The Making of Self-Reliant Citizens. Profiling Tools in Polish Unemployment Policy.

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:30
Oral Presentation
Karolina SZTANDAR-SZTANDERSKA, University of Warsaw, Poland
Marianna ZIELENSKA, University of Warsaw, Poland
According to a growing body of literature, the traditional criteria put in place when it comes to social rights, based on collective statuses and payment of social contributions are no longer sufficient to obtain and keep some of the previously universal entitlements (Serrano Pascual, Magnusson, 2007; Dubois, 2009). Instead, access to benefits and services becomes increasingly dependent on assessment of individual behaviours and work attitudes. In order to deal with complex information, frontline workers from Public Employment Services often rely on standardised “legibility tools” that are used to translate “differentiated life-situations into ‘manageable’ organizational categories” (Garsten et al., 2016). Rather than reflect complex individual realities, these tools construct target population imposing “an ideal type of what a "normal" citizen should be” (Wedel et al., 2005: 37) and constitute a technology of “government at a distance” (Rose, 1990: xxii). Interestingly, these “legibility tools”, disguised as merely technical devices hidden at the backstage of policy-making process, often escape public and academic attention.

This article provides specific insights into a standardised “legibility tool”, which is used by frontline workers of Public Employment Offices to profile the unemployed in Poland. Profiling involves dividing all unemployed into 3 categories after a computer-based interview. Individuals are scored according to their presumed “distance to labour market” and “work readiness” to turn them into “into ranked and rated objects” (Citron, Pasquale, 2014: 3). Based on document and software analysis as well as in-depth interviews with policy-makers, frontline staff and unemployed, two specific questions will be addressed. First, we will reconstruct the implicit way of thinking and normative assumptions behind this categorisation tool, that positively values self-reliance, flexibility and low expectations concerning future employment conditions. Second, we will analyse how those, who are not up to this norm, are disciplined and excluded from most of active labour market policies.