“Work Is Worship” in Refugee Policy: Diminution, Deindividualization, and Valuation in Policy Implementation


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Workfare, the conditioning of public assistance on work, was first institutionalized into US policy via refugee resettlement policy, thus arguably laying the groundwork for the 1996 welfare reforms. Refugee scholars have examined how implementing agents respond to the mandates of workfare as well as other delimitations of policy structures, but the ensuing influence on refugees is less examined. Drawing from 40 interviews and four focus groups with organizational leaders and worker-volunteers of a refugee community as a case study, this article examines how self-sufficiency as a resettlement policy goal manifests at the end of the policy line. We argue that diminution of self-sufficiency into job placement reflects a work-first, time-limited focus, while deindividualization conveys neglect for individual circumstances. We also argue that the implementation of self-sufficiency as a policy goal, even as it is diminished and deindividualized, manifests with valuation, denoting how acts of implementation carry value-laden expressions that idealize the refugee-worker.

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