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Workfare, post-Soviet austerity and the ethics of freedom

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.

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

In 1929, the Labour Party came to power, and the overseas training centres were turned into camps for training the long term unemployed. The focus of the new camps was to be on ‘reconditioning’ young unemployed men, through heavy manual labour in remote settings. The Labour Government introduced compulsory recruitment for the long term unemployed, as part of its wider policy for ‘labour transference’. This reflected a longer term socialist debate about national citizens’ service, with the Webbs in particular taking a strongly authoritarian view of the obligations of the unemployed. In practice, compulsory training – workfare in modern terms – was a failure, and it was abandoned when Labour lost power.

in Working men’s bodies

Interestingly, this discourse was cut off from any necessary empirical referents, once there was, as is the case in linguistics, a signifier (social exclusion in (European) English) and a vague signified (some sort of ill-defined situation affecting the poor and other groups). If social exclusion was rather easily adopted in Brussels’s English, the idea of insertion has remained, until now, radically untranslatable. Why was this so? French insertion policies displayed specific characteristics, which could not be honestly accounted for by reducing them to ‘workfare’ or

in Western capitalism in transition

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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Instructional Centres under the National Government

Under the National Government, the Ministry of Labour’s control over work camps grew, as did its scale. While recruitment was voluntary once more, the number of camps and training places were expanded, and the scheme was opened up to all long-term unemployed males. Its main focus continued to be ‘reconditioning’ through heavy manual labour. The creation of the Unemployment Assistance Board brought the remaining municipal labour colonies under the control of central government, and increased the civil service professional cadre concerned with training. A number of policy-makers continued to press for compulsory recruitment (workfare) but this was resisted by the training professionals, who preferred the more relaxed discipline of voluntary recruits. There was increasing attention to measuring and analysing the physical changes brought about by ‘reconditioning’. However, placement rates were low after training, and the majority of trainees returned to unemployment. In its own terms, the scheme must be judged a failure. The camps closed in 1939.

in Working men’s bodies
Community engagement and lifelong learning

In this broad sweep, Mayo explores dominant European discourses of higher education, in the contexts of different globalisations and neoliberalism, and examines its extension to a specific region. It explores alternatives in thinking and practice including those at the grassroots, also providing a situationally grounded project of university–community engagement. Signposts for further directions for higher education lifelong learning, with a social justice purpose, are provided.

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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

public goods and the rise of underpaid, insecure work against the backdrop of working poverty in the United States and enduring mass joblessness in the European Union; the unravelling of social protection schemes, leading to the replacement of the collective right to recourse against unemployment and destitution by the individual obligation to take up gainful activity (‘workfare’ in the US and the UK, ALE jobs in Belgium, PARE and RMA in France, the Hartz reform in Germany, etc.), in order to impose desocialised wage labour as the normal horizon of work for the new

in Incarceration and human rights
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Waiting for freedom

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