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Relational governing of precarity

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Remaking the European welfare state

La nouvelle fabrique des États-Providence européens

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Published on Wednesday, February 16, 2022


This two-day research seminar analyses relational techniques of governing precarity in Europe. It aims to bring together empirical research on the concrete practices through which various actors of social work seek to address precarity by mending social ties, on the reception of such programs by the precarious populations they target, and on the new forms of citizenship and welfare that they engender.



In Europe in the 2000s, there has been a proliferation of public policy measures aimed at encouraging local participation by precarious populations. In order to get them out of their perceived state of precarity, young people, unemployed people, mothers of young children or recently arrived migrants are asked to make use of local participation “opportunities” developed for them by welfare professionals and actors of the third sector: workshops, projects, courses. These initiatives derive from a wider policy logic that seeks to resituate the (welfare) state “in proximity” to its public, and views the mending of local social ties as essential to addressing precarity and inequality. Their aim is to solidify the bonds that attach precarious individuals to others, socialising them to certain ways of living together and developing feelings of neighbourhood attachment.

These public policies that seek to densify the local space for social relations in marginalized neighbourhoods are a little-known corollary of participatory democracy mechanisms. As diverse as they are, the various local participation mechanisms echo the emergence in Europe of what Nikolas Rose (1996) has termed “governing through community”, i.e. the development of relational government techniques that capitalise on local social networks and emotional synergies (Vollebergh et al., 2021). In addition to strategies aimed at the direct involvement of marginalised populations in participatory democracy, they typically seek to mobilise precarious inhabitants of working-class neighbourhoods around everyday activities in an intimate register: cooking, gardening, recreational activities.

These practices of governing are distinguished from more individualised techniques of governing precarity (Fassin, 2013) or “citizenization” (Fortier, 2010; Nordberg & Wrede, 2015) precisely by their relational and collective dimension. Their raw material is not so much the individual, her beliefs, behaviours, and competencies, but the ties that bind together precarious citizens. It is through the government of these ties, through the transformation of their quantity, quality and configuration that the relational governing of precarity proceed. Yet the way in which “participatory solidarities” (Paugam, 2007) are configured and extended in ambiguous spaces situated at the intersection of public life and private belonging remains an understudied object in social sciences.

The aim of this seminar is to discuss the practices, experiences and outcomes that emerge from relational governing of precarity in different European contexts. How do the novel techniques of social work reconfigure the ties between state agents and precarious individuals as well as within the populations targeted by participatory programs? How do they articulate the public space of civic participation with more intimate realms such as the family and local social networks? What dynamics of solidarity and exclusion do they generate? How do the ground-level practices of relational governing reshape the welfare state?

For this two-day seminar, we invite presentations that are based on original empirical research and that analyze strategies and techniques of relational government of precarious populations and bring a substantial contribution to the questioning of the boundaries of participation and the reconfiguration of citizenship.

Proposals, in English or in French, are expected to fall within the scope of the following three research axes:

Axis 1: What are the concrete practices of the relational governing of precarity?

First, we wish to explore the concrete practices through which front-line welfare professionals seek to shape local configurations of social ties. If the French context appears as permeated by an enduring tension between collective logics of empowerment and action (Carrel & Rosenberg, 2014), on the one hand, and a more individualized logic oriented at capacity-building and responsibility, on the other (Bacqué & Biewener, 2015), pioneering research in other European contexts has focused frontally on the relational practices of welfare professionals and volunteers as windows onto new imaginations of citizenship and the welfare state. They describe attempts by social workers to create moments of conviviality within working-class neighbourhoods (Vollebergh, 2016; Wessendorf, 2013), spaces of exclusively female mobilization (de Wilde, 2016; Manier, 2013), ‘intimate publics’ intended to draw in and reconnect inhabitants to one another (Marchesi, 2020). We invite contributions that systematize and extend previous observations of the intense relational work practiced by the (state, social work, NGO) actors involved in participative initiatives. This could include, for example, scrutinizing concrete practices of ‘affective work’ (de Wilde & Duyvendak, 2016; Fortier, 2017) or ‘belonging work’ (Haapajärvi, 2021; Kuurne (Ketokivi) & Vieno, 2021) and opening for analysis the inequality related outcomes of such techniques of governing.

Axis 2: How are participatory programs capitalizing on relational energies appropriated by precarious citizens?

Next, we are interested in the appropriation of relational governing techniques by the targeted precarious citizens themselves. We encourage contributions that address the complexity of the categorisations, interactions and engagements marginalized individuals develop as they come to contact with participatory initiatives (e.g. Chevallier, 2019; Laplanche-Servigne & Boas, 2019; Palomares, 2008). We are particularly interested in original research work that analyzes the contradictory positions and mechanisms of cross-pressure participatory initiatives may engender as well as on the coping mechanisms and strategic uses the mobilized precarious individuals develop with regard to them. What attracts precarious individuals to take part in local-level participatory initiatives? How do they appropriate the intense relationality that these programs seek to mend and reform? Do they adhere to, or alternatively circumvent, the strategic aims of relational governing? We also invite analysis of the political dimension of the apparently apolitical and consensual participatory schemes: Do local-level schemes of participatory democracy overlap with initiatives capitalizing on relational energies, if so, how and to what extent? Do relational techniques of governing precarity impede grassroots politicisation or perhaps open for new modes and resources of political action (Acosta et al., 2020; de Wilde, 2016; Talpin et al., 2021)?

Axis 3: How is the (welfare) state remade from below?

Finally, we propose to treat the entanglements between welfare professionals and precarious individuals and groups as a site of bottom-up production of the welfare state. The horizontalization of social work practices as much as the top-down institutionalization of certain kinds of intimate relations contribute today to the transformations of social protection systems. The fact that participation is eclipsing protection, that the national society as the locus of social solidarity is being supplanted by the local community, and that citizenship is increasingly grasped in its moral and relational dimension rather than a legal and social one, can be interpreted in the light of major trends that currently fashion European welfare states: neoliberal reforms of welfare policies that link social protection to “activity” ((Duvoux, 2009; Häikiö, 2011; Newman & Tonkens, 2011), the territorialization of social policies and the targeting of the segregated areas rather than citizens endowed with social rights (Rose, 1996; Tissot, 2007), the delegation of social work to the third sector (Cottin-Marx et al., 2017; Muehlebach, 2012), the intertwining of the “social question” and the “racial question” (Fassin & Fassin, 2009), and the culturalization of citizenship (Duyvendak et al., 2016). We welcome research that examines how actors implementing participatory initiatives in the context of austerity policies manage in their daily practice the thorny issues of morality, redistribution, recognition, and care (see Koch & James, 2022). How do they envision and practice new, intendedly more inclusive and authentic state-citizen relations? How do the policies that rely on the relational competences of the welfare professionals and precarious citizens reshuffle the traditional roles between policy practitioners and targets? In other words, how do the different actors brought together by participatory policy schemes reshape the welfare state?

Submission information

Paper proposals (300 to 500 words) should be sent to Linda Haapajärvi and Olivia Vieujean before April 10, 2022:

  • linda haapajarvi@ehess.fr
  • oliviavieujean@gmail.com

Responses will be communicated by April 17.

The two-day seminar will be held on the Jourdan campus at 46 boulevard Jourdan, Paris 75014.

A selection of the papers presented at the seminar will be published in the journal Participations in 2023. Prospective authors are encouraged to submit a first draft of their paper prior to the seminar, so that they can receive detailed feedback on their manuscripts.

Organizing committee

  • Flávio Eiró (University of Groningen)
  • Linda Haapajärvi (Centre Maurice Halbwachs)
  • Olivia Vieujean (Centre Maurice Halbwachs)
  • Anick Vollebergh (Radboud University Nijmegen)


Acosta, R., Eiró, F., Koch, I., & Koster, M. (2020). Introduction : Urban struggles : Governance, resistance, and solidarity. FocaalBlog.

Bacqué, M.-H., & Biewener, C. (2015). L’empowerment, une pratique émancipatrice ? La Découverte.

Carrel, M., & Rosenberg, S. (2014). L’empowerment et le travail social sont-ils compatibles en France  ? Recherche sociale, 209(1), 25‑35.

Chevallier, T. (2019). Résister à bas bruit aux catégorisations institutionnelles dans des dispositifs de participation à Berlin. Participations, 25(3), 109‑138.

Cottin-Marx, S., Hély, M., Jeannot, G., & Simonet, M. (2017). La recomposition des relations entre l’État et les associations  : Désengagements et réengagements. Revue francaise d’administration publique, 163(3), 463‑476.

de Wilde, M. (2016). Home is Where the Habit of the Heart is : Governing a gendered sphere of belonging. Home Cultures, 13(2), 123‑144.

de Wilde, M., & Duyvendak, J. W. (2016). Engineering community spirit : The pre-figurative politics of affective citizenship in Dutch local governance. Citizenship Studies, 20(8), 973‑993.

Duvoux, N. (2009). L’autonomie des assistés  : Sociologie des politiques d’insertion. Presses Universitaires de France.

Duyvendak, J.-W., Geschiere, P., & Tonkens, E. (2016). The Culturalization of Citizenship. Belonging and Polarization in a Globalizing World. Palgrave Macmillan.

Fassin, D. (Éd.). (2013). Juger, réprimer, accompagner  : Essai sur la morale de l’État. Éditions du Seuil.

Fassin, D., & Fassin, É. (Éds.). (2009). De la question sociale à la question raciale  : Représenter la société française. La Découverte.

Fortier, A.-M. (2010). Proximity by design? Affective citizenship and the management of unease. Citizenship Studies, 14(1), 17‑30.

Fortier, A.-M. (2017). The psychic life of policy : Desire, anxiety and ‘citizenisation’ in Britain. Critical Social Policy, 37(1), 3‑21.

Haapajärvi, L. (2021). On the Importance of Playing House : Belonging Work and the Making of Relational Citizens in Finnish Immigrant Integration Policies. Politics & Policy, 49 (4), 842-865.

Häikiö, L. (2011). From social citizenship to active citizenship ? Tensions between policies and practices in Finnish elderly care. In Participation, Responsibility and Choice : Summoning the Active Citizen in Western European Welfare States. Amsterdam University Press. p. 67-89.

Koch, I., & James, D. (2022). The State of the Welfare State : Advice, Governance and Care in Settings of Austerity. Ethnos, 87(1), 1‑21.

Kuurne (Ketokivi), K., & Vieno, A. (2021). Developing the Concept of Belonging Work for Social Research. Sociology.

Laplanche-Servigne, S., & Boas, M.-H. S. V. (2019). Introduction. Les catégorisations des publics minorisés en questions. Participations, 25(3), 5‑31.

Manier, M. (2013). Cause des femmes vs cause des minorités  : Tensions autour de la question des «  femmes de l’immigration  » dans l’action publique française. Revue européenne des migrations internationales, 29(4), 89‑110.

Marchesi, M. (2020). The intimate public of relational welfare in Milan. Ethnography, 146613811989709.

Muehlebach, A. (2012). The moral neoliberal : Welfare and citizenship in Italy. The University of Chicago Press.

Newman, J., & Tonkens, E. H. (Éds.). (2011). Participation, responsibility and choice : Summoning the active citizen in Western European welfare states. Amsterdam University Press.

Nordberg, C., & Wrede, S. (2015). Introduction : Street-Level Engagements. Nordic Journal of Migration Research, 5(2), 54‑57.

Palomares, É. (2008). Contester le racisme en mode mineur Engagements associatifs de femmes originaires du Mali. Sociétés contemporaines, 70, 45‑69.

Paugam, Serge (éd.). (2007). Repenser la solidarité—L’apport des sciences sociales. Presses Universitaires de France.

Rose, N. (1996). The death of the social? Re-figuring the territory of government. Economy and Society, 25(3), 327‑356.

Talpin, J., Balazard, H., Carrel, M., Hadj Belgacem, S., Kaya, S., Purenne, A., & Roux, G. (2021). L’épreuve de la discrimination  : Enquête dans les quartiers populaires. Presses Universitaires de France.

Tissot, S. (2007). L’état et les quartiers  : Genèse d’une catégorie de l’action publique. Seuil.

Vollebergh, A. (2016). The other neighbour paradox : Fantasies and frustrations of ‘living together’ in Antwerp. Patterns of Prejudice, 50(2), 129‑149.

Vollebergh, A., de Koning, A., & Marchesi, M. (2021). Intimate States. Current Anthropology, 62 (6), 741-770.

Wessendorf, S. (2013). Commonplace diversity and the ‘ethos of mixing’ : Perceptions of difference in a London neighbourhood. Identities, 20(4), 407‑422.


  • salle P004 - 48, Boulevard Jourdan
    Paris, France (75014)

Event format

Hybrid event (on site and online)


  • Sunday, April 10, 2022


  • participation, travail social, protection sociale, précarité


  • Linda Haapajärvi
    courriel : linda [dot] haapajarvi [at] ehess [dot] fr
  • Olivia Vieujean
    courriel : Olivia [dot] vieujean [at] ulb [dot] be

Information source

  • Olivia Vieujean
    courriel : Olivia [dot] vieujean [at] ulb [dot] be


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Relational governing of precarity », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, February 16, 2022, https://calenda.org/966558

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