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A New Framework for the Scientific Study of Classification: Paperwork Practices in Zurich's Social Assistance

Applicant Posselt Lukas
Number 195352
Funding scheme Doc.CH
Research institution Soziologisches Seminar Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät Universität Luzern
Institution of higher education University of Lucerne - LU
Main discipline Sociology
Start/End 01.09.2020 - 31.08.2024
Approved amount 264'388.00
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Keywords (8)

classification practices; historical sociology; paperwork practices; mixed methods; Swiss welfare state; social assistance; sociology of classification; sociology of morality

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
In der Schweiz besteht ein Konsens darüber, dass Menschen in Not eine kollektive Hilfe erhalten sollten. Allerdings wird in politischen Debatten darüber gestritten, wer, wann und wie viel Unterstützung erhalten soll. Die kommunale Sozialbehörde der Stadt Zürich hat die Aufgabe, solche Entscheidungen für einzelne Fälle hervorzubringen.
Lay summary
Inhalt und Ziel des Forschungsprojekts

Diese Dissertation untersucht anhand einer Fallstudie der Sozialhilfebehörden der Stadt Zürich, wie Menschen in Not im 20. Jahrhundert klassifiziert wurden. Dabei fokussiert die Untersuchung darauf, wie sich die Prinzipien, Techniken und administrative Instrumente mit denen Unterstützungsentscheidungen hervorgebracht wurden, im Laufe des 20. Jahrhunderts verändert haben. Mit einem Mix von qualitativen und quantitativen Methoden werden in einem ersten Schritt die Konstruktion der Fallakten, und deren Veränderungen in den Blick genommen. Zweitens, wird untersucht, wie sich die kommunale Organisation der Fürsorge im letzten Jahrhundert verändert hat und wie diese Reformen unterschiedliche Klassifikationspraktiken ermöglichten. Drittens, untersuche ich den Fürsorgediskurs, um nachzuspüren, wie neue Kategorien zur Beschreibung von Armutssituationen entstanden und ebenfalls neue Klassifikationen ermöglichten.  

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext

Das Projekt untersucht anhand einer Fallstudie der Stadt Zürich wie Unterstützungsentscheide hervorgebracht wurden und wie solche Klassifikationspraktiken unterschiedliche moralische Rahmung der Beziehung zwischen den Behörden und der unterstützten Person konstituieren. Damit leistet das Projekt einen Beitrag zur Geschichte der Sozialpolitik, zur Soziologie der Klassifikation und zuletzt zur aktuellen politischen Debatte um die Sozialhilfe in der Schweiz. 
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 31.08.2020

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
EHESS Paris France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
The associational archive. Rethinking volunteerism through its documentary fabric. Volume 2. Talk given at a conference Introduction (together with Fabio Giomi) 21.10.2021 Athen, Greece Posselt Lukas;
SGS Kongress, Panel "Social Problems" Talk given at a conference Conceptualizations of Causality and the Undeserving Poor: The Case of Swiss Poor Relief in the Early Twentieth Century 30.06.2021 Genf (Online-Tagung), Switzerland Posselt Lukas;
SGS-Kongress 2021, Panel "Morality and Hybridity" Talk given at a conference Manufacturing Moral Causes of Poverty. Paperwork and Morality in Swiss Poor Relief around 1900 30.06.2021 Genf (Online-Tagung), Switzerland Posselt Lukas;
Workshop: "The associational archive. Rethinking volunteerism through its documentary fabric" Talk given at a conference Traces of a scriptural infrastructure. The archives of the 'Voluntary and Residents' Poor Relief Zurich' (1878-1929). 16.12.2020 Florenz (Online-Kongress), Italy Posselt Lukas;


Abstract

In this dissertation, I will study how the City of Zurich’s social welfare authorities classified people in need in the 20th century. In most contemporary societies, there is widespread agreement that some people in need deserve collective help. At the same time, there are massive disagreements about who should receive support, and about when, how, and to what extent people should receive assistance. How do societies decide who does and does not receive support? Making these distinctions is still a practical problem for the social authorities in the City of Zurich since they have to decide on a daily basis who gets what. This doctoral thesis will investigate the principles, techniques, and administrative instruments that have allowed public agencies to decide on such matters and how they have changed throughout the 20th century. Drawing on recent sociological research on classification, I will show how changes in paperwork practices shape new moral frames of the relationship between the assisted people and the authorities. Developing a multi-level framework, I will study both classification practices and the conditions that make them possible. First, I will analyze a sample of assistance case files with a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods (classification practices). Inspired by the methodological principles of Science and Technology Studies, I will use case studies to analyze the dynamics of classifications. Furthermore, the research question’s structural dimension of how people were classified will be also be examined by statistical data analysis. Second, based on the analysis of archival material, I will examine how the organization of social assistance and its instruments change over time, thereby enabling different classification practices (organizational background). Third, I will combine historical discourse analysis and computational text analysis in order to study how categories describing the poor emerge in the field of social assistance (discursive background). My project’s payoffs include: (i) insights about classification practices that have been neglected by historical and sociological research on social assistance; (ii) contributions to current policy debates; and (iii) a new theoretical framework for the scientific study of classification practices and their conditions of possibility.
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