Although the Association has worked as a body entrusted with public services for more than 20 years, it is currently going through a difficult financial period due to delays in payments by the public institutions that finance it, which tend to exploit the outsourcing of social services to private agencies in order to reduce costs.

Ever since the end of the ‘80s, Naples has been a major workshop for experimental projects in the effort to make up for shortcomings in education and the school-work transition (Rossi-Doria and Pirozzi, 2010; Melazzini, 2011). The Trespassing Project picks up where they left off, developing new means and strategies for intervention, drawing on the reflections and interventional practices activated against early school leaving[7]. The project, which was awarded its fourth cycle of financing in 2012, consists of offering work familiarisation placements at small companies collaborating with the AQS. More specifically, the project sets out to involve early school leavers aged between 16 and 18 through on-the-job training programmes, addressing the recovery and development of their basic skills right across the board.

The project is supported by two different financing channels: public financing from the Education Councillorship of the Campania Regional Council and private financing from a private banking foundation[8]. The financial support from the Regional Council is not very reliable, payments may be up to a year late. Furthermore, Naples City Council is not currently providing any support to the project despite the fact that it constitutes a form of help and activation of disadvantaged youths, which should fall under the jurisdiction of municipal welfare.

Since its creation, Trespassing has involved around 80 young adults, despite there being a number of requests for access far higher than the possibilities of insertion that may be guaranteed by the financing obtained. The project does not foresee any classroom training, and no professional qualification is offered. Through an in-situ approach, the main aim is “to put together operations which re-establish the prerequisites of employability, thus allowing young people to choose a working career” (from the Trespassing call). The project focuses on the attempt to overcome the subjective barriers of ‘incompetence’ in order to activate young NEETs not actually equipped for school or professional training circuits.

In most cases, the young adults who turn to the project have already been involved in other AQS activities, as there are a range of social tutoring and promotion projects aimed at young people from the area[9]. There is a maximum of 20 people that may be involved at one time: since there are always more applications than places available, meetings and individual interviews are ordered in which the beneficiaries are chosen. In this phase, information is gathered about their life context, literacy and numeracy abilities, their work experiences, as well as enquiring into their fields of interest and desires. Above all, in these discussions attempts are made to sound out the young adults’ motivation to undertake the itinerary proposed by the project and to open up a space of dialogue in order for their aspirations to come to the fore for discussion.

After evaluating the candidacies, the beneficiaries chosen from the interviews are required to sign a training contract stipulated between the AQS, the beneficiary and his/her family (if the beneficiary is a minor), which may then be reformulated or substituted with an agreement between the various actors even during the work placement. From the moment in which the beneficiaries accept the offer and subscribe to the project as a whole, there is a public signature between all the actors, who commit to respecting a kind of educational pact

Once the selection stage is over, the first activities in which the beneficiaries are involved in is a collective work experience which lasts about one week with the aim of repairing a public building or utility. Its main aim is to bring together the peer group around a cooperation project in which individual roles and responsibilities are recognised. The transversal skills assessment process starts right from this stage, and a logbook is kept, in which each young adult has to document the overall experience within the project.

Once this work stage is over, the individual allocation of each beneficiary to a specific work placement project begins, usually within small businesses and crafts workshops found in the neighbourhood. Over the years, the AQS has put together a database of ‘companies’: the social workers define this database as a sort of ‘pedagogical company register’ which has been used to build a relationship of trust over the years.

The work placements are articulated into four hours of activity per day, five days a week, for an overall period of between four and six months[10]. The project focuses entirely on the hands-on work placement experience, the intervention methodology is based on experience and learning on the job. Each young adult is thus entrusted contemporarily to a company tutor and a social worker, who provides personalised tutoring and counselling[11].

From a pedagogical point of view, the approach adopted is largely that of ‘scaffolding’: a support strategy based on learning processes which allow the participant to carry out a task even if he/she initially does not have the sufficient capabilities to do it on his/her own (Hogan and Pressley 1997). Social workers follow the insertion of the beneficiaries in the companies with weekly counselling sessions, the times and lengths of which may be flexible, providing highly personalised support on the basis of the needs and requirements of the beneficiaries. This constant monitoring is structured through the use of a series of tools: interviews, assessment and self-assessment sheets, logbooks, which make it possible to evaluate the development of basic skills, the skills acquired from the work placement programmes, as well as the relationships with company tutors.

Once the placements are over, the beneficiaries leaving the project are not issued with professional qualifications, but are given letters of reference including an evaluation of basic skills. This approach is considered sufficient to outline an ‘informal’ biography of each of them. At the end of the placement experience, a ‘working sample’ is taken, in which young adults are filmed on the job in order to outline the activities they are involved in.

2        Findings

There are various reasons why the Trespassing Project appeared relevant. Firstly, the target: the AQS works with young NEETs living in a complex context in which youth policies are few and far between. Secondly, the methods and means available to the social workers, if adapted appropriately, could be partially exported to other contexts with other young adults. Lastly, because the structure that supports it, i.e. the AQS, has managed to build up a strong network of trust in the area, historically one of the most difficult ones on the Neapolitan territory.

We shall present and discuss the results of the analysis about the capabilities for work, for voice and for education, considering the factors which favour and hinder the conversion of formal resources and rights into capabilities. Often however these elements will overlap, for it is hard to maintain an analytical distinction in the face of an empirical situation which is the result of the interplay of relationships between people and institutions.

2.1         Capability for voice

One of the main focus points of the AQS’ action is coming up with interventions that allow participants to acquire basic relational skills that may later be deployed in the labour market and the project works explicitly on the reconstruction of the young adults’ voice. The beneficiaries’ voice is not considered a prerequisite: the project tries to promote it and let it be heard. They themselves often start off not knowing exactly what they want to do, falling into the local stereotypes based largely on gender conditioning:

Most of these kids have no idea what they want to do. The boys all tell you they want to be mechanics and the girls that they want to be hairdressers (SW1)[12].

At the beginning I wanted to be a hairdresser, but I tried and didn’t like it… G (social worker) helped me to understand what I can do and now I am a babysitter (Y2).

Therefore, while on the one hand attention is given to what the young adult says, on the other hand the project (and above all the social workers) focuses on the characteristics of the beneficiary and the job placement in order to put together a tailor-made itinerary, also based on a profound knowledge of the young adults’ cultural and social background.

This bond of trust, which leads the young adults and their families to strongly believe in the social workers’ action, is created and strengthened in particular by the constant daily presence of a member of the Association in the offices. Their door is always open and a social worker is available to listen to whoever comes in. The fact that someone is present at any time of day, that he/she acts as a medium, translating the needs of people and families into concrete actions and interventions constitutes the very basis of the Association’s approach. It has created a real social helpdesk which brings the few resources available closer to the needs of the people.

As for the Trespassing programme, the beneficiaries’ voice is expressed in its different phases. First of all, the placements may be modified while the project is in progress: where problems arise, after a thorough evaluation of the situation through exchanges and checks both with the beneficiary and the company tutor, a change of itinerary may be taken into consideration. It emerges from V’s story:

V is a boy who started his placement as an IT technician. The manager of the shop, however, is often absent, and V sometimes goes to work only to find nobody there. T, the social worker, would therefore have liked to change V’s placement, because it seemed to him that he was not adequately followed. But V told him though that he was quite happy where he was and that he was picking up a lot of things quickly. After speaking to the shop manager and visiting the shop a few times, T decided to leave things as they were.

A fundamental role in promoting young adults’ voice is played by the time spent counselling, where the social worker supports the participant’s job placement. The main tool used during this contact time is the work material which organises and defines the stages and times of the activities: the worksheets and tasks register. Every week, the tutor and the beneficiary fill out these forms, which have different aims: some focus on the placement and thus serve to make the beneficiary think about what has been done over the week; others concern the labour market rules, aspects of working contracts and relevant legislation; others deal with general basic skills bound up with society as a whole; yet others address the emotional and relational levels of the young adult:

for example, there’s a worksheet on calculating percentages, which is about them knowing what to do in a practical situation, because if they say you’re getting a 50% discount, at least you need to know that you’re not being ripped off! (SW3)

As it has been observed, the social workers adopt a listening stance with regard to the beneficiaries. But at the same time, they are adults who propose values and behavioural models which open up perspectives and approaches different from those that the beneficiaries are used to, and which – albeit partially – manage to put in doubt the behavioural models which the young adults have grown to accept as the norm. Passivizing or inferiorising approaches are rejected, and tutors cannot take the place of beneficiaries on the job. On the contrary, these are development paths that revolve around the sense of good faith:

 we do try to reinforce or get across certain skills. The important thing for us is managing to activate them, to wrench them out of that situation in which they just hang around doing nothing all day long (SW4).

The specific methodology used defines highly-structured pathways with a strong support from the AQS, allowing for an all-round operation of promoting the beneficiary’s capabilities by enhancing their ability to know themselves and the situation they are in:

The programme is important because you can learn something and you need it for the future, as you need to build it by yourself (Y5).

The voice is therefore considered throughout all the various phases of the project. This has an impact on the young adults’ capacity to express themselves: at the beginning they show up with a general need for a job; with time, and thanks to the capability the social workers have to listen to them, the support of the counselling and of the worksheets, they acquire more and more awareness, and become able to say what they want:

(the social worker) was very important; he taught me many things and drove me… He made me understand what I could do on my own and that I could tell him what I thought (Y8).

The right to express their voice and its practice is a prerequisite for the development of all the other capabilities. The promotion of the beneficiaries’ voice is a driver for the capability for education and for work: the programme activates the young NEETs in order to let them aspire for something that can be a further vocational training or educational path. However, at the same time, this is an element of ambiguity: working on beneficiaries’ voice is one of its strengths, but as the educational system does not support their problems and the labour market is characterised by an high youth unemployment rate and offers very few opportunities for these young adults, voice is the only element the programme can work with. The factors that obstacle the conversion of rights in capabilities are social constraints that influence the action of the Association as it cannot work with the most deprived young people in this programme.

However, while the capability for voice is also promoted in its combined dimension (i.e. the internal capabilities combine with the external ones (Nussbaum 2000)) because the Association is able to listen to the requests and needs of the territory and of young people, such action is limited to the local context. Despite the continuous and relevant social action carried out by the AQS with programmes for young NEETs (as the Trespassing project), single mothers (employed through projects of daily nursery), children (after school activities), etc., the Association has little chance to be sustained by public actors such as the Regional or City Councils: the involvement of public actors is uncertain and irregular, not allowing for the aims and practices of the Trespassing project to influence and permeate the public action and other levels of governance. This runs the risk of isolating the Association and especially the young adults, leaving them without perspectives due to the lack of a more general context of policies aimed at supporting them.

The lack of integration between the interventions and the measures deployed for young people ensures that these remain detached from the broader context, and that in some ways stifle that voice which is so painstakingly pieced together through the placement scheme:

Then if the participants just go back doing what they were doing before, even if we’ve got them used to reflecting on themselves and planning, their motivation collapses and people then just give up (SW3).

Moreover, the lack of support by the public actors and the incapacity to define articulated and integrated projects relating to the young adults’ various living dimensions shed a light on the scarce connections between policy levels and scales. As a consequence, the action remains local:

The youngsters don’t exit the neighbourhood and we don't have the chance to let them do it, because of the lack of money and support (DP2).

This creates an excess of the local dimension, which risks to produce a form of segregation of the experience, the project and the young adults themselves: when the project finishes, the beneficiaries’ provenance makes it very likely for them to fall right back to the starting blocks, depressing their capacity to aspire. The risk is therefore that after having exercised their capability for voice within the project, the youths then find themselves in a situation in which the only possibility is that of reproducing the patterns and logics of their local culture without having the chance to think of or construct alternative futures (Appadurai, 2004): a common finding in every edition of the project is that one or two young girls give up Trespassing to have a baby (and they usually stop searching for a job) and a period in jail is a very common scenario for these young adults.

2.2         Capability for work

In working with job placement processes, the Trespassing Project must also bear in mind the general situation of the labour market and its above-mentioned characteristics. For this reason, one of the characteristics of the project is to offer itineraries of familiarisation with work that do not necessarily lead people to a regular job, and that focus on the recovery and valorisation of basic skills:

Here the participants are provided with the key tools, such as the European curriculum; they are taught how to handle a work interview, where and how to look for work… the only thing we can really hope to do is to create ‘pre-employability”(PD1).

On a micro level, the project promotes a series of actions aimed at supporting people’s ‘capability for work’ (Bonvin and Farvaque, 2006). In companies, beneficiaries are encouraged to approach work through everyday activities with the supervision of a company tutor who follows them – along with the social worker – throughout their job placement. The close collaboration and integration between these two figures, albeit with different tasks and roles, constitutes one of the strength of the entire project: the beneficiary may rely on a solid support framework both inside the workplace and outside:

The most important thing about the project was S (the social worker) and F, my tutor in the shop. I don’t know what I would have done without them (Y10).

Hence the tutoring activity “expands strategically right into the workplace, facilitating the beneficiaries’ learning process and supporting the artisans in their own pedagogical commitments,” (Rossi-Doria and Pirozzi, 2010). Therefore, this does not only concern the participants but the entire context, building up an educational pact that allows young people activation.

Moreover, the young adults enter unprotected working environments: they are inserted into small companies or shops, and right from the first day they take part in work activities. The path they follow, however, is a gradual one: they start out from the simplest tasks and, over the months and under the supervision of their tutors, they move on to more complex ones. However much the participants’ learning process may be modulated to fit their needs, this is still unprotected, ‘hands-on’ work experience.

Here we tried to put together a progressive work-familiarisation process, from the simplest tasks the lad then moved on to the more complex issues until he started doing little graphic projects using Photoshop. The whole process is decided together with the tutor and the boy (CT5).

However, there are some dimensions of ambiguity in the practices examined. Despite the fact that the aim is to bring beneficiaries closer and not insert them into the labour market, it is often difficult to separate basic skills and professional skills: participants thus find themselves ‘learning to work’, with the expectations of them being able to continue in their chosen line once the placement is over. And this emerges not only from the words of the beneficiaries themselves:

On the placement I learnt how to be a beautician, because in the future my dream is to be able to open a centre of my own (Y7).

But also from those of the company tutors, who attribute importance not only to the educational progress that the young adults make, but also to their professional progress:

The important thing for the kids that come here is to try and pick up a trade. There are still people here who go round to people’s houses to wash, set and cut their hair. And I’m happy to teach these girls a trade, because then it’s something that they can keep on doing (CT4).

Despite the fact that the project only works on the individual skills of the beneficiary, strengthening his/her capacity to ‘stay on the job’ and respect rules and times, the project however lacks the necessary conditions for it to affect the demand for labour. As we argued before, there is shortage of any overarching and coordinated policy framework to which to refer, and the Trespassing project has difficulties in connecting with other actors and measures in order to develop integrate programmes for the beneficiaries. This could make the young people’s job placement an isolated experience, in which the lack of further interventions runs the risk of invalidating the entire project. The missing links between different scales of governance and with public institutions and the scarce integration – both horizontal and vertical – with social and educational policies risk segregating the Trespassing Project and the youths that take part in it, limiting the possibilities of converting the (scarce) rights and resources into capability for work.

Furthermore, the characteristics of the labour market in Campania are another constraint in the converting process. First of all, at the end of the apprenticeship reference letters are issued, which could facilitate the entrance of young people in the labour market. However, these letters lack any formal recognition, and their validity is limited to a network of reciprocal and shared trust that exists among craftsmen. Moreover, the high incidence of undisclosed labour (in many cases linked to the illegal market) and the presence of a consolidated system of criminal labour, together with the high youth unemployment rate, make it very difficult to put together solid preparation projects for the beneficiaries:

At a certain point the kids ask you for a job and here lies the snag: if you haven’t got a job you don’t have a social identity, but there’s no work here. So they set off on the path of illegal work because there isn’t any legal work on offer (SW5).

With regards to this issue, it is interesting to examine the evaluation of the outcomes carried out by the AQS. From internal research carried out on the youths who have taken part in the previous editions of the Trespassing Project and other similar projects (a total of 220 young adults), it emerges that after 11 months, about 20% had found an occupation that might be considered ‘stable’, 25% shifted between periods of work and inactivity, 10% had returned to the vocational training, 35% had no longer had any contact with the labour market, and the remaining 10% had been unreachable. As the focus of the project is to adopt strategies of familiarisation with labour culture, considering the context in which the intervention is promoted and despite the minimal data available, the project brings young adults closer to the labour market, and serves as a bridge in more than half of the cases studied, working on their capability for work. However, it is difficult to evaluate the outcomes from this point of view, because many cases end up in undisclosed labour. This is a crucial issue for the project and a central point to pay attention to.

2.3         Capability for education

The educational aspect is a characteristic of the Trespassing Project. Even if no direct bounds exist with the educational system, due to the scarce multidimensionality and integration of policies both at the national and at the local level, the apprenticeship gives the young people a chance to regain basic skills that are usually acquired at school. The process of familiarization with the work experience is not limited to the acquisition of technical and professional abilities: it is mainly a process that deals with socialisation and the development of mature relationships. Young people, then, “learn how to learn” embracing and sharing, during the on-job practices, rules and values typical of the adult world. They end up building a strong analysis of their experience, while highlighting their desires and the paths they have reason to value.

Being aimed at young adults with unsuccessful school careers behind them, Trespassing tries to bring them nearer to the world of education via alternative routes. Despite the programme does not aim to provide beneficiaries with any kind of diploma, there is a strong drive towards learning paths based on everyday practices, and the beneficiaries value this chance to learn:

Here I learnt how to be a hairdresser and this is important to me because now I can search for a job (Y9).

The importance of Trespassing is that you can learn something… and you need to learn, because this is the way you build up your future (Y13).

The social workers try to support the beneficiaries in the deployment of their skills and abilities: the valorisation and the empowerment of basic competencies generally takes young adults back into a more general learning process that sometimes guides them towards an institutional education system:

I followed the project working as a beautician. It was there that I realised that I had to go back to school, and now I’m enrolled at beauty school. I go there in the mornings and then I come here to work in the afternoons. The course costs a bit, but I pay for it myself with the money I earn at work (Y12).

In the relationship with the beneficiaries, social workers dedicate much time to learning process and to the construction of an educational strategy, both in working practices, and also during the counselling activities. Both the company tutors and the social workers are adults proposing values and behavioural models different from those that the young adults are used to, and in this way they question approaches and interaction logics which they might otherwise take for granted. For the young adults, the example, presence and constant support of these figures take on major educational importance, and the headquarters of the Association are open to all those who have taken part in previous projects, who come to visit the tutors for help with job-seeking, or for advice on a difficult domestic situation or on a relationship with a partner.

The role of the social worker is based on monitoring activities, administering self-assessment through the sheets that are filled in together with the young adults during counselling activities. These activities promote young adults’ self-reflection, giving them the chance to focus on what they value in their working practices, and supporting the development of their basic skills.

We have the worksheets, which ask you questions to make you understand what you’re learning and how. But they are not only about work; there are also ones about their emotions, sheets on society and about getting around Naples... (SW4)

The strong structuring of the itinerary and the educational abilities of the social workers provide the young adults with a solid support framework, in which their capabilities are valorised through a process of personal growth. Furthermore, the worksheets also serve to familiarise them with certain general living dimensions. Among these, an important element is their knowledge of the city: often these youths have lived for years without ever leaving the Quartieri Spagnoli. Getting out, seeing other situations sometimes sett off major transformation processes:

Another very successful thing was the territorial estrangement process. Few years ago, we took the kids to Florence and it was an incredible experience. Because for them the idea of going to another city is a novelty: they’ve never been out of Naples (SW2).

However, despite the fact that the programme practices show an orientation towards the promotion of the capability for education, the main limit remains the lack of support for the project and of interventions that may affect the overall living conditions of the youths. Not only the educational policies are scarcely integrated with social and employment policies at the national level, but this happens also at the local one: the programme has no strong connections with the educational system and the active labour market policies, and it only works in order to make the beneficiary able to learn (mainly a job). This sector-based logic, together with the scarce multiscalarity, informs the policy-making and limits the process of converting the (scarce) rights and resources into capabilities: the lack of an integrated approach and of further measures risks inducing a transfer of responsibility from society to the young adult itself, that has to choose in a situation with no opportunities:

 These projects have no outlets; they constitute a very important experience in the kids’ lives, but there’s a need to work on all fronts, otherwise they’re just experiences, not policies (SW3).

3        Conclusions

The following is a synthesis of the main results of the case study:

1) Competence-oriented employability and capabilities. A sort of ambiguity may be noted in the Trespassing Project, which while on the one hand aims to increase beneficiaries’ scope for choice, especially with regard to the working environment, and on the other hand it is centred on individual competences and attitudes in a given context. The project activates beneficiaries without managing to activate the broader context.

2) Evaluation and informational basis. It is difficult to evaluate the outcomes of the project, because many cases end up in undisclosed labour. This raises a number of questions: can these results be considered successful? How may undisclosed labour positions be considered in the capability approach? In an ever more deregulated labour market, and particularly in a situation such as that in Campania, what may be considered a ‘good job’ and thus an intervention targeting such an outcome?

3) Conversion factors. The study confirms the importance of conversion factors which concern social, organisational and institutional dimensions. As regards the organisational structure, the image of the open door sums up an intervention method based on openness, physical nearness and listening. In the relationship between social workers and beneficiaries, organisational tools are important, as is in general the methodology which underlies the programme: the counselling activities, the worksheets, the activity registers, the time organisation of the meetings define a structure which guides the young adults, the social workers and the company tutors in the whole work-familiarisation process. Equally important is the weakness of certain factors, especially on the macro and meso levels, concerning the coordination between different levels of public action (multiscalarity) and between different policies (multidimensionality).

4) Local dimension. Generally speaking, the interventions promoted by the AQS have a relevant local dimension. However, on one hand the local attachment is a point of strength in the project action, while on the other hand the lack of other levels of action ‘segregates’ the action of the Association to within its context. The project cannot generalise its results and methods and remains short-ranged and isolated. That is due to the fact that there is limited multiscalarity, with very few connections and scarce synergy among the different levels of public action and to the lack of any public actor who might guarantee rights and resources. The measures only manage in part to intervene on individual situations, while they have no effect on the general conditions which define the youths’ living and working situations.

5) Capabilities and capacitating frameworks. We are presented with barely capacitating frameworks. There in fact lacks a network of alliances and support which might link in to other levels beyond the local one. The fact that the system (both local and national) of interventions in favour of young people is limited hinders the project as a whole, that lacks the collective dimension of capabilities. The individual capabilities of the beneficiaries, practiced through the job placement, thus end up ‘on ice’ at the end of the project. The labour market, from this point of view, constitutes one of the most critical areas. As mentioned previously, various problems come into play here: lack of opportunities, deregulated job positions, criminality. There is also however the issue of understanding which kind of job is consistent with the development of capabilities in a local situation of this kind.

A problem may then be noted of scarcity and sectoriality of the resources available, which leads to situations of discrimination among the weaker pupils: given the small number of places and the limited budget, only those who right from the selection phase seem to have certain resources (be they individual, social or family-based) are accepted to undertake the itinerary, while the weaker ones who risk not completing the programme are excluded a priori, for uncompleted placement courses cannot be reimbursed by the Regional Council.

6) Voice. Voice is an important element in the case study, and a condition for developing other capabilities. But here too a number of issues should be underlined. The work undertaken by the social workers, the company tutors and the AQS as a whole tends to promote difference and increase choice; these actions are aimed at the future of the beneficiaries with the intention of putting together emancipation strategies. From this point of view the project tries to promote “the capacities to aspire” (Appadurai, 2004) that concern “how human beings engage their own futures” and the cultural - normative and cognitive - frameworks from which desire and imagination of the future take form. However, the links with the normative and value frameworks of the local context are strong and limiting. In fact, for most of the beneficiaries, the end of the project means going right back to where they were before. Voice in fact is not a prerequisite, but must be promoted and put into practice in order for it to emerge, and the meagre support offered by institutions and the absence of integrated projects with regard to the various living dimensions of the young adults depress their capacity to aspire and their scope for voice. The risk is therefore that the youths, after having exercised their capability for voice within the project, find themselves in a situation in which the only possibility is that of reproducing patterns typical of their living environments without having the chance of deciding on and constructing alternative paths.

As for the more general lessons that may be drawn with regard to the capabilities, the case confirms the role that institutions play, not only as external factors but also as actors that may use and induce various means of capacitation. On the empirical level, in fact, the conversion factors may operate in various ways and combinations, with unequal implications as regards freedom and implemented capabilities. According to Salais (2008), the public action may go in different directions: it may assign priorities to individual conversion factors, but it may also strengthen and promote conversion factors of a social and environmental kind, affecting the limitations and opportunities of a collective and contextual nature. The weakness of the institutional role as identified on several occasions in this case study entails the difficulty or unwillingness to intervene specifically to address these limitations.

Furthermore, the institutions are important because the capabilities are supported by rights and powers: social rights just as the right to decide and to participate in the construction and change of the contexts in which decisions take place. Rights, as stated earlier, that are both lacking in the case in question.


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Author's Address:
Lavinia Bifulco / Raffaele Monteleone / Carlotta Mozzana
Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca
Dipartimento di Sociologia e Ricerca Sociale
Piazza dell'Ateneo Nuovo, 1
20126 Milan
Tel: +39.02.6448.7548

[1] Lavinia Bifulco is Associate Professor, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca; Raffaele Monteleone is post doctoral research fellow and lecturer of Governance and local welfare systems, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca; Carlotta Mozzana is post doctoral research fellow, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca. The authors are part of Sui Generis – Workshop on Sociology of Public Action ( They are grateful to the Workshop for the support and the advices, and thank Jean-Michel Bonvin, Emilie Rosenstein, Maël Dif-Pradalier, Thierry Berthet and Véronique Simon for having read a previous draft of this paper and for their precious comments. All the authors shared the field research and the theoretical considerations about the capability approach; interviews have been carried out by Raffaele Monteleone and Carlotta Mozzana. Introduction and paragraph 1 were edited by Raffaele Monteleone; paragraph 2 was edited by Carlotta Mozzana and the conclusions were edited by Lavinia Bifulco.

[2] A special mention, among the others, should be given to the Chance project run by the Maestri di strada (Street Teachers) (Pirozzi 2008; 2010 and Moreno in

[3] Among these, we should certainly mention the role played by the European Union, the administrative and electoral reforms of the ‘90s, the law reforming social services in 2000, and lastly the reform of Section V of the Constitution in 2001, which redefined the relationships between the State, regional governments and local authorities.

[4] Two EU funds play their part here: the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) and the ESF (European Social Fund).

[5] The NEET population is made up of young people between 15 and 29 who do not work, do not study and do not attend regional training courses of over six months. In Italy in 2009, the number of NEETs was 2,043,615 (56.5% females, 43.5% males), which in percentage terms is 21.2% of the population in question. The south of Italy gives an average value of around 30%, compared to 14.3% in the northern regions and 16.1% in the central ones (Italia Lavoro Spa, 2011).

[6] A basso is a small dwelling made up of one or two rooms on the ground floor or basement, usually facing onto the street. Historically, they have constituted a relatively accessible housing solution for poor Neapolitans, given the low quality of the constructions and the limited amount of floor space provided. Today, within the Quartieri Spagnoli there are still around 900 bassi in use as dwellings, deposits, garages or craft workshops, or as more than one of these (Laino, 2001).

[7] Over the years, the Associazione Quartieri Spagnoli and the ‘Maestri di Strada’ Association, along with the Chance Project, have worked in the Quartieri Spagnoli as well as other problematic Neapolitan neighbourhoods to carry out experimental integration projects, bridging the gaps between technical schooling and the professional training system (O.F.I.), as well as European projects such as Equal and Leonardo (Rossi-Doria and Pirozzi, 2010).

[8] The public financing imposes strict access criteria through public call, and is aimed at young people (16-18 years old) who have completed compulsory education, affected by elements of multiple deprivation, not following a school career or vocational training. The private financing aimed more broadly at early school-leavers (even those who have not completed compulsory education) affected by elements of multiple deprivation.

[9] The AQS in fact manages a database of various kinds of information on the young adults entrusted to it.

[10] An attendance fee of €12 per day is paid to beneficiaries, while the company receives €8 per day for its tutoring activities.

[11] There were four social workers that the AQS could rely on at the end of this research report, and in past editions of the project there were never more than six.

[12] SW: social worker; Y: young adult; PD: programme developer; CT: company tutor. The number indicates the interview.