Ideologies within the Ritual. Practical Classifications of Welfare Clients in Poland.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 17:00
Location: Hörsaal 6C P (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Tomasz WARCZOK, Pedagogical University of Cracow, Poland
The paper is devoted to the informal classification of welfare clients. These classifications are done daily by the social workers employed in welfare centres in Poland. While these classifications are partly related to openly formulated assessments, in general they are contained within the ritual, embodied social practices and spatial arrangements. The context of interaction between social workers and their clients, as well as the seemingly neutral, administrative communications of the latter, ground the hierarchical division of the world into „normal”, („the included”), and „abnormal”, („the excluded”), together with the entire set of assumed attributions (poverty, helplessness, unemployment, laziness etc.). The clients are discretely, unconsciously „reminded” of which world they belong to and who they really are. The ideology (imperceptible impostition of the form of classification) functions here in a practical way, being contained in practice itself, thus making it unusually effective.

Clients demanding assistance, who do not meet the stringent institutional criteria and ones showing symbols of consumption (belonging to the „normal” world – cars, expensive mobile phones etc.) are particularly „problematic”. By constituting interferences of the classification system (a clear division between the „included” and the „excluded”) they are „dirt”, „disorder” – as understood by Mary Douglas. They are subjected to special ritual procedures, specific tests (i.e. checking their „work ethos”) which they usually are unable to pass. This reclassification gives rise to a new client distinction – the ones „deserving” and „undeserving” of help. This division is legitimate, as it is being realised in a practical, ritual, and non-discursive form – thus accepted as obvious.

The paper is based on several months of participant observation performed in one of the welfare centres in the south of Poland, and tens of interviews conducted with social workers employed in other centres.