Time to Work : Responsibilization and Reification in the Swedish Welfare State

Abstract: In late 2015 and early 2016, more than two million refugees crossed European borders. Sweden, with its 10 million inhabitants welcomed more than 160,000 refugees, the second highest number per capita in Europe. This dissertation is a qualitative study focusing on the mandatory two-year Establishment Programme that all refugees between the age of 18 and 65 were enrolled in once they had received their residence permit. Governed by the Swedish Public Employment Service, the individuals who had come to Sweden as refugees were expected to establish themselves on the Swedish labour market as quickly as possible. It was Time to Work.Theoretically, the dissertation addresses concerns within the critical accounting research stream in general and to the growing body of literature on accounting and immigration in particular. This emerging field is influenced by social theories on immigration and the thought tradition of Michel Foucault, especially the concept of responsibilization. The discussions and conclusions drawn in these studies are that individual citizens are made responsible for the performance of the state. The processes are governed through the use of various accounting and auditing techniques and practices, and the consequences for individual immigrants are connected to unexpected and devastating processes of control and marginalization. Especially in relation to their opportunities on the labour market.In order to put the concept of performance in a wider and even more critical context, this dissertation takes on a contemporary Critical Theory perspective and a wide interpretation of the concept of performance management. By acknowledging the processes of social struggle and processes of commodification, this dissertation aims to highlight how accounting techniques and performance management affects already vulnerable individuals in state processes characterised by neoliberal values and capitalist production rationale. Taking its starting point in the concept of responsibilization, the analysis is made through the Marxist concepts of commodification, alienation, and reification.The study concludes that the expectations to perform in a public sector setting does not only alienate and reify the individual, it also expects a specific type of individual (performer) and a predetermined baseline for what is considered valuable performance in Swedish society. In the context of the Establishment Programme, there were large groups of individuals who could not perform on such level, which had implications for how the Swedish welfare state, while built on solidarity and a century of social reforms, in various ways degraded new citizens’ social status to a level below the ordinary working class.