In the 1990s, EU governments begun a shift towards Activation Policies to deal with large numbers of people dependent on welfare benefits. The move took place within the framework of a major reform of the Welfare State, from welfare to work. Underscoring these developments there was a taken for granted ideology called neoliberalism. It consisted of a broad set of contradictory policies, though they had a common goal: profits first. Regarding the self, the hallmarks of neoliberalism were entrepreneurship, independence, and self-responsibility. But these ideals, which included liberty and freedom in a business-like sense, were encouraged in a context of social and economic reforms that in the last analysis pursued the devaluation of labour and the restauration of pre-War World Two Capital power.
One aspect of welfare reform in the European Union was the participation of civil society and the market in the governance of the Welfare State. Drawing on ethnographic work carried out in 2015 in the Employment Programme of a local assembly of the Spanish Red Cross, I describe how this Employment Programme aimed at “activating” the socially excluded and the vulnerable by making them employable. Among those considered the most excluded, immigrants from Northern Africa made up the largest group. I argue that the Programme helped instead those participants who were the least excluded. The Programme also contributed to reproduce social stereotypes between groups of immigrant and local workers at the lower end of the labour market; the production of difference between groups of workers; the segmentation of the labour market; and the advancing of the political economy of Capital based on competition. In the last analysis, “capital’s work of devaluation” constituted the underlining logic running through the Employment Programme and the partnership between the state, the market and civil society.
Keywords: Activation Policies; neoliberalism; production of difference; social stereotypes; third sector; unemployment; welfare reform.
Francisco Arqueros-Fernandez - Postdoctoral Fellow (Elevate-Marie Curie Actions), Sociology Department, National University of Ireland, Maynooth.