Accepted Paper:

Between social work and action: the poetics and pragmatics of the `active' in unemployment-related social work  


Jens Kjaerulff

Paper short abstract:

The `active' is a recent buzzword in unemployment-related social work. Drawing on scholarship on value, and on Arendt’s distinction between `labour, work, and action', the paper explores articulations of (un)employment and sociality, which social workers have long attempted to work out/work around.

Paper long abstract:

A broad scholarship regards the late 20th century a watershed in welfare policy and practice, marked by a turn from so-called `passive to active' measures, where (e.g.) social work related to unemployment is pursued through schemes of workfare and activation. This paper suggests that the `active' in such contexts is more complex, and has a longer history, than commonly acknowledged. Exploring how, entails appreciating the ambiguous qualities of human activity and its value. To this end, the paper brings anthropological scholarship on value together with scholarship extending from Arendt's tri-part conceptual distinction between `labour, work, and action'. The perspective serves as a lens through which to consider social work related to unemployment in Denmark, drawing partly on historical material, but mainly on fieldwork in progress among social workers. The paper suggests that at issue across this material are articulations of ideals of employment and social identity with ideals of `active life' and sociality in a broader sense - value articulations which the paper argues social workers have long attempted to work out and work around, and about which they hold valuable insights.

Panel P051
Works that matter (not): valuing productivity through and against the market