EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Understanding welfare and well-being in a globalised world

Location Queens Design
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Susanne Højlund Pedersen (University of Aarhus) email
Susanne Langer email
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Short Abstract

The aim of the workshop is to develop and discuss anthropological perspectives on welfare and well-being in the context of a globalised and changing world.

Long Abstract

This workshop asks what contributions anthropologists can make to the study of welfare and well-being. Current debates are often premised on an economistic understanding of welfare and well-being, presenting them as ideals that are desirable but too costly to be realised. Such arguments often take as their starting point changing demographics and increased mobility across borders. For example, many European states are faced with ageing populations and falling birth rates and are preparing for a future where a declining number of contributors will be confronted with an increased demand for welfare provisions and the associated costs. Issues such as immigration and the right to asylum have provided justifications for the scaling back of existing welfare services. In addition, traditional post-war welfare states have been accused of stifling individual initiative, for instance leading, in the UK, to the role of the state changing from provider to enabler. What is often missing in these debates are arguments concerning welfare and well-being as social and cultural phenomena rather than as financial entities. Anthropology has a long tradition in the study of kinship and communities, obligation and reciprocity, health and healing, and institutions, organisations and policy, making it ideally placed to develop an understanding of welfare as the social distribution of well-being that includes everyday life, local interactions and institutional practices. The workshop invites papers based on empirical research and will provide a stimulating environment in which to develop and discuss anthropological perspectives on welfare and well-being in the context of a globalised and changing world.


Welfare policy, grassroots bureaucrats, and organisational complexity: The Norwegian welfare state seen from within

Author: Halvard Vike (University of Oslo)  email
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Long Abstract

The Norwegian welfare state, perhaps the most expansive version of "The Scandinavian Model", is characterized by its emphasis on universal ambitions. One of the consequences of its great ambitions, as defined and implemented by the central state, is that overload problems have become quite significant - at municipal the level. Grassroots bureaucrats find themselves caught between ever greater, and often contradictory ambitions, New Public Management - reforms seeking efficiency and economically "healthy" organizational units, and traditional professional ethics emphasizing loyalty towards clients. They are caught in serious double-bind situations, and find themselves as the "victims" of a process which I have called "the decentralization of dilemma". My research has for several years concentrated on documenting how such dilemmas are created at different levels of political and bureaucratic hierarchies, on how they are shaped and changed as they "travel" downwards, and how these dilemmas affect the identities and practical strategies of professionals. In Norway, such processes seem to have a tendency to accumulate and give rise to serious "disorder" in municipalities, which constitute the backbone of the welfare system. In my contribution to the session, I would like to present some analytical ideas as how to understand the complexity of the municipal organisation, and on how it influences the grassroots bureaucrats' ideas of what they are doing, and how - with special reference to how organizational boundaries and limitations to professional responsibility are established.

'They're just making it harder and harder': agency, productivity and personhood in welfare applications

Author: Susanne Langer  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper I want to disentangle some of the discourses, practices, and assumptions inherent in applying for a form of mobility benefit in the UK. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with people with multiple sclerosis (MS) I argue that a number of elements combined to make the application process a bewildering and often frustrating experience that left claimants feeling disempowered and excluded. Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is intended for those with difficulties getting around or with personal care, both of which are common consequences of MS. Furthermore, for most of the people I got to know, their DLA application was the first time they were asking for state assistance and they were doing so because of a medical condition. Taken together, these factors should have meant that the participants were exactly the kind of people for whom DLA was intended and that a positive response to their application was only a matter of time. However, their expectations were generally disappointed, and although many were eventually successful in their claim neither was the process straightforward nor was the resulting entitlement permanent. I want to use these experiences to illustrate how- irrespective of an official rhetoric of empowerment - the redefinition of welfare as a stop-gap measure that enables claimants to rejoin the labour economy, the increased interconnectedness of the public and private sector, and the application of bureaucratic technologies for the 'objective' management of people - left the applicants with a profound sense of loss and personal failure.

Practising welfare: analysing connections between welfare and homeliness at a children's home in Denmark

Author: Susanne Højlund Pedersen (University of Aarhus)  email
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Long Abstract

There are for the time being many common discussions in Europe about the future role of the welfare state, how to finance it and how to resist the pressure from globalisation, demographic changes and migration. Welfare is primary defined in a macro perspective e.g. with theories of ideology in relation to societal changes. But how do ideas of welfare relate to practise? What do ideologies of welfare mean for everyday life? How is welfare practised? Here anthropology can play a role, and this paper is an attempt to point to and discuss how this field of research can be defined.

Welfare states like Denmark are characterized by a high number of tax financed institutions placed in society to solve problems which the individual or the family cannot solve. Even though the purpose of institutions as kindergartens, children's homes, schools, hospitals, and homes for old people have very different purposes they all have a common rationale, namely to provide wellbeing and welfare for the citizens. Many of these institutions also have a common ideology of homeliness as a model for the professional work. By tracing ideas of homeliness in Danish institutions in a historical perspective it is shown how the symbolic universe of the Home relates to ideas of welfare. Examples from a fieldwork at a children's home will be used to discuss how ideas of homeliness are brought into practise and what they mean to children and pedagogues. It is the intention to use these examples to discuss welfare as processes of knowledge, and to show how institutional ethnography/anthropology can contribute to an understanding of how welfare becomes a reality in people's lives.

The cultural construction of well-being: seeking healing in Bangladesh

Author: Sarah White (University of Bath)  email
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Long Abstract

The aim of this paper is to explore the 'cultural construction of wellbeing', and question the dominant ways that culture has figured in discussion of wellbeing and development. The approach to culture is informed by perspectives from social anthropology, particularly as these relate to three main wellbeing themes: values, goals and ideals; welfare and standards of living; subjective perceptions and experience. Where much discussion of wellbeing has been normative and generalised, the analysis here is grounded in a practical situation: an extremely poor family in rural Bangladesh, faced with multiple challenges to health and well-being, and the diverse ways they sought medical care across the public and private sectors. These show the falsity of any notion of a hermetically sealed, uncontested 'traditional culture', and the inadequacy of any simple mapping of culture onto social group or nation-state. In place of the dominant understandings of culture as a 'lens', the paper suggests that the cultural construction of wellbeing should be considered a form of work. This restores the subject to the subjective, and shows people as agents of culture, constructing wellbeing in at once material and symbolic ways. The cultural construction of wellbeing thus appears as a contested process, and an always unstable and composite outcome, constituted through the work of human subjects operating at the interstices of social structure, institutional culture and political economy.

Negotiating well-being in old age in India

Author: Willemijn de Jong (Institute of Social Anthropology, Zurich)  email
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Long Abstract

In my paper I will address the question of how people with a low income negotiate well-being in old age in India. I will focus on the ideas and practices related to ageing of urban Muslims in Kerala. People among a group of Muslims in an industrial area used to express feelings of insecurity because, due to a decreasing number of children in the family, the pressure to care for the elderly comes to rest more and more on one or two children only. A particular anxiety was that the son who would care in old age could die.

Based on the meanings of old age and the ideas about preparing for well-being in old age, we can distinguish a specific morality of support which impacts on the processes of negotiating well-being during this life phase. The elderly people maintain specific networks of support which differ for males and females. The rather frequent practice that the house is assigned to the wife is an important condition for well-being of widows. In these respects, well-being in old age shows differences, but also similarities compared with people of Hindu communities in Kerala. As an analytic framework, an inclusive approach to social security, welfare and well-being, is used which takes into account the gendered efforts of individuals and groups related to both kinship and citizenship to cope with situations of personal crises and insecurity.

Being elderly at the age of 40: perspectives from Austria

Author: Angelika Gruber (Centre for Social Innovation)  email
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Long Abstract

The foundations of the Austrian model of the Sozialstaat (welfare state) and the financing system of pension schemes are currently being challenged through the demographic process of ageing. A consequence often named as inevitable is the necessity for later retirement from work, resulting from the alteration-in-progress of the population pyramid that shows a drastic shift towards old age.

Adding up to only 28.8 percent, however, the Austrian total employment rate of older workers aged 55 to 64 is one of the lowest in the European Union (EUROSTAT 2004). At the same time persons 40+, already being conceived as elderly, are under considerable pressure in Austria: getting into jobs and staying in the job is often an insurmountable challenge. The qualities of persons aged 40+ concerning their contribution to the work force are constantly put into question. Attributes often named as characteristics of being elderly are inflexibility and high employment expenses, as wages rise with the advancement of age.

In this paper I attempt to identify and contextualize markers of ageing and being elderly in the context of the Austrian labour market and the shifting denotations of ageing in the context of work, gender and pension schemes.

Bring up to fare well: a discussion of childcare institutions as sites of enculturation

Author: Eva Gulløv (Danish University of Education)  email
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Long Abstract

The discipline of anthropology concerns patterns of interaction, exchange and relationships between people in different kinds of communities. Whatever type of society, state organisation and composition of a population, anthropologists have been interested in social encounters and organisation. When it comes to studies of 'welfare states' anthropologists have continued the disciplinary interest in peoples interactional performances and organisation, but the more overall discussions of what constitute and characterize such societies have to some extent been left over to sociology and political sciences as matters concerning economy, distribution of resources and policy. Anthropology has, however, much to offer in analysis of welfare-states as institutional arrangements, social obligations, reciprocity and ways of spending and distributing resources are classical anthropological themes. From this perspective anthropologists can qualify understandings by contributing with analysis of social coherence, organisation and norms of welfare and well-being. Welfare is more than a political slogan and a notion of economical dispositions; - it is cultural notion of being and behaving well within specific structures of organisation.

With outset in fieldworks in day-care institutions in Denmark I will reflect on how 'welfare institutions' contribute to understandings of welfare. More specifically I will discuss welfare institutions as sites of enculturation; as places where children are brought up with specific ideas of sociality. Ways of speaking, manners of behaviour and ways of interacting are prioritized as key concerns in Danish care-institutions as children have to learn how to behave in order to be acceptable social citizens. As will be shown welfare relates to modes of behaviour that are taught in specific "welfare institutions". Thus, investigating norms and 'enculturating' practices of day-care institutions can fertilize our discussions of welfare as more than a matter of economy.

Welfare, outreach and the boundary of inequality: encounters in Cardiff's city centre

Author: Tom Hall (Cardiff University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper considers spaces of welfare, both figurative and literal. The work of outreach – initiatory and street-level welfare provision – is considered against the backdrop of urban regeneration in central Cardiff, the capital city of Wales. Outreach workers instigate encounters with others in presumed need so as to negotiate relationships of support and incorporation; these encounters and relationships take shape as a sequence of exchanges in which services are offered and accepted, assistance and consent traded. As such – as encounter and exchange – outreach work is a coming across. To come across is also to move over a threshold or boundary. This idea of outreach work as entailing a crossing of borders gives the paper its particular focus.

Outreach welfare work in central Cardiff is described and discussed as a traversing of both borders – of inequality and belonging – and material spaces in the city centre. These borders and spaces are shown to constitute both the terrain of negotiation between workers and (potential) clients and a significant stake in that negotiation.