Young unemployed, individualisation of risk and motivation debt

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Becoming unemployed today is not just an economic problem but also a social and a personal one. This social psychological study investigates how getting money from the Danish state comes with a an “affective price”. During the last three decades unemployment has increasingly been problematized as a private and psychological matter, rather than a societal issue. Consequently, young people faced with the risk of unemployment are encouraged to work on aspects of their personalities in quest for a job. Based on an interview study with young unemployed people (N=39) and field observations made at employment agencies in Denmark (2014-15), I investigate how young unemployed people are governed and govern themselves. I find that unemployment is often perceived as a lack of motivation and thus unemployed people are encouraged to work on themselves and their motivation in order to live up to the ideal of the active jobseeker. By applying the concept of “affective economy” (Ahmed, 2014) I investigate how receiving money from the state when unemployed is not only a monetary transaction – it also involves emotional work and is for many considered to be shameful. I argue that young unemployed people are placed in a situation of motivational debt as it is assumed that they are unemployed because they lack motivation. Thus, they pay back the state with an affective currency; by displaying the proper motivation to find (any) job unemployed people. The intricate web between monetary and affective currencies in the Danish welfare state are discussed as well as political implications.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventREI conference ‘Shifting from Welfare to Social Investment States: : The Privatization of Work-Related Risk Control and its Impact on Inclusion’ - University of Erasmus, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 26 Sept 201927 Sept 2019


ConferenceREI conference ‘Shifting from Welfare to Social Investment States:
LocationUniversity of Erasmus
Internet address

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