Unemployment in the Affective Economy: Exploring the Affective Governing of Young Unemployed People in the Danish Welfare State

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This case study investigates the affective governing of young unemployed people, and it concludes that getting money in the Danish welfare state comes with an “affective price”. In the quest for a job, unemployed people have been increasingly responsibilized in order to live up to the ideal of the active jobseeker. Consequently, when faced with unemployment, they are encouraged to work harder on themselves and their motivation. Based on an interview study with young unemployed people (N=39) and field observations made at employment fund agencies in Denmark (2014–15), I explore how young unemployed people are governed by and through their emotions. By supplementing governmentality studies (Foucault et al. 1988, 2010) with the concept of “affective economy” from Ahmed (2014), I discuss how young unemployed people who receive money from the Danish state are placed in a situation of debt. The paper unfolds how this debt becomes visible as the unemployed people often describe feeling under suspicion for not doing enough, for not being motivated enough. Through an abundance of (pro) activity, they have to prove the suspicion of being lazy wrong, and through managing themselves as active jobseekers, they earn the right to get money from the state. Here motivation, passion and empowerment are key currencies. I discuss the intricate interplay between monetary and affective currencies as well as political implications in the context of the Danish welfare. The article contributes by making visible the importance of taking affective matters into account when investigating the complex relationship between politics and psychology.
TidsskriftZeitschrift fuer Sozialreform
Udgave nummer3
Sider (fra-til)335-361
Antal sider26
StatusUdgivet - 2021

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