Accepted paper:

Welfare to work \ work for welfare: constructing welfare ideology through alternative practice


Noa Leuchter (Ben-Gurion University)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I examine the complex involvement of state bureaucracy employees in the implementation of a welfare reform, and show how their active acts of “salvage” of clients from a new welfare-to-work program constituted an alternative meaning of welfare as ideology and practice.

Paper long abstract:

State Bureaucracies have long been established as important domains, where the state comes to be understood through apparently mundane administrative practices. In my research, based on long term fieldwork in an Israeli social security branch, I explore the contradictory logics of this bureaucracy as a site which brings together ideologies of national sentiments, social welfare, and neo-liberal privatization schemes. In this paper, I examine the complex involvement of social security employees in the implementation of a newly mandated welfare reform. The Israeli welfare-to-work 'work-first' program (commonly known as 'Wisconsin plan') was initiated as a policy experiment which focused on labor market reintegration of the long term unemployed, but was heavily scrutinized both because of its attempts to condition welfare support as well as because its operation was entrusted to private for-profit companies. By following the execution of this program, I will show that in many cases, social security employees chose to divert clients away from this program, in contradiction with official policy and their job requirements. These acts of "salvage", as they would refer to them, were based on active decision making on their part as well as by complicity with varying attempts of client to commit fraud. I claim that any understanding of policy should take into account that decisions made by street-level bureaucrats are influenced by formal classifications, local values, and personal affiliations, thus involving the arbitrariness of state bureaucracy and the creativity of human agents, and constituted an alternative meaning of welfare as ideology and practice.

panel P102
The anthropology of public services and bureaucracies