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Session Overview
RS08_03: Class, critique & participation in the sociology of engagements
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Anders Blok, University of Copenhagen
Location: GM.331
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road

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Critique as a Practice of Equality

Taina Meriluoto

Tampere University, Finland

This essay is interested in critique as a practice of equality. It studies a project where people who have experienced homelessness organise and guide alternative walking tours in their home town. The tours are planned to give the “streetguides” an avenue to express their alternative viewpoints concerning an array of societal issues: homelessness, social and health services, the use of city space etc. The project’s aim is twofold: to present public critique and to claim the streetguides a legitimate position to do so.

The proposition of sociology of engagements is that people are qualified as legitimate actors by following the situational coordinations of a given disposition (Thévenot 2014). This essay probes the possibilities of the inverse: whether, and how critique can be a tool through which equality is claimed. By building on Rancière’s (1991) conceptualisation of equality as a practice of recognising each other as valid partners in a dialogue (Deranty 2014) and connecting this pragmatic view to critical democratic theory more broadly (e.g. Griggs, Norval & Wagenaar 2014), the essay explores the streetguides’ capacity to act critically – to politicise that which appears self-evident or necessary – and by so doing, to claim themselves the position of an equal.

While sociology of engagements offers robust tools in analysing critique in public debate (e.g. Ylä-Anttila & Luhtakallio 2016), it has so far paid less attention to the role it plays when people attempt to be recognised as equal participants in this debate. This essay interrogates the conditions of such recognition, and illuminates practices in which politicisation and equality are interconnected.

The Different Worths of the Unemployed - Everyday Discourses on Unemployment in Denmark and UK

Mathias Herup Nielsen

Aalborg University, Denmark

Much scholarly attention have been devoted to studying the role of stereotypical pictures of ‘the poor’ and how such are related to recent retrenchment reforms of western welfare states – e.g. through studies of media coverage or political rhetoric. Fewer have analyzed the moral languages activated by ordinary persons during discussions with their peers on these very same topics. This paper investigates how ordinary citizens in two very different welfare state settings, respectively Denmark and UK, discuss the issue of unemployment and justify their opinions during extensive group discussions, by leaning on and constructing certain images of the unemployed.

In order to do so, the article suggest to bridge insights from the policy design literature focusing on ‘social constructions of target groups’ on the one hand and the ‘pragmatic sociology of critique’ on the other. Particularly, the idea of a plurality of co-existing orders of worth is of important: Reaching agreement about the worth of the unemployed is not merely a matter of placing the unemployed on a fixed axis ranging from a negative to a positive depiction. It is, more fundamentally, a matter of reaching agreement about the very nature of that axis.

Empirically, the contribution explores qualitative data gathered from comparable deliberative forums held in the UK and Denmark. During its sessions, ordinary citizens were to discuss the future of the welfare state to formulate specific policy recommendations.

The analysis demonstrates how participants in both countries make use of three quite different orders of worth – thereby constructing the unemployed negatively as well as positively along three different moral axes (creating respectively a market, an industrial and a domestic common world).

Occupying Political Space? Minority Youth And Their Political Participation

Anna Elisa Suni, Reetta Mietola

University of Helsinki, Finland

This paper is based on ethnographic research focusing on a course designed for upper secondary school students coming from different language minorities. The course, organized by a multicultural foundation, aimed to move young people not so rooted in the society into the center of political and societal participation. During the course, the students were taught and encouraged to participate and produce content into ongoing political discussion by, for instance, interviewing politicians.

Our research focuses on how relationship between ethnicity and participation is formed in the course leaders’ work, and how this is discussed by the participating young people. We are also interested of what kind of representations of "good citizenship” are produced and reinforced during the course and whether these ideas are adopted or challenged by the young participants. By focusing on young people, the study takes part in the topical academic discussion on young people, their attachment to and participation in society.

In this paper our focus is in particular on the conceptions and representations of political participation. We ask how is political participation formed in the course content and in the activities engaged by the course participants, and how do these representations of political participation position young people in general, and in particular young people from different minority groups. Our discussion draws from the recent academic discussion concerning young people and forms of political participation.

The Middle Classes’ Cultural Repertoires and Political Emotions of Citizenship in Finland

Roosa Helmi Henriikka Tuukkanen

University of Tampere, Finland

This paper is a part of the research project Tackling Biases and Bubbles in Participation. The purpose of the project is to seize the citizens’ opportunities and ways to participate in the policymaking processes in the changing Finnish welfare society.

This paper taps into the cultural repertoires of citizenship, including political and moral emotions, of the middle classes in Finland, and thus identifies, which kind of obstacles may stand in the way of participation, or prevent people’s voices from being heard in the policymaking processes. My research questions are:

How do the working middle classes enact (or inact) their citizenship in the Finnish urban areas, and what kind of role emotions play in their cultural repertoires of citizenship?

By approaching the political through the everyday practices of the “ordinary” citizens, the research seeks to grasp the citizens’ political capacities, interests and emotions. I employ the concepts of political and emotional belonging when addressing the question of the middle classes’ civic imaginations in Finland, as they may reveal something more tangible about where the citizens place themselves in the society. Through these processes of belonging citizens not only find (imaginary) places for themselves, but also draw moral and symbolic boundaries to others, that do not quite fit in the picture.

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