This article is based on a textual analysis of European Commission documents that, from 1993 to 2006, construct the discourses of lifelong learning and the knowledge economy. Exploring an apparent conceptual laxity, it finds absolute consistency in the construction of two categories of learner: the high knowledge-skilled learner (graduate/postgraduate) for the knowledge economy, and the low knowledge-skilled learner located in (or beyond) the knowledge society. The low knowledge-skilled learners are not only those at risk, they are increasingly constructed as the risk. The analysis suggests that the binary classification is initially classed and raced-and only then is it gendered. In contrast, labour market studies of the knowledge economy, providing either gendered or national data, obscure the vital cross-cutting matrix of social class, 'race' and age. The article advocates further studies of lifelong learning practices and labour market data based on finely-crossed analyses of social class, poverty, age and race.
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