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Title: Dependency or enterprise? : political discourses and lived experiences of benefit claiming in Britain
Author: O'Connor, Niamh
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2002
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The aim of this thesis is to explore the conceptual gap between political discourses and lived experiences of benefit claiming in Britain. Following a social constructionist perspective, I argue that the ‘policy problem’ of benefit claiming has been defined in particular narrow ways that both shape and limit policy responses. I also show that this narrow political construction is contradicted by claimants’ understandings and experiences of what constitutes the ‘problem’ of unemployment and benefit dependency. The thesis is structured in two parts. Part one comprises a critical discourse analysis (following Fairclough) of British welfare reform policy. Policy reform is increasingly couched in terms of replacing dependency (associated exclusively with benefits) with enterprise (associated exclusively with paid work). The policy imperative is to replace unemployment with particular kinds of paid work. Part two of the thesis draws on a series of group and individual interviews with long-term benefit claimants. In contrast to politicians’ presuppositions, interviewees report numerous and varied connections to worlds of work; they subscribe to dominant discourses about the value of work; and they display considerable enterprise in surviving on the low incomes provided by benefits. The dependency/enterprise dichotomy is further challenged by the experience of those interviewees who are members of their local LETS (local exchange trading system). LETS, while no panacea to the problems of depressed labour markets and ‘poor places’, operate effectively as arenas where alternative discourses and values of mutuality and interdependency are produced and circulate; as a space between enterprise and dependency. The increasing use and importance of notions of dependency and enterprise in government circles provides an ideological justification for reducing social security spending, while increasing targeting and means-testing.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available