36. The times of welfare

Tommaso Frangioni, University of Turin, tommaso.frangioni@unito.it
Daniela Leonardi, University of Turin, daniela.leonardi@unito.it

Time can be considered one of the driving axes through which we experience the world, a defining feature of everyday life and of societal rhythms (Adam 1990), calling into question individual, institutional, and structural issues (Elias 1993; Emirbayer and Mische 1998). Our everyday experience is deeply intertwined with the experience of time and the multiple ways in which it is represented, controlled, imagined, shaped. For this reason, it is important to highlight that also the relationship we build with the state and the public sphere is structured through representations and practices of time. In this regard, Auyero (2012) uses the emblematic expression of the “patients of the state” to emphasise the disciplining devices based on time that often permeate institutional encounters.

In the past years there has been a growing interest in qualitative and ethnographic analysis of welfare, policy, and the action of the state in all its territorial branches, involving scholars in disparate fields as sociology, anthropology, geography. However, relatively little space has been dedicated to the study of the temporalities, the rhythms, the waiting, the expectations that citizens experience when they interact with the state. We move from a perspective that looks at the interaction between citizens and welfare as something that takes place through the normative and prescriptive apparatus of the legal field, but also in the fine-grain encounters and exchanges happening with the variegated street-level bureaucracies. These encounters play a significant role  in implementing welfare measures and in socialising citizens with the expectations of the state (Brodkin 2011, Zacka 2017). 

In this session we would like to welcome contributions analysing the multiplicity of social rhythms and temporalities  involved in the implementation of social policies and, in general, in the functioning of welfare. This implies paying attention to the discourses and practices through which social actors frame their own elaborations of time, always keeping in mind power differentials and frictions between different roles. In the background, we can see the broader process of transformation of welfare, with a growing importance of control, individualisation, activation, and responsibility (Dubois 2013). 

In this session we are interested to welcome reflections regarding the following questions, although they do not exhaust all possible nuances:

  • How can we take into account waiting, considering the complex interaction between norms, street-level workers, and citizen agency? What specific configurations can it take in the field?
  • How can interactions with institutions contribute to shape ideas of the future on the individual or collective level? How can this contribute to reinforcing or weakening the precarization of the most vulnerable?
  • What role can time management and time constraints – one’s own and others’ – play in the daily activity of street-level workers? 
  • How could practical and discursive elaborations of time become – at least partially – counter-hegemonic? What role do social movements play in challenging welfare? What role could informality and everyday “life at the margins” have? (Lancione 2016)
  • How can activities such as ‘wasting time’, ‘buying time’, ‘delaying’ or ‘hurrying’ be ways of processing social time within the welfare state? What could be the coping strategies implemented?
  • How can the experiences of time vary, if we take into account intersections of class, gender, race, sexual orientation?

time, waiting, disciplining processes, inequalities, everyday politics, welfare systems, future.

Fields of study:
sociology of welfare, applied anthropology, critical ethnography, geography, public policy, time studies.

Adam, B. (1990). Time and Social Theory, Polity Press.

Alpes, M. J., & Spire, A. (2014). Dealing with law in migration control: The powers of street-level bureaucrats at French consulates. Social & Legal Studies23(2), 261-274.

Auyero, J. (2012). Patients of the state: The politics of waiting in Argentina. Duke University Press.

Brodkin, E. Z. (2011). Policy work: Street-level organizations under new managerialism. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory21(suppl_2), i253-i277.

Dubois, V. (1999). La vie au guichet. Relation administrative et traitement de la misèreParis, Économica.

Elias, N. (1993). Time: An Essay, Blackwell publishing.

Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998). What is agency?. American journal of sociology, 103(4), 962-1023.

Harms, E. (2013). Eviction time in the new Saigon: Temporalities of displacement in the rubble of development. Cultural Anthropology, 28(2), 344-368.

Lancione, M. (ed.). (2016). Rethinking Life at the Margins. Routledge.

Zacka, B. (2017). When the state meets the street: Public service and moral agency. Harvard University Press.

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