Desktop version

Home arrow Sociology arrow Social Change and Social Work

'She's a Migrant, She's Got Children and She's a Single Mother': Welfare Programmes as Sites for the (Re)commodification of Mothers

Gisela Hauss

Introduction

Since the 1990s, Western European social policy and thus also many areas of social work have been predominantly and normatively targeted at labour market integration. During this period, countries have invested in the employability of their citizens and less in direct transfer payments (Dahme and Wohlfahrt 2008; Jenson 2009). In addition, the welfare state is being transformed into an activating, investing or even post-welfare state. Efforts focus on activating persons not (or no longer) actively participating in the primary labour market. Women in particular are affected by the new paradigm of the welfare state. Thus, the OECD Jobs Strategy (e.g. European Council 2000; 2002; OECD 2006) envisages a rise in the employment rate for women. Gender mainstreaming in the European Union is not only about gender equality but increasingly also about establishing the conditions for competitive national labour markets (Ostner 2012). The male breadwinner model, which has thus far corresponded to the welfare state in Central Europe, is being supplanted by the model of the adult worker (Lewis 2001a; 2001b; Skevik 2005; Orloff 2006; Daly 2011). Under these new conditions, the principle of earning one's own living now applies increasingly to both men and women. The main focus of this chapter, as well as of the current feminist discussion about gender and social change, is that not only women in general but especially mothers with young children are expected to take up paid employment.

This chapter discusses two labour-integration programmes for women in Switzerland.1 It focuses especially on the extent to which current social

1 This chapter is based on the research project 'Profitable Investments: Promoting Gender Equality through Social Investment and Activation Measures?' (Eva Nadai and Gisela Hauss). Conducted within the Swiss National Science Foundation Project No. 60 on Gender Equality (NFP60), the project investigates social investment practices in the area of unemployment. The project's research fellows are Alan Canonica and Loredana Monte
transformations can be observed on the levels of professional categorizations and everyday interactions. The two programmes accept only women and belong to a vast market of educational and occupational programmes for the unemployed in Switzerland. The principal providers in this social security market are the federal unemployment and invalidity insurance funds, and the social welfare system.

Social Work and (Re)commodification: Theoretical and Historical

Framework

Labour market integration, which has been expanding since the 1990s, involves not only qualified social workers: the staff employed in this field is heterogeneous, and the professional contours of so-called labour market integration specialists are blurred (Nadai and Canonica 2012). Social workers working in programmes for the unemployed are acting in a field that is strongly oriented toward the labour market. The growing influence of entrepreneurial structures in the field of social security can be studied in such programmes (Hauss 2014). The transfer of management principles to a hitherto largely publicly funded sector has initiated a broad debate in the social work discourse (Lorenz 2001; Durose 2011; Jansen, Heinze and Beckmann 2013; Raeymaeckers and Dierckx 2013). One question raised in this respect is whether professional social work can be practised in the context of an increasing economization of public administration and social service providers (Dahme and Wohfahrt 2005; 2008). As Walter Lorenz observes, this question is relevant particularly because in no country has social work managed to overcome its dependency on the respective welfare regime (Lorenz 2006, 165). Lorenz (2006, 138) gets to the heart of the changes accompanying the restructuring of the modern welfare state: 'Social work is becoming an instrument of commodification, of increasing the market value of human labour and personal transactions, even care itself. Social relations are to be transformed into commodity transactions on which a globalized digital capitalism depends, and the absorption of social services themselves into a limitless commodity market is but one sign.' In the field of labour market integration, social work acts in the force field between the economy and social assistance. Referring to Oevermann's (2009) concept of professionalization, research on activation practices shows that the prevailing sociopolitical structures make it challenging to professionalize the counselling, job placement, and integration of welfare recipients (Nadai and Canonica 2012; see also Kutzner, Mäder and Knöpfel 2004; Magnin 2005; Schallberger and Wyer 2010).

A glance at the history of social work reveals that it is not just today that social work operates between the labour market and social welfare. Historically, the relationship between work and welfare has by no means always been clear. Welfare has time and again sought to commodify its clients. In the past, financial

(see fhnw.ch/sozialearbeit/ipw/forschung-und-entwicklung/ppt-projekte/nfp 60?unitid=S20). considerations have on various occasions taken precedence over individual welfare. Concerning the relationship between work and welfare, from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century even women with children were under considerable pressure to earn their own living and to adjust to contemporary, strata-specific patterns of work (Gehlttomhold and Hering 2006, 105–18, Hauss and Ziegler 2008, 2009). In contrast to the welfare workers at the time, who were often women with a philanthropic orientation, the male breadwinner model remained unrealistic for women dependent on welfare until after World War II. It was not until stable postwar prosperity that the strong breadwinner model common in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Austria became attainable for families from the lower social strata. In the 1960s and 1970s, job security, continuous employment relations, and income increases within progressive Western industrial societies ensured that social work could position itself as a form of compensation in relation to production (Rauschenbach 1999, 28; Hering and Münchmeier 2000, 231). Today, that is no longer the case. The restructuring of the welfare state within the context of activation and social investment has changed the starting point for social work (e.g. Lorenz 2006; Leskošek 2009).

This chapter focuses on integration into the labour market as a new remit. Since this remit involves consultancy and crisis management, it has certain dimensions of professional social work (Nadai and Canonica 2012). Generally, service users find themselves in situations in which daily routines begin to falter and proven solutions no longer work. They are referred to outside experts in setting the future course of their lives. Professionals are required to take decisions that need to be both accounted for and justified. As Oevermann (2009) has pointed out, these are all starting points for discussing the imperative need for professionalization the field. Labour-market integration brings social workers together with a wide range of other professions. One can therefore safely assume that paradoxical bundles of problems and diverging orientation tendencies (Schütze 2003) are particularly evident in everyday practice.

Whereas the relevant research on local-level labour market integration programmes does not explicitly discuss gender, our study includes a gender perspective. There is some controversy over whether there is a need for integration programmes aimed specifically at women. Detractors of female-only programmes have two main arguments: unemployed women do not face different problems than unemployed men, and the labour market makes no gender-based differences. Advocates of women-only programmes, however, point to gender-specific employee biographies and emphasize that women's needs are often overlooked in mixed programmes. One question of interest from a gender perspective is how social workers code care work and which patterns of work are promoted. Of particular concern is how far gender is considered to be a category of inequality that interacts with other differences. As some research adopting an intersectional perspective has suggested, differences or forms of inequality, such as social situation, immigration and maternity, change or heighten or indeed weaken gender as a social category (Knapp 2005; Klinger and Knapp 2007). Our analysis rests
on the concept of interdependent categories (Walgenbach 2012; 2007). We are especially interested in how the investigated integration programmes configure and address the various axes of difference constituting the participants' situation.

 
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics