Social Policy and Individual Responsibility
CIIE - Centro de INvestigação e Intervenção Educativas Faculdade de Psicologia e de Ciências da Educação da Universidade do Porto Porto, Portugal
ADILO Agência de Desenvolvimento Integrado de Lordelo do Ouro Porto, Portugal
The risk society (Beck, 1997) - which follows the decadence of the Welfare State and its promises - calls on reflexivity and individual responsibility in order to keep control over life processes. Whereas social policies in the Welfare Stare had an essentially redistributive, solidary, universal, de-territorialized nature, in the so-called risk society they tend to be grounded on the principles of risk management, territorialized intervention and individual responsibility. This individual responsibility, however, refers more to fulfilling obligations as defined by the State than to the development of moral and social agency. It is no surprise, then, that the beneficiaries of social policies are increasingly forced to sign contracts with the State. In such contracts they commit themselves to taking part in social inclusion programs. This means, for example, that they need to design their life-projects together with a social worker, to take part in training activities if they cannot get a job, to make sure their children go to school, and agree to home visits by social workers. The trouble with this approach is that it rests on an atomistic view of society. Here, social policies seem to be more oriented to managing individual life-trajectories and minimizing risks than to maximizing social justice or introducing structural social changes. So, the fostering of individual responsibility these new social policies claim to involve is actually quite feeble: without being framed by collective goals and collective hopes, individual responsibility is quite sterile and powerless. Also, contractual obligations can be fulfilled without any significant development of moral and social agency. That is why, rather than changing the social condition of the beneficiaries, such policies actually tend to generate great dependence of individuals on State programs. Social policies then run the risk of becoming more oriented to keeping things as they are than to introducing change, and the Welfare State runs the risk of being replaced by a Securitarian State (Castel, 2003).
- Beck, U. (1997) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.
- Castel, R. (2003) L´Insécurité Social - Qu´est-ce Qu´être Protegé? Paris: Éditions du Seuil.