Accepted Paper:

The identity politics of brokerage: community workers dealing with unruly youth in the Netherlands  


Sabah Chalhi (Utrecht University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on how a community worker operates as a broker, working with youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods. It zooms in on how the worker and unruly youth negotiate their identities in their relationship.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the complex situation of professional brokers when their position staggers and their influence towards their clients decreases. I will look at community workers who, representing a government subsidized welfare organization, work with youth in a disadvantaged neighborhood. Fundamental changes in welfare policy, together with financial cutbacks, affect the resources of the workers. Trips to amusement parks and going camping were once common activities but are now deemed too costly.

We look at one specific story of a 13-year old unruly boy and the way he and a worker negotiate the boy's need for access to resources, when the boy starts 'hunting' for resources by stealing money from the workers' organization. The boy's delinquent practices coincide with his withdrawal from the activities the worker organizes for youth. This makes it difficult for the worker to fulfill his role as a broker and exert influence, since the structural meeting points with his client are lost. It also affects his identity as a broker because the boy's withdrawal, hinders the worker from fulfilling his role as a broker. This situation produces a complex intimacy between broker and youth because of the evasive yet confrontational practices of the boy.

In this paper we explore what happens to brokers' identities, positions and practices when confronted with unruly clients. We argue that while the boy is 'hunting' in an attempt to build his street-identity, the broker is hunting for his client in order to rehabilitate his professional identity and position as a broker.

Panel P104
The politics of brokerage: intimate interconnections and spaces of collaboration