The tentative state of social welfare
Anouk de Koning
Anick Vollebergh (Radboud University)
Milena Marchesi (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Paper short abstract:
Drawing on ethnographies of social work in three European cities, we argue that the social domain shows us a tentative, at times even vulnerable state that is constituted through intensive relational work and is deeply entangled with the social it wishes to govern.
Paper long abstract:
This intervention draws on ethnographic fieldwork in the broad governmental domain of the social in Amsterdam, Milan, and Paris. Pierre Bourdieu (1998: 2) described this domain as 'the left hand' of the state, which is made up of 'social workers' in the broad sense of the term, from youth workers to teachers and family counselors, and from state-employed professionals to volunteers, 'who are sent into the front line to perform so-called 'social' work to compensate for the most flagrant inadequacies of the logic of the market, without being given the means to really do their job' (Bourdieu 1998: 3).
Our ethnographies reveal a heavily relational and affective form of government at work. In the assemblage of public, private, nonprofit, and activated citizens, and through the investment of affective labor, we see the state emerge, and position itself, as one actor among others in a heterogeneous assemblage meant to stimulate and redirect energies and re-generate the public good. We argue that, alongside the forceful, interventionist and repressive state familiar from critical studies of the welfare state in Europe today, the social domain shows us a tentative, at times even vulnerable state that is constituted through intensive relational work and is deeply entangled with the social it wishes to govern.
Anthropologies of the state: critical interventions, new directions [Roundtable]