Neoliberal relations of poverty and the welfare state

Authored by: Sanford F. Schram

The Routledge Handbook of Critical Social Work

Print publication date:  January  2019
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138578432
eBook ISBN: 9781351264402
Adobe ISBN:


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For years, poverty has been an intensely researched topic for welfare state analysts. Yet, it has most often been studied in individualistic terms, focused on detailing the characteristics of those living in poverty, including most especially estimating their population size and composition. Recent attempts have sought to change that by conceiving of poverty in relational terms, including most significantly the relationship of the poor to those who are more fortunate and in a position to affect their life chances. Among these persons in relation with the poor are state actors who are assigned responsibility to monitor, manage, surveil, and discipline welfare recipients to be market compliant actors. These neoliberal relations of poverty are in need of closer examination as the welfare state comes under pressure to integrate recipients into the market economy thereby overcoming their social exclusion while simultaneously reducing the state’s burden for sustaining them. Comparative analysis across countries of these shifts in relations between the poor and their state managers point to the variegated ways nations are enacting neoliberal welfare policy reforms. Based on such comparative analysis, this chapter highlights moves toward progressive responses even as neoliberal pressures for market compliance remain ascendant.

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