School of Sociology and Social Policy

The Bauman Institute

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Wasted Lives – Shifting Concepts of Inclusion

For years, unemployment has been one of the most controversial issues in Germany. A broad range of explanations are discussed. They vary from structural causes, like recession or globalization to political deficiencies, like weaknesses in the education system or too little support for the unemployed to individual causes of the problem. The recent structural reforms of the labour market and social policies carried out by the German government focus on inclusion of the unemployed into the labour market. The new line of thought underlying these reforms however leads to further exclusion: Concepts of “the redundant” and “the unemployed” are replaced by modern ones, which embrace different ideas e.g., on responsibility, usefulness and the subject’s interrelationship to the state.

In Germany there is at least one initiative on behalf of the unemployed in every city. The paper focuses on these civil society actors who speak on behalf of the excluded. My sample represents only a selection from this broad field of groups. I have concentrated on those actors who support the unemployed in their daily lives on a regular base; often offer recreational activities, consultation and represent the interest of unemployed people in politics and in the public sphere (Rein and Scherer 1993; Wolski- Prenger 1998). Other groups, like spontaneous groupings of activists regarding unemployment issues, leftist groups engaged on behalf of the unemployed along with other issues, are excluded from my sample. I investigate how unemployed initiatives attempt to influence the unemployment discourse.

I assume that the new dominant concepts regarding unemployment have created further obstacles for the initiatives on behalf of the unemployed: Many claims on behalf of the unemployed loose their justification and new accusations against welfare recipients arouse. The actors analysed in this paper partially adapt to the new line of thought and create spaces for their claims. The claims of civil society for inclusion soon reach their limits. They often contradict dominant concepts of inclusion. This leads to the questions how successful the adaption strategy of the unemployed initiatives can be in the future?

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