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Dropping Out or Signing Up? The Professionalisation of Youth Travel

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Leaving school and dropping out of employment or further education was once an act of rebellion by cohorts of young people expressing anti‐establishment sentiments. Now it has become a neoliberal market place in the UK. Over the last five years the “gap year” has changed from a radical activity, dominated by charities and inspired by the travel of the hippie generation, to an institutionally accepted commercial gap year industry which helps form new citizens for a global age. This transformation has seen the dramatic growth in commercial gap year companies and in the numbers of young people in the UK taking gap years. Such growth, taking place under an increasingly engaged public gaze, has led to the professionalisation of the sector and to profound changes in its underlying values. Drawing on a range of empirical sources, I examine how the transformation of the gap year through the neoliberal market place has involved the application of corporate values and rhetoric to youth travel. Becoming “professional” has entailed a shift from collective idealism to the infinitely more saleable values of individual career development. While professional values give legitimacy to the gap year industry, its professional gaze is also proving to be relatively myopic—it has yet to be turned on the volunteer development projects through which many companies in the industry make their names, and money.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, University of Newcastle, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK;, Email:

Publication date: 2005-06-01

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