Whose Welfare − Whose Autonomy? Welfare, Work, and Care in Social Investment Practice
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In much of feminist theory economic independence is regarded as crucial for women’s autonomy and emancipation. However, as critics argue, the model of autonomy based on continuous labour-force participation is androcentric and class biased. For many women it is neither accessible nor desirable. Nevertheless, the productivist turn of social policy since the 1990s has actually reinforced the primacy of labour market participation by framing welfare expenditures as investments in human capital in order to stimulate economic prosperity. In social investment policy women are caught between the “farewell to maternalism” (Ann Orloff) and a “new maternalism” (Jane Jenson). The paper examines the contradictory consequences of social investment policy for women’s autonomy with the example of unemployed women with little “human capital”. For them – especially for (lone) mothers – the promise of autonomy qua labour-force participation seems even more elusive, yet activation strategy demands that they seek a job. How do the women integrate the demands of activation into their “moral economy” of work, care and personal aspirations? Welfare institutions, too, are confronted with the structural conflict between commodification and care: should they invest in the employability of women with poor job prospects or should they invest in their clients’ mothering/caring function with an eye on the development of the children as the future workforce? Given the women’s limited cultural, social and economic capital on the one hand, and institutional restrictions of the welfare system and culture on the other hand – to what extent do social investment practices aiming at labour market integration actually enhance women’s autonomy? The findings are assessed within the theoretical framework of the capability approach: autonomy is understood as genuine opportunity to lead a life according to one’s own values. In the context of compulsory activation the “capability for voice”, i.e. exit options as well as the right and opportunity to have a say in concrete measures, is especially important.
Gender Equality in Context. Policies and Practices in Switzerland
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