autoethnographies of Irish social welfare offices
A key element which forms the experience of unemployment is the architecture and processes of the social welfare office. This environment is opaque to an impartial observer whose welfare is not bound up with their success in negotiating these peculiar non-spaces and bureaucratic processes; therefore this chapter is based on twelve auto-ethnographies by unemployed graduates. These auto-ethnographies provide a ‘thick description’ of the deliberately sterile environment, the power-relations implicit in the systems of queueing and hatches for access to officers and even the signage, both formal and informal within the welfare office. An extended account of the experience of labour market activisation measures is analysed in depths, revealing the consistent re-iteration of the threat of sanctions and the degree of discretionary power retained by officials, even where they are critical of the welfare regime. In conclusion, we suggest that governmental power thoroughly informs the architecture and processes of these non-spaces, so that the unemployed perform accordingly and are incited to be good and active job-seekers, dissociating themselves from the imaginary ‘other’ of those unemployed people who supposedly should be the target of surveillance and interventions
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