Remaking Citizenship: Welfare Reform and Public Sector Digitalization

Jannick Schou

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


Since the early 1990s, advanced capitalist states have increasingly turned to digitalization as a new means of welfare state restructuring and public sector reform. Often narrated as a simple, technical solution to complex political and institutional problems, digitalization has risen to the top of policy agendas in Europe and beyond. Yet, so far, little research has been conducted on the impact and consequences of this political instrument for welfare institutions and citizenship. Not least due to an intellectual division of labor, research on digitalization has largely tended to work in isolation from citizenship studies and research on the welfare state. This dissertation sets out to remedy this gap by presenting a study of welfare reform and public sector digitalization from a citizenship perspective. Doing so, it seeks to unpack how and in what ways citizenship has been remade in the transition to an increasingly digitalized public sector. The dissertation attends to these questions through a case
study of digitalization reforms in Denmark, a country that has been continuously promoted as an international frontrunner in terms of digitalizing its public sector. Through five separate research publications, the dissertation examines the remaking of citizenship as a simultaneously political, institutional and technological set of processes stretching back to the early 1990s. The publications investigate the discursive construction of citizenship in national
policies, the local governance of citizens in municipal citizen service centers and the exclusionary patterns that are currently emerging in and around contemporary ideals of citizenship. In doing so, the dissertation documents a series of interlinked political, institutional and structural shifts connected to digitalization reforms. First, it shows how new normative expectations have been constructed by policymakers as to the proper forms of citizensubjectivity. Framing citizens as inherently active, self-sufficient and responsible beings, policymakers have increasingly come to maintain that all citizens are or must be digital and self-serving. Second, it demonstrates how these political discourses have paved the way for new legal mechanisms, technological infrastructures and institutional configurations. Zooming in on municipal citizen service centers, the dissertation foregrounds how new disciplinary practices are coming into being, premised on transforming citizens that do not conform to the dominant normative expectations. Third, it details how these processes have served to
uphold and produce both new and old patterns of exclusion. Most substantially, the dissertation argues that citizens already at the fringes of the welfare state are being further excluded with the turn towards increasingly coercive forms of policy implementation. Taken together, the dissertation argues that these different forces must be grasped as part of a layered political strategy seeking to significantly alter the relation between the Danish state and its citizens.
By demonstrating these changes, the dissertation contributes with original knowledge to existing research on citizenship and welfare state reform. It does so, empirically, by showcasing the concrete changes taking place to citizenship in an era of intensified digitalization and, theoretically, by pushing for the integration of several areas of research that have so far remained disparate. The dissertation thus gives a forceful argument for why scholars of citizenship and welfare restructuring can only ignore digitalization at their own peril.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIT-Universitetet i København
Number of pages233
ISBN (Print)978-87-7949-018-5
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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