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The State, Legal Rigor and the Poor: The Daily Practice of Welfare Control

Abstract : The state comes into being through its acts. This paper focuses on state acts par excellence, by which the state controls its population. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork on the control of welfare recipients by public welfare agencies in France. I consider investigations conducted in the homes of welfare recipients as a form of bureaucratic interrogation, with particular emphasis on its defining features, modalities and uses, and how it contributes to our understanding of contemporary practices in the institutional treatment of welfare recipients. The impact of the institutional power of constraint is combined with that of the uncertainty of the recipients' situations, of the modalities of their control, and of the rules enforced on such occasions. The paradox of these checks, which are made in the name of legal rigor but characterized by uncertainty and the discretionary power of grassroots agents, reveals the broader functioning of a government of the poor, based on the combination of a multitude of individual relationships, which though unevenly coordinated derive from a structural rationale - that of the economic imperative of putting people back to work combined with a moral undertaking of reforming habituses that fail to conform to the job market's and/or the welfare institutions' demands. Rather than disaggregation of the state, individualization and uncertainty can be viewed as a consistent mode of governance in which discretion and leeway of street-level bureaucrats are necessary for the state to exert power on citizens' behaviors.
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Contributor : Vincent Dubois <>
Submitted on : Friday, June 21, 2013 - 4:59:49 PM
Last modification on : Monday, August 27, 2018 - 11:48:04 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Sunday, September 22, 2013 - 4:06:23 AM


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  • HAL Id : halshs-00836423, version 1



Vincent Dubois. The State, Legal Rigor and the Poor: The Daily Practice of Welfare Control. 2013. ⟨halshs-00836423⟩



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