The Making of a Work-ready Individual: The Political Economy of Time in a Workfare Program in Israel

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Abstract

A neoliberal policy ideal, workfare, aims to transform the long-term unemployed into “work-ready” individuals. Studies of workfare examine their use of technologies of agency and coercion, but do not sufficiently delve into the political economy of time’s role in these technologies. Based on 9 months of participant observation in an Israeli workfare program, this article analyzes how it exploited time and temporality to transform social assistance benefits into a “wage.” I argue that in calculating participants’ activities through “time accountancy,” workfare prepares the unemployed for precarious unemployment at the lower rungs of the labor market. Time accountancy disciplines the unemployed through the enforcement of time regularity and punctuality, under threat of loss of benefits, yet in the absence of time density. Workfare’s apparently incongruous training in efficient “time management” and contrasting “time-filling” practices find concordance in preparing the long-term unemployed for low-wage jobs requiring docility and obedience, for precarious flexible work where new forms of digital and biometric control proliferate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-424
Number of pages18
JournalCritical Sociology
Volume47
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 May 2021

Keywords

  • Israel
  • active labor market policy
  • sociology
  • temporality
  • unemployment
  • workfare

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