‘I Just Can't Live There': Housing, Identity and the Costs of Living in Institutional Talk about Housing Allowance

Friday, 20 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Marie FLINKFELDT, Uppsala University, Sweden
This paper investigates the situated meaning-making of housing and identity in the context of economic hardship, as these matters are brought to life in the details of language in naturally occurring institutional interaction. The study examines 366 audio-recorded phone calls to the Swedish Social Insurance Agency’s customer service about housing allowance, which is a benefit targeting economically vulnerable families with children, covering some of their costs for housing. Using conversation analysis and membership categorization analysis, we investigate how housing is discussed in these phone calls as part of clients’ identity work and requests for information and help from the Social Insurance Agency. This implies laying out in detail how language is used to assemble spatial identities and how the terms for receiving economic assistance with housing costs are negotiated in situ. For instance, we discuss how clients and social insurance officials together work out, in real-time, how much space a family actually needs, what kinds of neighborhoods that are desirable to live in, and what standards of accommodation that are acceptable, in short, what is fair and what sort of responsibilities the welfare state has for families’ living situations. The paper’s focus on language use in a large amount of naturally occurring situations offers a novel way of exploring housing norms, not as set standards that influence people’s lives, but as something achieving practical meaning in and for the context where they become an issue.