Resistance in employment services: a critical account

Casey, S 2017, Resistance in employment services: a critical account, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global, Urban and Social Sciences, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Resistance in employment services: a critical account
Author(s) Casey, S
Year 2017
Abstract This thesis is a critical account of resistance in employment services. The research was undertaken between 2013-2014 when employment services, then called Job Services Australia (JSA), were increasingly shaped by a neoliberal reform agenda that prioritised marketisation and individual responsibility. It was in this context that Australia’s marketised employment became the street-level agencies responsible for policing the rules of welfare conditionality. When job seekers fail to comply with the rules of conditionality, employment services use financial sanctions to discipline them. Reports of interpersonal conflict from employment services agencies suggested the use of financial sanctions was contributing to antagonistic street-level relations. This interpersonal conflict at the street level suggested that employment services rules were being met with some resistance by job seekers.

The investigation was guided by the question: How can resistance in employment services be understood?

The research question was intended to allow for the examination of resistance in terms that are relevant to critical scholarship about street level relations in employment services. The research focused on moments involving the use of sanctions to examine street-level relations in the context of an advanced liberal welfare regime of Workfare. Through exploring the forms of resistance that arise in employment services, the investigation was intended to develop critical understandings of the effects of sanctions on relations in employment services. It was also intended to provide an approach to developing an account of agency and resistance in dominating social conditions.

The research objectives necessitated situating employment services within a critical analytic framework in which marketisation and individualisation were understood as strategies of advanced liberal regimes of welfare governance. From a critical perspective employment services can be described as a public service designed to commodify job seekers in which sanctions are used to discipline and penalise the unemployed. This perspective contrasts with a mainstream perspective in which employment services are viewed as a public service that helps connect unemployed people to jobs as a form of benevolent assistance, and which considers sanctions a necessary form of ‘tough love’.

The research comprised narrative interviews with job seekers and employment services workers about incidents involving threat of sanction. These incidents were the focus of the inquiry because sanctions have been, and continue to be, used to discipline non-compliant or ‘resistant’ job seekers. The notion of a resistant welfare subject is important because it implicitly informs the strategies of activation and conditionality administered through employment services agencies.

This thesis applied a critical orientation drawing on Bourdieu’s theory of practice (Bourdieu, 1977, 1990) and Peillon’s sociology of welfare (Peillon, 1998) to develop a critical account of resistance in employment services. The use of a Bourdieusian perspective contrasts with other critical examinations of the social relations of Workfare, and was employed specifically to explain how job seekers and workers negotiate interactions where welfare conditionality imposes controls on their behaviour.

The findings draw attention to the limitation of sanctions in employment services. Through the analysis of interactions involving sanctions, the notion of the resistant welfare subject is challenged because job seekers were identified as exercising complex rationalisations in decisions relating to welfare and work. These complex rationalisations add support to the need for welfare subjects to be understood as complex actors whose behaviour and decisions reflect the constraints of their relational contexts. This thesis also contributes observations to social and public policy scholarship about the role of third sector organisations as agencies contracted to enforce disciplinary social policy like that associated with Workfare. A contribution of this research is to draw attention to the role of these agencies in the administration of disciplinary social policy.

An interest-based perspective is used to explain the forms of resistance that arise in employment services. This interest-based perspective reinforces the view that the interests informing employment services reflect the market-oriented rationality of neoliberalism rather than the interests of the unemployed. By taking an interest-based perspective on policy making itself, this thesis draws attention to the ways in which all those involved in creating policy are implicated in reproducing social conditions in which neoliberal interests dominate. The thesis argues that there is a need for stronger linkages between research and policy advocates so that critical perspectives are employed as legitimate forms of knowledge about the effects of social policy. For their part, researchers can engage with policy making processes and practices, in order to insert their knowledge into broader debate about the reproduction of inequality and provide ‘resources for rethinking and renewing democratic struggles’ (Wacquant, 2005: 4).
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban and Social Sciences
Subjects Social Policy
Social Theory
Keyword(s) resistance
employment services
marketisation
critical social policy
public policy
Bourdieu
interests
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Created: Wed, 21 Feb 2018, 09:50:05 EST by Denise Paciocco
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