Other Laws, Other Worlds – Abstract

by Camilla S. Jydebjerg

This abstract by Camilla S. Jydebjerg serves as a preview for her upcoming visiting scholar presentation which will take place on August 6, 2021.

In my presentation, I will analyze how the Danish Welfare State responds to unemployment. The purpose of the investigation is to determine if and how this response constitutes possibilities of resilience for people encountering unemployment. Along with most other OECD welfare states the politics of workfare or active labor market policies have become the most pervasive political answer to counter unemployment from the 1990s onward (Caswell 2010).  Workfare means “work-for-your-welfare” and can be characterized by that “participation is compulsory for the claimants, i.e., that there are sanctions attached, that the prime activity is work and that the measure is part of social assistance” (Dahl 2003, p. 274). The move towards workfare has been described as a fundamental change in both the meaning and understanding of social welfare rights and the administration of social welfare, turning the exclusion from work into the center of the relationship between society and people experiencing a need of assistance from the state (Handler 2004).

In my presentation, I will analyze a ruling from the Danish Supreme Court concerning the constitutionality of workfare laws. Drawing on Vulnerability Theory as well as on the insights from The Feminist Judgement Movement, I will show how the inherent politicality of this ruling promotes, produces, and reproduces particular understandings of the relationship between human beings and work, autonomy and vulnerability and the state/the collective and the individual in three ways. The first is the blurring of the dichotomies of work and activation and of force and choice/voluntariness. The second is how the plaintiff comes to be recognized by the legal system. This recognition has to do with what the law can recognize as relevant and what stays hidden to the categories of law. The third is what is considered reasonable to ask of people receiving social assistance and who is doing the asking. I will show how this legal privileging of particular understandings takes part in shaping the world and I will investigate how a rewrite of the court case in the light of Vulnerability Theory would make another outcome possible by a different weighing of the factual information of the cases and a different interpretation of the law.

Finally, I will discuss how another reading of the law would have created other possibilities for law- and world creations in practice.

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