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Compassionate responsibilisation in a neoliberal paternalistic homelessness system: ‘They’re not just numbers to me, I do actually care’

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-09-26, 11:40 authored by Edith England

 Frontline  workers  in  welfare  systems  are  often  understood  as  an  ‘uncaring’  group,  with  their  affective labour co-opted and reframed in terms of systemic efficiency. Yet they also operate at the frontlines of neoliberal paternalism, their work structured by encounters with extreme hardship, required  to  address  this  through  ‘pedagogical  interventions’  aimed  at  instilling  a  competitive,  individualistic ‘self-care’ mindset in applicants. Approaching care as a universal need, an embodied practice,  and  a  location  of  resistance  to  capitalism,  I  explore  how  actors  at  the  frontlines  of  welfare  governance  mobilise  care  in  their  daily  encounters  with  welfare  subjects.  Reporting  upon 54 extended interviews with frontline workers within the post-2015 Welsh homelessness system, I argue that care is central to the operation of the neoliberal paternalistic welfare system, providing a motivation for workers to engender compliance with neoliberal paternalistic methods of governance. I illustrate this with the example of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, drawing upon three  findings.  First,  workers  operate  from  a  core  caring  sensibility,  caring  despite  structural  constraints. Second, responsibilisation is conceptualised as a strategy which, through its focus on individual empowerment, becomes one of care. Third, however, the focus of these interventions was performative, giving workers strategies to help clients fit into the system and thus increase the  legibility  of  their  deservedness.  Thus  responsibilisation,  a  technology  associated  with  state  abandonment of welfare subjects, was used by workers as a strategy to enable meaningful care in the context of the intense constraints of their role. 


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Sociological Review




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England, E. (2022) 'Compassionate responsibilisation in a neoliberal paternalistic homelessness system:‘They’re not just numbers to me, I do actually care’', The Sociological Review. DOI: 10.1177/00380261221102034

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Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Education and Social Policy

Cardiff Met Authors

Edith England

Cardiff Met Research Centre/Group

Social Policy

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