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Justifying Welfare

    Magnus Paulsen Hansen – in conversation with Fiona Dukelow and Michael McGann – March 25th – 10:00 GMT


    In 2019, I published a book (The moral economy of activation) on justification of activation reforms in Denmark and France. The book used concepts from the French pragmatic sociology of Boltanski and Thévenot to build a mapping of various ‘cities of unemployment’ used to evaluate existing policies and to justify, as well as criticize, reforms. In my talk I will briefly present the framework and what insights it may shed light on at the level of public debate, at local level of public employment services, and, at a more speculative level, how to approach think about (un)employment in and after the pandemic. – Magnus

    Magnus Paulsen Hansen — Roskilde University Research Portal

    Magnus Paulsen Hansen (above) Roskilde University.

    Dr Fiona Dukelow

    Fiona Dukelow (above) University College Cork.

    Michael MCGANN | Research Fellow | PhD, M.A., B.A. (hons) | National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Maynooth | NUI Maynooth | Department of Sociology

    Michael McGann (above) Maynooth University.


    Each seminar was recorded and featured one or more readings, please find these below.

    Click here to view the recording.


    Magnus began his presentation by stating that he had a number of different aims with his book: to take morality seriously; to take the public debates around welfare seriously; and to explore and examine why there has been a turn to punishment of the unemployed in the recent past. Magnus found that the answers to these questions had to do with justification. If you cannot justify sanctions or other active labour market policies – then you cannot have strong welfare activation policies.

    Magnus found the book ‘On Justification’ very helpful for his own work
    Latter 4 cities justify aggressive welfare reforms

    Magnus has found that many of the contemporary justifications for welfare reform are analogous to chemotherapy – we must ‘cure’ the unemployed at any cost. With this we get a proliferation of activation techniques which are focused on getting the unemployed back to work – by any means necessary. This takes the form of a delicate moral economy which all participants (from caseworker to unemployed) are constantly (re)negotiating.

    Fiona Dukelow responses to Magnus’ presentation
    Michael McGann responds

    Predominately Magnus calls attention to the latter 4 of the ‘cities’ in the above table. That is to say that many States have adopted strategies of incentivising the unemployed; a paternalistic governing of the unemployed; investment in the unemployed; or modifying the activities of the unemployed. All four of these perspectives see the unemployed individual as at fault for their situation, and in need of some kind of intervention or change such that they will be able to get a job. At the end of the talk Magnus, Fiona and Michael elegantly returned us to where we started – by pointing out that none of these would be possible without the complex web of justifications which bind unemployment to its moral roots.

    Previous seminar: Ray Griffin & Tom Boland – The Reformation of Welfare.

    Next seminar: Theresa O’Keefe, Aline Courtois & Teresa Crew – Precarity.

    We would like to express our gratitude to the European Union for funding this event.

    The Economy and Society Digital Summer School 2021

    DateTime (GMT)Event / TopicSpeakersRecording Link
    --Main Archive Page--Full Playlist
    February 23rd16:00Ideas Lying AroundNidesh Lawtoo & Lynne LaytonLink
    March 4th16:00The Great ReversalElizabeth AndersonLink
    March 9th10:00Economy Theology and MarketisationStefan SchwarzkopfLink
    March 11th10:00Economic Theology and GovernanceMitchell DeanLink
    March 16th16:00Jobseeking & the Labour MarketIlana GershonLink
    March 23rd 10:00The Reformation of WelfareRay Griffin & Tom Boland Link
    March 25th10:00Justifying WelfareMagnus P. Hansen., Fiona Dukelow, Michael McgannLink
    April 13th10:00Precarity and Precarious WorkTheresa O'Keefe, Aline Courtois & Teresa CrewLink
    April 15th16:00The Datafication of WelfareLina Dencik & Ray Griffin & HecatLink
    April 20th16:00Street-Level WelfareEvelyn Brodkin, Mary Murphy, Joe Whelan
    April 22nd10:00Fairground CapitalismArpad SzakolczaiLink
    April 27th10:00Work & The Gig EconomyAlex WoodLink
    April 29th10:00Rationalities and Moral Economies in Illicit Drug MarketsAngus BancroftLink
    May 6th10:00Good Models and Positive MimesisKieran KeohaneLink
    May 10th/11th 20:00/10:00The Leviathan of RationalityDamian O'DohertyLink