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Workfare, post-Soviet austerity and the ethics of freedom
Author: Liene Ozoliņa

This book is an ethnography of politics of waiting in the contemporary austerity state. While the global political economy is usually imagined through metaphors of acceleration and speed, this book reveals waiting as the shadow temporality of the contemporary logics of governance. The ethnographic site for this analysis is a state-run unemployment office in Latvia. This site not only grants the author unique access to observing everyday implementation of social assistance programmes that use acceleration and waiting as forms of control but also serves as a vantage point from which to compare Western and post-Soviet workfare policy designs. The book thus contributes to current debates across sociology and anthropology on the increasingly coercive forms of social control by examining ethnographically forms of statecraft that have emerged in the aftermath of several decades of neoliberalism. The ethnographic perspective reveals how time shapes a nation’s identity as well as one’s sense of self and ordinary ethics in culturally specific ways. The book traces how both the Soviet past, with its narratives of building communism at an accelerated speed while waiting patiently for a better future, as well as the post-Soviet nationalist narratives of waiting as a sacrifice for freedom come to play a role in this particular case of the politics of waiting.

Liene Ozoliņa

national and EU resources into fostering active, entrepreneurial citizenry, its welfare system has been refocused on ‘competitiveness-raising’ and workfare programmes. While state resources are invested in providing psychological support and entrepreneurship training to the unemployed in the form of the 1–4-day seminars, those who are relying on the state for more substantial assistance have their time scheduled in ways they cannot control. At the same time as waiting is produced by the way public welfare is structured and funded, this waiting is also stigmatised. Rather

in Politics of waiting
Liene Ozoliņa

Chapter 5 shows how the time of waiting can be reclaimed for meaningful ethical projects and connecting with others. Ethnographic vignettes reveal how seminars were often turned into a space for ethical self-transformation that was driven by a desire to carve out a dignified life for oneself even – and especially – when the present provided little security. This initially singularly neoliberal space thus had the potential to be turned into pluralistic spaces of conviviality, self-exploration, and conversation. Thus, rather than seeing these seminars simply as a form of workfare, one of the myriad of mobile neoliberal technologies that move across the world and are appropriated in particular ways in particular places, the chapter traces how ordinary Latvians appropriated them as a contemporary expression in the long lineage of technologies of the self.

in Politics of waiting
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Liene Ozoliņa

unemployment office, I became even more puzzled. I was expecting the people who had lost their jobs in the aftermath of the crisis to be deeply critical of the ‘lean and mean’ welfare state.3 My plan had been to study how the welfare state had been reconfigured as part of the post-Soviet social and economic transformations, and I started with participant observation of one of the key workfare programmes4 for the unemployed, called ‘Competitiveness-Raising Activities’, which consisted of a range of one- to fourday seminars. I was expecting people to resent the fact that the

in Politics of waiting
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Waiting for freedom
Liene Ozoliņa

theorization of the double tempo of acceleration and dead time as a key dynamic of the global political economy. In these two respects, my work takes the sociology of waiting to the context of the 2008 crisis and the austerity that ensued and speaks to the contemporary concerns of the forms of statecraft emerging in the wake of neoliberalism. Thirdly, I have sought to forge a novel perspective on austerity and workfare in the aftermath of neoliberalism by bringing to this analysis insights from the anthropology of ethics. Drawing on my ethnographic encounters with job

in Politics of waiting
Liene Ozoliņa

Welfare reported to me during an interview, however, there was significant resistance in the Latvian government towards any such additional measures. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and it took the shape of a workfare programme. People who were out of work for over six months could receive a 100 Lats monthly cash payment (equivalent to about 140 Euro at the time) in exchange for manual labour. For months, one could see people in large numbers raking leaves, shovelling snow and plucking weeds on the streets and in the parks of cities and towns across the country

in Politics of waiting
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Liene Ozoliņa

merely passing’ under various political regimes. In the previous chapter I interrogated the The anxious subject 61 waiting that was both stigmatised and produced by austerity policies and workfare programmes. In this chapter, I wish to probe further how the post-Soviet politics of waiting and catching up have both shaped one’s sense of self and been enabled by particular forms of subjectivity. As Veena Das asks to this end, ‘What is the work that time does in the creation of the subject?’ (2007: 95). She notes that, for her interlocutors, time appears as having an

in Politics of waiting