Disability and the Australian neoliberal workfare state (1996-2005)

Karen Soldatic

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Australia, like other Western liberal democracies, has undergone extensive social policy restructuring as a result of neoliberalism. While neoliberalism had its genesis with Australian Labor governments during the 1980s, it secured the status of orthodoxy under the radical conservatism of the Liberal Coalition government (1996 - 2007). Under the leadership of Prime Minister John Howard a widespread campaign was instigated to advance neoliberal social policy measures across all spheres of social life, leading to the dismantling of rights for a diverse range of social groups including women, refugees, people with disabilities and Indigenous Australians. The restructuring of social provisioning with the intensification of neoliberalism was largely driven by workfare – a key domestic social project of neoliberal global restructuring. The thesis examines the Australian experience of workfare and the primary areas of contestation and struggle that emerged in this environment for the Australian Disability Movement during the peak period of workfare restructuring for 'disability' (1996 – 2005). The thesis draws on the work of critical disability theory to discuss the bivalent social collective identity of disability as it cuts through the politics of recognition and the politics of distribution. From here, the thesis engages with sociological work on emotions, bringing together theories of disgust and disability. The thesis demonstrates that there is a synergy between disability and disgust that informs the moral economy of disability; framing, shaping and articulating able-bodied – disabled relations. Drawing on the policy process method the research involved extensive qualitative interviews with members of the Australian Disability Movement, disabled people involved in workfare programs, service providers and their peak organisations, families, as well as the policy elite charged with the responsibility of disability workfare restructuring. Additionally, the study incorporated a range of documents including parliamentary Hansards, key policy texts, government media releases, and publicly available information from disability specialist services and the disability movement. The analytical centrality of policy processes highlighted the strategic interrelationship between macro-structural policy discourses and practices and the role of policy actors as agents, including those collective agents engaged in mediating disability social relations. Three dominant themes emerged from the analysis of the data: movement politics, representation and participation; emotions and processes of moralisation; and finally, the role of temporality in inscribing (disabled) bodies with value. Each of the findings chapters is dedicated to explicating these mechanisms and the effects of these discourses and practices on disabled people involved in workfare programs and the disability movement's struggles for respect, recognition and social justice.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2009

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