Governing Identities
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Governing identities

In modern societies, identities are not only constructed by individuals, communities and interactions. It is also an area of state concern and intervention, and to an increasing extent modern states take an active interest in shaping, empowering or disciplining citizens’ identities as well as the identities of professionals dealing with citizens.

This workshop draws on four main fields of research: Firstly, the Focauldian tradition where the governing of identities has been described as a turn towards governmentality; secondly, the sociological literature on political categories and social intersectionality contributing to the exploration of the means by which identity policies are formed, thirdly, strategies of social investment aiming at enhancing solidarity through policies of both economic and educational empowerment, and finally the policy learning literature dealing with the impact and effect of policies on citizens' and professionals' formation of identities.

This workshop invites papers and presentations dealing with the governing of both citizen and professional identities in modern states and societies. We welcome both theoretical and empirical discussions, and we favour comparative discussions of policy areas, countries or time periods anchored on the level of policy, the level of professionals or the level of citizens.


Emil Græsholm: Making slums governable: Integration and resistance in a Nairobi slum

Urban slums are often characterized as an ungoverned space, within which identity formation and expression is external to formal political life. As such, urban slums present a particular challenge to the governing of identity. This paper offers new perspectives on the formation and power-backed application of identity in urban slums and the  institutional framework that attempts to intervene there.

Based on research in the Kibera slum in Nairobi using a combination of semi-structured elite interviews, ethnography and demographic data, the paper makes two related claims. Firstly, the formation of identity in the slum emerges as part of a resistance process to interventions of the state expressed through informal governance, including provision of own services and security, resulting in a stronger community but marginalizing them from the state and formal socio-political life.

Secondly, the political history of the Kenyan state has produced incentives for governance aimed at inclusion, contributing to the application of an interventionist governmentality in marginal areas that have political significance. State institutions and NGOs view the slum as a complex and unordered  space  that  needs  to  be shaped  according  to  an  administrative  grid.  This  involves standardization and rationalization of social and natural reality into a legible format, resulting in a particular construction of meaning and authority identity that permeates the governance network.

Governability of urban slums will become increasingly important as the amount of slum-dwellers will increase rapidly with urbanization. Yet, while it might seem to be a solution, integrating this polity  is  not  necessarily better.  When  externally  directed,  integration  may  be  met  with  more resistance when not providing the necessary public services.

The result is a governance clash between identities of integration and resistance, which are subtle but have very tangible consequences for both service delivery and political legitimacy. Thus, the paper situates the governing and  formation of identity in both a politio-historical context and in social and natural urban space and offers new perspectives on expression of identity in opposition to authority as a consequence of the governmentality of institutional intervention in a development context. Urban slums are not just underdeveloped spaces, but represent a source of both deliberate and unintentional resistance to state and NGO attempts at integration. The discipline of  identity governance cannot be content with studying identity formation in slums aimed at policy learning, but must focus on interaction between the identity of authority and the governed.

Andreas Hirseland: Self-Responsibility and Discipline – Contractualism, Identity and the German Welfare Reform

Germany’s welfare paradigm has undergone a severe change during the past decades that had  its  peak  so  far with  the  establishment  of  the  new  Social  Code  II  for  long-term unemployed in 2005. Stressing the notion of self-responsibility  and employability, welfare recipients are no longer seen as ‘victims’ of social and labour-market risks. This perspective is the result of a shift in the attribution of risks and its consequences away from politics and society towards the individual – in theory as well as in the public discourse. The main task of social policy   programmes   addressing   long-term   unemployed   is   no   longer   seen   in compensating market failures, but in activating the individual. By this social policy is not only a means to an end in terms of welfare. Moreover – following e.g. Foucault – it has become part of those powerful  social technologies which aim at (re)shaping the subject in order to foster ‘governmentality’.

Against  this  background  the  presentation  will  give  a  brief  ideal-typical  analysis  of  the changes in the ways welfare recipients are identified through the welfare system from the post-war period up to the present neoliberal paradigm. The latter aims at producing a type of subjectivity which follows the imperative of self responsibility and employability. One means to  practically install this type of self-perception and related modes of identifying oneself is connecting  welfare  to  the  “give-and-take”-ideology  of  workfareism.  This  is  done by  the instalment of contracts as a pre-condition to receive social benefits. Referring to data gained from qualitative panel research on welfare recipients from 2007 until 2011 the presentation will show and discuss constraints of contractualism as a means to create the new customer- type of welfare recipients. In Germany there is likely still a gap between the new institutions of  the  welfare  state  and  the  identity-politics  which they  (implicitly)  pursue  and  “counter- identifications” of welfare recipients.

Julia Hofmann: Incentive wage models as a neoliberal identity-project

Since the 1970ies neoliberal ideologies are seen as the guidelines of social and economic development — most European governance strategies are therefore based on neoliberal ideologies. Their aim is not only to make possible the unfolding of market mechanisms in the private and the public sector, but to create neoliberal identities which not only stabilize but promote the process of neoliberalization. In Austria the implementation of so-called “incentive wage models” (which are part of new management methods often described as “Total Quality Management”) can be seen as an attempt to change self-concept of employees. By emphasizing and rewarding individual efforts, ideologies of “efficiency” and competitive ideas which are in line with the ideas of a neoliberal society are promoted. Employees who adopt these ideas into their schemata of interpretation and action can be — with Ulrich Brockling

—  described as “entrepreneurial selves.  The mechanisms which enhance such processes of subjectivization vary between structures of stimulation (e.g. higher wages) and pressure (e.g. time pressure).

In line with a currently realized research project the presentation aims to show the relations between the implementation of neoliberal ideologies through incentive wage models in Austrian companies (close-to-state and private ones), the tightened pressure in the companies, the processes of subjectivization, the creation of neoliberal identities and the individual and societal consequences (e.g. processes of desolidarization between employees, rise of illnesses such as burn-out or depression). The presentation will especially concentrate on the perspective of the employees and their identities and is based on in-depth interviews which workers councils, trade unions and employees.

The following questions will be central: In how far are neoliberal schemata of interpretation and action anchored in the identity of the employees? Where do they break? Are relations drawn between the implementation of incentive wage models, the intensification of work, the growing pressure and concurrence logics and the enhancement of “individual responsibility”? In how far are the internalized by the individuals? Are relations drawn between the implementation of incentive wage models and the individual and societal consequences? How are these relations evaluated? Are there other senses of self or identities (e.g. radical identities) which stand in contradiction to the neoliberal identity? Are such alternative identities connected with deviant practices?


Gitte Sommer Harrits, Associate Professor, Department of political science, Aarhus University.

Marie Østergaard Møller, Assistant Professor, Department of political science, Aarhus University.

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Hirseland, Andreas: Self-Responsibility and Discipline – Contractualism, Identity and the German Welfare Reform (Discussant: Julia Hofmann)

Græsholm, Emil: Making slums governable: Integration and resistance in a Nairobi slum (Discussant: Andreas Hirseland)

Hofmann, Julia: Incentive wage models as a neoliberal identity-project (Discussant:  Emil Græsholm)

Chair: Gitte Sommer Harrits

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Revised 2012.01.15