Automating Social Inequality: How Single Mothers and Caseworkers Navigate the Neoliberal Surveillance of ‘Ontario Works,’ 1995–2015
MetadataShow full item record
Automating Social Inequality: How Single Mothers and Caseworkers Navigate the Neoliberal Surveillance of ‘Ontario Works,’ 1995–2015 examines the growth and impact of surveillance practices administered by the social assistance program Ontario Works [OW]. The purpose of this dissertation is to show the effects of the “welfare surveillance apparatus” from the perspectives of those receiving OW as well as those administering OW benefits to better understand what it feels like to “live” under the surveillance gaze of the declining welfare state. Surveillance practices within government services correspond with wider neoliberal transformations that have led to increased privatization, downsizing and deregulation, and a reluctance of the state to accept their role to either intervene in the economy and/or mitigate inequalities. By placing OW within the context of the international phenomenon of neoliberalism, I contend that it this political philosophy and practice that has altered the administration and purpose of Ontario’s social assistance programs over the past twenty years. In order to economize and undermine state aid, surveillance has become normalized under neoliberal governments that are fixated on meeting targets, quotas and timelines, while the needs of recipients of the services and frontline workers are rarely (or inadequately) calculated in changing policies. However, the significance of welfare surveillance has largely escaped academic inquiry. This study, the first of its kind in Canada, expands upon a small body of literature that examines surveillance practices of government-funded programs such as social assistance. Building upon leading scholars in the field, this dissertation suggests the importance of unearthing the political, economic and moral implications of welfare surveillance, especially upon those “watched” by the state. To tease out these implications, this project employs discourse analysis of the Ontario Works Act 1997 and other primary government documents, alongside 33 qualitative, in-depth interviews with single mothers on assistance, frontline OW caseworkers and anti-poverty activists. Paying close attention to the ways gender, race, class, ability and geographic location create variations in how OW welfare surveillance, discipline and regulation are experienced, this dissertation suggests that a neoliberal agenda has served to exacerbate rather than mitigate contemporary inequalities in Ontario.