The Death or the Reinventing of the Social?: A System-Theoretical Contribution to Changing the Semantics of Inclusion and Exclusion in Activation Welfare Strategies

Monday, July 14, 2014: 5:45 PM
Room: Booth 47
Oral Presentation
Tomoko WATARAI , Yokohama City University, Yokohama, Japan
This paper addresses the question of how the landscape of inclusion and exclusion can be recast in the light of Luhmann’s systems theory by referring to narrative interviews with local actors from migrant support organizations.

The ongoing discussions about social inclusion and exclusion, which are mainly conducted in socio-political studies on poverty and inequality, represent a normative understanding of “the social” that is reflected in the notion of solidarity, social policy, and welfare state. On the contrary, Luhmann’s systems theory concerns another tradition of “the social” i.e., the tradition of social action, interaction, and communication in a particular way. According to his definition of inclusion/exclusion, neither membership in the legal rights nor a status in the central labor market is crucial; only communicational relevance matters. Taking this definition seriously, even a bankrupt or jobless person is economically “included” insofar as (s)he is communicatively relevant in the economic system, which finally leads us to the conclusion that there is no “social exclusion” in the “social systems.”

Applying the systems theoretical understanding of inclusion/exclusion, this paper assesses how the communicational form of migrant support organizations is changing because of a radical shift in the activation policy of the last decade in Germany. The range of political reforms is generally considered a symbolic move to a neo-liberal arrangement of the welfare state, which would be comparable to the diagnosis of “the death of the social” (N. Rose 1996).

This paper presents another scenario by highlighting that operational sensitivity is increasingly enhanced in local welfare organizations; this enhancement is meant to deal with the highly complex demands of individual clients and to ensure their cooperative engagement. Finally, it calls for “reinventing the social” (S. Lessenich 2008), particularly by aiming at a constructive contribution to link the very different assumptions of the social.