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Accepted Contribution:

For and against the state. How welfare bureaucrats break administrative guidelines to follow the law.  

Contributor:

Sophie Andreetta (University of Liège)

Contribution short abstract:

Building on ethnographic fieldwork in French-speaking Belgium, this presentation explores how welfare bureaucrats navigate the sometimes-conflicting norms regulating social assistance for migrants in order to show their commitment to providing a certain service, regardless of government policies.

Contribution long abstract:

Torn between the ethics of care and the obligation to control imposed by recent policies, fundamental rights and instructions from above, welfare bureaucrats often navigate complex, sometime conflicting sets of rules, especially when dealing with social assistance requests from migrants. Based on ethnographic fieldwork within welfare bureaucracies in French-speaking Belgium, this presentation considers how these civil servants manage to reconcile logics of care and control (Perna 2019), sometimes circumventing or breaking administrative guidelines in order to safeguard fundamental principles such as the right to human dignity. Achieved through the distribution of social assistance, the right to human dignity is implemented by welfare institutions such as public centers for social action or the federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers. In an attempt to counter the welfare-magnet effect, according to which migrants chose their country of destination depending on the welfare benefits available, recent policies have restricted migrants’ access to financial assistance and accommodation in Belgium. This paper explores how civil servants implement such policies and delves into the dilemmas that they face. In an effort to realize what they perceive as higher principles (fundamental values, national laws, or initial mission statements of their institution) they sometimes break administrative guidelines, make use of exceptions, or advice migrants to sue the administration in court. This paper eventually demonstrates that civil servants are loyal to the state and to providing a public service, rather than to specific government injections or policies (Lentz 2014) – even when the “client” is not politically represented.

Panel Res09a
Good ends and dubious means: rule breaking and justification