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  • Author or Editor: Magnus Paulsen Hansen x
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Ideas, Politics and Policies

Activation policies which promote and enforce labour market participation continue to proliferate in Europe and constitute the reform blueprint from centre-left to centre-right, as well as for most international organizations. Through an in-depth study of four major reforms in Denmark and France, this book maps how co-existing ideas are mobilised to justify, criticise and reach activation compromises and how their morality sediments into the instruments governing the unemployed. By rethinking the role of ideas and morality in policy changes, this book illustrates how the moral economy of activation leads to a permanent behaviourist testing of the unemployed in public debate as well as in local jobcentres.

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The introduction argues for the relevance of looking into the moral repertoire of ALMP reforms in public debates. The chapter argues for why the study of ideas and morality is pivotal to understand (and criticize) the political implications of ALMP reforms. Hereafter, the chapter engages critically with two sets of literatures. Firstly, scholars that have tried to theorize the varieties within the active turn, and secondly, with existing conceptualisations of the role of ideas and morality in relation to political and institutional changes. The last part of the chapter outlines a non-normative, but critical, approach (Hansen 2016) which deliberately refuses to evaluate the performance or judge the normative standards of ALMP in order to map the plurality of ideas related to ALMPs, as well as how these sediment into the everyday governing of the unemployed.

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Chapter 2 introduces the meta-concepts inspired from French pragmatic sociology in order to develop an analytical model to map the plurality of moral and normative structures that are used to justify and criticise policies in public debate and lead to reforms in the governing of unemployment. The model is compared to other ideational perspective, mainly discursive institutionalism, discourse analysis and governmentality studies. Finally, the chapter presents how the model is operationalised through choices of case selection, data selection and coding procedures.

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Chapter 3 presents the mapping of seven cities of unemployment that political actors in the four reform processes in France and Denmark have mobilised. These are the city of Demand, Redistribution, Insurance, Incentives, Investment, Activity, and the Paternal city. The cities provide the typology that is used in part II to analyse the disputes and compromises in the reform processes. The presentation of each city is structured around four key dimensions. Firstly, the overall principle and normative foundations of a city. Secondly, how the city qualifies the reality of unemployment and how policies are ‘put to the test’. Thirdly, the role of governing in the city is presented, i.e. what does it take to govern best and what kind of governing should be avoided, and when is it necessary (and legitimate) to use means of coercion? Lastly, the implications of being unemployed in each city. In other words, what characterises the unemployed moral subject and what makes the unemployed more or less worthy?

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Chapter 4 presents the reform process of the so-called PARE (‘aid plan for the return to employment’) of the French unemployment insurance system in 2000. The instruments of PARE included an individual contract that would oblige the unemployed to engage in ‘personalised’ job seeking activities while getting access to support such as training courses. Further, PARE strengthened requirements to accept job offers from the job exchange service as well as sanctions upon refusals and contractual infringements. The trade unions were divided in their stance towards this, causing intense debate, especially on the use of sanctions. The reform illustrates how the addition of a rather simple instrument radically changed the moral status of the unemployed.

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Chapter 5 analyses the reform process ending with ‘The active labour market policy act’ (1992-93) of the Danish unemployment insurance system. The chapter explains how a number of instruments that were initially qualified to keep the existing normative principles alive became requalified and reshaped to activation. The reform introduced an individual contract in combination with it with a number of different instruments: leave schemes to ease access to the labour market, job training for the unemployed and job offers that the unemployed, after a period of time, would have to accept in order to continue to receive compensation.

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Chapter 6 presents the reform process of the RSA (‘Income of active solidarity’) in replacing the existing French system for the uninsured unemployed which had been in place since 1988. The reform process was launched at the end of 2007 and adopted at the end of 2008 once the financial crisis started to reach across the Atlantic. RSA entailed a negative tax scheme to increase incentives for recipients to take low-paid part-time work, while also introducing a number of instruments and obligations with the aim of increasing the mobility of the unemployed. The result was a displacement of the compromise of the previous scheme and a radical requalification of the relation between poverty and work.

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Chapter 7 analyses the reform labelled ’Everyone can be useful’ in Denmark in 2011-13. The reform transformed the system of the uninsured unemployed in several ways. It reduced benefits and installed an ‘education injunction’ for young recipients, required all ‘able’ recipients to work for their benefit, strengthened sanctions, introduced new instruments towards the ‘vulnerable’ recipient and young single parents, and created a complex system of ‘triage’ in order to categorise the recipients according to a variety of instruments. Part of the process were two public scandals in which two individual recipients came to exemplify the dysfunctions of the system. In different ways the scandals put the question of whether the system was in fact ‘active’ to the test. The chapter further analyses the problem of profiling recipients, as well as how so-called ‘utility jobs’ became a panacea for all able recipients.

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Chapter 8 answers what the moral repertoire of activation is. All reforms are particularly driven by justifications from the paternal, mobility, investment and incentives cities, which are all tied together in multiple ways. The other three cities do not vanish completely, but in the qualification of the unemployed they are increasingly put to the margins and morally denounced as ‘passive’. In all four reforms the justification of coercive measures towards the unemployed is central. The chapter outlines how coercion play a particular role in the moral economy of activation that challenges the idea, mentioned earlier, that it is possible to distinguish between non-coercive ‘good’ activation based on ‘social investment’ and coercive ‘bad’ activation based on neoliberalism. The mapping of the moral economy of activation thus prompts to consider the explanatory and normative implications of both concepts.

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In chapter 9 the key dynamics driving the active turn are teased out. The composite and tension-filled repertoire installs a multicausal and behavioural problematisation of unemployment where there is constant room for improvement and adjustments. At the level of public debate, this manifests in a permanent testing of policy instruments’ behavioural effect. At the level of the every-day governing of the unemployed, the tensions between the different cities of the active turn are mitigated in categorisations and various and continuous tests that evaluate the behaviour of the unemployed. The tests, such as profiling, screening, interviews and contracts, thus continuously ask what kind of subject the unemployed person is (i.e., what city do you live in?), how worthy are you and what instruments will make you more worthy, that is bring you closer to working. The chapter then points to the implications for the way in which the voice of the unemployed is qualified. The book ends with a discussion of to what extend the ideas of universal basic income and social economy/enterprises, that have received growing attention in international policy debates, contain credible alternatives to the moral economy of activation.

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