Negotiating Active Citizenship in Street-Level Practices: An Institutional Logics Perspective

Stephan Dahmen

Abstract

Based on an ethnographic study of an activation measure for the young and unemployed, this contribution explores how citizenship is negotiated in frontline interactions and in different elements of activation policies. This article aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the transformations of citizenship in a welfare service state, characterized by a stricter conditionalization, contractualization, and individualization. It is argued that the transformations of citizenship become distinctively visible in the case of young people on which -as “citizen-worker of the future” (Lister 2003) – a specific political attention is cast. The article discusses the current transformation of citizenship on different levels: firstly, as active citizenship amounts to the promotion of a “desirable self-regulation” (Dean 1995), the focus lies on those practices that institutionalize new expectations to the subjects, namely, that they are to be reflexive and responsible for themselves; secondly, it argues that the paradigmatic transformation toward an active welfare state citizenship confronts SLB´s with a multitude of institutional logics that must be coordinated and compromised on the frontline level. The analysis of “critical incidents” in activation practice shows how the terms and conditions of citizenship are negotiated in contractual integration agreements and in the situated application of sanctions. The practice of activation amounts to an institutionally guided self-exploration that operates with a contradictory mix of client-centered counselling and compulsion. Finally, the implications of the results – particularly for citizenship of the young - are discussed.

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