Trends in Medical and Psychological Explanations for Unemployment in German Parliamentary Debates

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 15:10
Oral Presentation
Mareike ARIAANS, University of Siegen, Germany
During the last two centuries labour market policy turned to focus on pre-active, preventative and active labour market policy, rather than reactive mostly monetary benefits. This change in labour market policy also shifted the responsibility for reemployment from the society and the societal and political institutions to the individual. With this individualistic turn in labour market policy it is expected that the reasons for unemployment get more individualized and with that medical and psychological explanations for unemployment are increasingly given, whereas structural causes for unemployment are pushed into the periphery of the political discourse. Thus the main questions are: How do political and organizational actors construct explanations for unemployment in different labour market reform processes? Which actors push medical and psychological explanations for unemployment? To answer these questions, parliamentary debates on labour market reforms in Germany since the year 2000 are analysed using content analysis. These include large individualizing labour market reforms at the beginning of the 2000s when Germany struggled with high unemployment levels, as well as small instrumental reforms in the mid-2010s where unemployment levels approximated nearly full employment. It is hypothesized that medicalization and psychologization play a bigger role in reforms that retrench unemployment benefits and rights, because these individual explanations are used as a blame avoidance strategy by the government. Furthermore, two rivalling hypotheses can be made. On the one hand, it can be expected that leftist parties and actors use medical and psychological explanations more frequently then rightist parties, because they tend to see each unemployment case as an individual case. On the other hand, it can be hypothesized that rightest parties and organizations use these explanations more frequently, because they emphasize the self-responsibility for un- and reemployment.