Macquarie University
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Moral selves and mean welfare: responsibility and vulnerability in multicultural Sydney

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posted on 2022-03-29, 03:24 authored by Emma Mitchell
Responsibility and vulnerability are morally potent yet contested concepts in contemporary welfare politics and policy, through which the issue of dealing with cultural diversity in the Australian welfare state is refracted. This thesis is a bout the lived experience of culturally diverse welfare users at the sharp end of Australia's residual welfare system. Taking responsibility and vulnerability as conceptual frames, the research explores how diverse moral and material economies of support interact with th e cultural politics and institutional cultures of the welfare state. I draw on a combination of ethnographic methods and in - depth interviews based in the highly multicultural south - west of Sydney, an area targeted as disadvantaged under recent place - based welfare interventions. In this way the thesis brings cultural diversity to the centre of an empirical exploration of how welfare users experience and relate to the welfare state, where it has previously been peripheral or focused on a single ethnic group. The theoretical framework prioritises the micro - politics and social relations of everyday life, allowing the thesis to draw out the cultural frames and practices that animate expectations and experiences of welfare state provision. It endeavours to keep i n view both the messiness of everyday lived existence and wider conditions in which it is placed . By combining fine - grained empirical analysis with empirical and theoretical insights from race and ethnic studies and social policy studies, this thesis offer s a thick account of individual lived experiences of welfare embedded in histories and structures of racial and socio - economic injustice and inequality. An overarching argument that ties together the different themes in each chapter is the need to grapple with the dominant cultural lexicon of agency in both policy and scholarship, which affirms agency as a value that is antithetical to claims of victimhood.


Table of Contents

Introduction: the moral and material economies of welfare and multiculture -- Chapter one: A review of the literature -- Chapter two: Problems of access in community welfare: initiative or opportunism? -- Chapter three: Seatbelts and safety nets: expectation, reciprocity and belonging -- Chapter four: Over-drawn accounts: on being and performing "vulnerable" -- Chapter five: The shame of protection: shame, dignity and agency for the plural actor -- Chapter 6: The art of getting by: toward a generative account of making do -- Chapter seven: Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 232-270

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Sociology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Sociology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Amanda Wise


Copyright Emma Mitchell 2017. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (270 pages)

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