Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

The Affective Economy of Welfare in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

The Affective Economy of Welfare in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Article excerpt

This article develops Sara Ahmed's (2014) metaphor of an affective economy in considering how affect circulates and attaches to individuals in ways that can be both beneficial and detrimental. In utilising this metaphor in relation to welfare provision, I consider the negative feeling that accumulates around lone mothers on welfare, focusing on what has value within this context. I use the term 'value' here to refer to the specific concept of economic exchange and to the less precise notion of what matters to people (Skeggs, 2011). Both understandings of the term are relevant. The provision of welfare in Aotearoa/New Zealand is an economic arrangement whereby the state provides financial support to those deemed to be in need. Welfare receipt is, however, inherently related to valuing practices: dependence upon welfare reduces a person's social value. Based on empirical data gathered for my doctoral research, this article considers the ways in which lone mothers negotiate their 'person value' (Skeggs, 2011) within the context of welfare.

My research focuses on lone mothers' experiences of welfare provision in this country. Since the 1980s, there has been an ideological shift in relation to the provision of welfare. While the Social Security Act (1938) established the welfare state in Aotearoa/New Zealand on the basic tenet that the state had a responsibility to provide for those in need, the growing influence of neoliberalism on economic and social policy in Aotearoa/New Zealand has seen governments become progressively less willing to take responsibility for the continued provision of welfare. The increased pressure on beneficiaries to enter the workforce has intensified since the 2011 welfare reforms and has had a significant impact on mothers who are raising children on their own. These reforms have been framed by political rhetoric suggesting that it is work that can provide the greatest benefit to those experiencing poverty and to the wider economy. This has been accompanied by an increase in negative media attention surrounding those who depend upon the state for support (Beddoe, 2014).

This article has been informed by writing emerging across the social sciences concerned with the body and emotions (Ahmed, 2014; Anderson, 2014; Clough, 2008; Hemmings; 2005; Massumi, 2002; Probyn, 2005; Wetherell, 2012). Those contributing to this work are often referred to as 'affect theorists'. The term affect is defined in the literature in a number of ways. At times the term is used to describe every characteristic related to emotion. On other occasions it is used to refer only to involuntary sensations such as blushes or flashes of anger: the state of being affected. Ben Anderson (2014, p.5) has drawn together a number of explanations summarising affect as:

A heterogeneous range of phenomena that are taken to be part of life: background moods such as depression, moments of intense and focused involvement such as euphoria, immediate visceral responses of shame or hate, shared atmospheres of hope or panic, eruptions of passion, lifelong dedications of love, fleeting feelings of boredom, societal moods such as anxiety or fear, neurological bodily transitions such as a feeling of aliveness, waves of feeling ... amongst much else.

Anderson's (2014) comment "amongst much else" draws attention to the diverse, contradictory and, at times, contentious states the term has been used to describe. Affect theorists are often divided in the way they conceptualise affect and emotion. A distinction between the bodily and social experience of emotion is crucial to a number of affect theorists (see, for example, Clough, 2008; Massumi, 2002; Probyn, 2005). In her work The affective turn - a title that has been widely adopted as a description of the increased interest in affect theory - Patricia Clough (2008, p.4) proposes that affect is autonomous "an escape from the particular thing that embodies it." She writes about affect in terms of involuntary responses of the body that are independent of conscious recognition. …

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