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Solidarity or stigma? A critical realist exploration of the anatomy of Irish welfare stigma
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Using qualitative methods couched in a critical realist paradigm of inquiry, this thesis is concerned with stigma, in the context of Irish social welfare, and with the experiences of working age recipients in particular. Over the last decade or so, and particularly since the economic crash of 2008, welfare provision in Ireland has come increasingly under the spotlight. Attempts to capture people’s experiences of this is reflected in a small but growing pool of diverse scholarly work. However, much remains undiscovered. This is particularly true of research that is concerned firstly, with lived experience and, secondly, with uncovering the deeply embedded social structures that cause people to experience things in the way that they do. This research has sought to address the deficit by firstly engaging directly with working age welfare recipients across a range of payment types in order to capture their experiences and, secondly, by using critical realism as a lens through which to discover the kinds of structures that underlie, contribute to and potentially generate stigma experiences in the Irish welfare space. In real terms, this has meant gathering data by conducting semi-structured interviews with persons who were in receipt or who had been in receipt of social welfare payments. Having carried out the fieldwork, a critical realist retroductive analysis process was utilised to analyse the data. This resulted in several strong findings, which are presented as distinct yet overlapping causally efficacious generative mechanisms, each of which is argued to underlie, contribute to and potentially generate stigma experiences in the Irish welfare space and which take the following form: marginality and social liminality; the effect of the work ethic; conditionality as causally efficacious; maintaining compliance and engaging in impression management; deservedness and un-deservedness manifesting in othering and the norm of reciprocity and, finally, stigmatisation normativity, the sense that welfare is just ‘bad’. This thesis extends the canon of knowledge in respect to experiences of welfare in the Irish welfare space by offering a detailed glimpse into the lives of some of those who have had to traverse it. This thesis also tests and demonstrates critical realism in action and so adds to the cannon of knowledge in respect to methodology and the ‘doing’ of social science using this specific method of inquiry.
Welfare , Stigma , Critical realism , Lived experiences
Whekan, J. 2019. Solidarity or stigma? A critical realist exploration of the anatomy of Irish welfare stigma. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.