Unemployed people in motivational debt

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


Becoming unemployed is not just a matter of money. It is also an intimate, social and moral matter linked to questions of citizenship. The current employment system is based on a rationale that unemployment is predominantly problematized as a question of lack of motivation. By applying a governmentality studies approach combined with Ahmed’s terminology of “affective economy” I investigate how unemployed people are placed in a position of “motivational debt” when they receive unemployment benefit. Based on 39 interviews with young unemployed people and field observations made at government agencies I map the affective subjectification of unemployed people and the (self)management related to that. The social category of unemployment involves a loss of social status as people who receive unemployment benefit related to a wider biopolitical agenda. Thus, they are placed in a position of debt. The debt is revealed as a general negative attunement as well as diffuse (self)suspicion and (self)doubt among unemployed people. In order to live up the ideal of the active jobseeker they have to demonstrate not only certain behavior but also certain ways of thinking, hoping and wanting. The intimate web of monetary and affective currencies is discussed as well as implications for the link between (bio)politics and psychology.
Original languageDanish
Publication date2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventAffects. Borders. Biopolitics - University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Humanities, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 21 Aug 201923 Aug 2019


ConferenceAffects. Borders. Biopolitics
LocationUniversity of Copenhagen, Faculty of Humanities
Internet address

Cite this

Pultz, S. (2019). Unemployed people in motivational debt. Paper presented at Affects. Borders. Biopolitics, Copenhagen, Denmark.