Advances in Applied Sociology
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 47-53
Published Online March 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 47
The Story of Victimhood—Basic Income Recipients Positioning
Street-Level Bureaucracies
Sari Mäki
Department of Eco nomics and Management, Univer sity of Helsinki, Hels inki, Finland
Received December 3rd, 2012; revised J anu ary 10th, 2013; accepted Jan ua r y 22nd, 2013
The article focuses on how people living on basic income benefits position street-level bureaucrats in their
speech. The research material consists of 15 unstructured interviews gathered mainly in association for
unemployed. Analysis is done in the context of positioning theory. Participants always have moral posi-
tions in discussion and with these positions they have different rights and duties to say certain things. In-
terviewees’ speech and especially the word choice reflect on known story-line and interviewees’ position
in it. There is always a new story-line for each shift in interviewees taken or given position. Basic income
recipients position street-level bureaucrats as inadequate, disciplining and unpredictable. I interpret that
these given positions enable a shift of autonomy from recipients to street-level bureaucrats. Hence the
given positioning reflects the story-line of victimhood.
Keywords: Basic Income; Street-Level Bureaucracy; Positioning Theory; Victimhood
“They blame us for our unemployment. I think there should
instead be pastoral sent to employees and Employment and
Economic Development Office to employ us full-time.” These
words of an interviewed basic income benefits recipient give
insight to the lives of unprivileged in Finland. These words are
talking back to the discourse where to be poor or unprivileged
is to receive social positioning in which one is easily blamed
for refusing better for themselves. It is as if the poor doesn’t
want jobs and they get themselves pregnant for the benefits.
They are clever and they tell lies. Like the above excerpt re-
veals people living on a basic income benefits consider the
situation differently. However for the greater public former be-
liefs are easier to believe than considering poverty stemming
from unfair structure.
To form a larger view on the matter requires it to listen to
people who know what it is like to live on a basic income bene-
fits. These people have many stories to tell and after listening
them, two aspects have become clear. The first story told por-
trays the interviewed as active and inventive people while the
second story make them as victims of powerful forces. I have
unfolded the matters concerning the first story elsewhere (Mäki,
2011) so in this article I concentrate on the story that comes
after. The second story is almost all about interviewees’ rela-
tionship with street-level bureaucracy. Basic income benefits
recipients have more or less close contact to authorities. Those
encounters are where their identity is reshaped. Within these
encounters personal life stories are told and come to life in the
privacy of an administration desk (Dubois, 2010: p. 2). Experi-
ences of encounters are then shared with and retold to friends
and relatives and to me as a researcher. To be able to tell and to
be listened is to have deference as a human being.
Street-level bureaucracy is often studied from the bureau-
crats’ point of view. On the contrary, my aim is to give insight
to lives and experiences of clients of those bureaucracies. Al-
though most of the studies concerns bureaucrats, there are also
research especially in housing and healthcare to be found from
the clients’ point of view (see Fotaki, 2011; Teater, 2010; Jost,
Levitt, & Porcu, 2010; Darbyshire et al., 2006). Clients per-
spective is also found in studies of identity construction in rela-
tion to welfare services (Juhila & Abrams, 2011; Miller, 2011;
Solberg, 2011; Virokannas, 2011), of crime and victimization
(Kohm, 2006), of social worker and welfare recipient attitudes
(Bullock, 2004), the poor in general (Peel, 2003) as well as con-
sumers of welfare reform (Kraft & Bush, 1998). All these stud-
ies share understanding of the need for the possibility to ordi-
nary people to have a say in matters concerning their lives,
moreover, to expand knowledge for improving the existing po-
In this article my aim is to show how people living on a basic
income benefits position street-level bureaucrats they are in
contact with. Interviewed people are clients of several street-le-
vel bureaucracies including The Social Insurance Institution
of Finland, Employment and Economic Development Office,
Courts, Social Services as well as Municipal Health Services.
Whether the clients are satisfied for the services or not is rarely
Like Lipsky (1980: p. 54) puts it “the poorer the person the
more he or she is likely to be the nonvoluntary client of not
only one but several street-level bureaucracies”. Being a nonvo-
luntary means that a person is not able to decide what kind of
treatment he or she is getting. And when it comes down to
complaining about the treatment one is easily replaced with
someone who is willing to accept the cost of seeking the treat-
I analyze the talk of interviewed people in the context of po-
sitioning theory. According to the positioning theory “not only
what we do but also what we can do is restricted by the rights,
duties and obligations we acquire, assume or which are im-
posed upon us in the concrete social contexts of everyday life”
(Harré & van Langenhove, 1999: p. 4). Davies and Harré (1990:
p. 61) note that to see one in a certain position requires it a
certain perception of story line. The story lines changes be-
tween basic income receivers interviewed and how they appear
to public. These changes can be seen when interviewed people
are refusing certain positioning. Perception of the differentia-
tion in story lines also reflects the boundaries in which to act.
For interpretation of story-lines and to locate the moral order
of living on a basic income benefits in a welfare society I have
gone through questions like what rights or opportunities inter-
viewees are trying to gain by positioning this way or what kind
of duties and restrictions these taken and given positions reflect?
I interpret that the following positions interviewees give to the
street-level bureaucrats are all constructing a story-line of vic-
timhood. The lack of money and living on a basic income bene-
fits makes the interviewees depend on authorities. Dependency
eliminates the recipients’ autonomy and shifts the power to rule
to the authorities. That is when the victimhood shows. Authori-
ties don’t always find ways of helping the basic income receiv-
ers and that raises anger.
I have constructed the article following way. At first I give a
short outline of Finnish basic income security system. And then
move on to presenting my research material and analysis. Then
I proceed to the positioning of street-level bureaucrats: inade-
quacy, discipline and unpredictability. I end the article with
discussion of the story-line of victimhood.
Public Support of Basic Income Security
The Finnish public support concerning basic income security
recipients consists of state regulated income support including
employment services and municipally led social and health ser-
vices, social work and social assistance. State regulated in-
come support is claimed from The Social Insurance Institute of
Finland (KELA) which street-level workers are advising clients
but are not able to use discretion on decisions of benefits appli-
cations. Basic unemployment benefits are also paid through
KELA. To be eligible for unemployment benefits one has to be
part of employment services run by Employment and Economic
Development Offices. The difference to street-level workers of
KELA the clerks in Employment and Economic Development
Offices are able to use at least some discretion towards the
clients. Possibility to use discretion in street-level work in-
creases in municipally led social- and health services as well as
in social work and social assistance.
Former studies about the social security system and ideas
about what constitutes an adequate standard of living (Ade-
quacy of basic income benefits 2011, Lehtinen, Raijas, Var-
jonen, & Aalto, 2010, 2011; Juntunen, Grönlund, Hiilamo,
2006; Aatola & Viinisalo, 1999; Forma, Heikkilä, & Keskitalo,
1999; Kosunen, 1999) share a common understanding that the
level of Finnish basic income support, including housing al-
lowance, paid by KELA is too low. The Finnish Constitution
states that in situations where income support is needed the
income shouldn’t be based on the last resort form of income
support, social assistance, owing to the fact that the benefit is
very disciplining and the application process is very humiliat-
ing (Sakslin, 2008: pp. 34-38). Nevertheless in many cases so-
cial assistance complements the income of basic unemployment
allowance and labor market subsidy receivers (Adequacy of Ba-
sic Income Benefits, 2011; Honkanen, 2009).
This has also been acknowledged by the Committee for
Comprehensive Reform for Social Protection (SATA). The
committ ee’s main aims were to ensure that the option of taking
employment is always worthwhile, to reduce poverty levels and
to safeguard sufficient minimum income levels in all life situa-
tions. Given the current economic situation, Finnish political
circles have not been prepared to accept or implement all the
improvements that SATA raised (Lehto, 2009). The current
level of Finnish basic income benefits can be seen in Table 1.
Purpose of the Labour Market Subsidy is to provide financial
assistance for unemployed job seekers who enter the labour
market for the first time or otherwise have no recent work ex-
perience as well as long-term unemployed persons who have
exhausted their 500-day eligibility for the basic or earnings-
related unemployment allowance. Social assistance is a last re-
sort form of income security. Municipalities pay means-tested
social assistance when the income and resources of an individ-
ual or family are insufficient to cover daily expenses.
The level of basic income benefits excluding higher educa-
tion study grant has been raised by 100 euro beginning of the
year 2012. Nevertheless those households receiving some of the
basic income benefits together with the social assistance find
their income increasing only about 30 euro. It has been calcu-
lated that the current increase in basic income benefits raises
them to the level as they were in the beginning of 1990s. When
relating the basic income benefits to the general income level it
is revealed that the level of current increase is not enough to
reduce the gap between them (Honkanen & Tervola, 2012).
Research Material and Analysis
My research material consist of 15 unstructured basic income
receivers’ interviews each lasting approximately one hour. I
gathered the data in the Helsinki Association for the Unem-
ployed, in coffee shops and in the interviewees’ homes between
August 2009 and April 2010.
The interviewees include eight women and seven men aged
from 21 years to 65 years. Seven of them are living alone, three
are single parents, and three are in relationships—two of which
have children—and two interviewees live with their parents.
Nine of them are recipients of either basic unemployment al-
lowance or labor market subsidy, three of them receive a na-
tional pension, two of them receive the parental allowance and
one of them receive a higher education study grant. Most of the
interviewees’ income is supplemented with social assistance
Table 1.
Level of Finnish basic income benefits in 2013 (The Social Insurance
Institution of Finland).
Basic income benefit Level/Month
National pension 732€
Basic unemployment allowance 698€
Labour market subsidy 698€
Sickness and parental allowance 511€
Social assistance, person living alone 477€
Child home care allowance 336€
Higher education study grant and housing
supplement 298€ + 201€
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
and general housing allowance. The themes discussed in the
interviews were family, consumption, money, health, work, so-
cial securit y and society.
I analyze the research material in the context of positioning
theory. Participants always have moral positions in discussion
and with these positions they have different rights and duties to
say certain things. People living on a basic income benefits are
controlled by authorities and they don’t have possibility to in-
fluence the decisions authorities make. On the other hand while
interviewed by researcher basic income receivers are encour-
aged to speak freely about their feelings. The research situation
enables with the positioning theory a ground for revealing soci-
ety’s power relations. It can be said with words of Pöysä (2010:
p. 169) “positioning of self in stories told by self is a central
mode of autonomy. Possibility for autonomy through stories
makes the unjust experiences seen in a way the self wants them
to be seen”.
Interviewees’ speech and especially the word choice reflect
on known story-line and interviewees´ position in it. There is
always a new story-line for each shift in interviewees taken or
given position (van Langenhove & Harre, 1999). For this article
I have organized the research material by reading transcribed
interviews and placing interviewees’ utterances in to themes i.e.
positions. I concentrate on those utterances where interviewees
position themselves in relation to street-level bureaucrats. In the
article I will show according to what kind of utterances I have
constructed these three positions and how does the story-line
I analyze how interviewees are in their discourse making
their own or others actions intelligible by referring either to
known moral order or specific personal features (van Langen-
hove & Harré, 1999). For example street-level bureaucrats are
morally expected to have the power to help people in need.
When this role isn’t fulfilled morally as expected the emphasis
is placed on personal positioning. This is the case when recipi-
ent of social assistance isn’t getting what she thinks she is enti-
tled to. She might start to make the act of refusal intelligible by
accusing personal matters of oneself or one giving the refusal
(street-level bureaucrat). These kinds of personal statements
while positioning street-level bureaucrats can reveal several in-
consistencies in welfare state structure.
Owing to the constructivist nature of positioning theory I
have interpreted positions in a way that Alvesson & Karreman
(2000: p. 1137) calls a long-range/autonomous discourse. The
question of the long-range/autonomous discourse is whether
specific statements from research material can be related to
other, similar statements on the topic of for example victim-
hood. Whether the given statements are true or false is not an
issue. I am interested how the story-line of victimhood can be
constructed by the positioning basic income benefits receivers’
do in their speech and what kind of moral order the story-line
reflect. I am also interested whether similar construction of
story-line can be found in previous studies of Dubois (2010),
Peel (2003), Lamb (1999) and Lipsky (1980). My intention is
not to give any amendments but instead I am following Hack-
ings (1999: p. 20) presentation of unmasking. According to un-
masking (Mannheim, 1925, 1952: p. 140) I am not seeking to
repeal ideas but “to undermine them by exposing the function
they serve” (Hacking, 1999: p. 20).
Positioning Street-Level Bureaucrats
There is a lot of talk about street-level bureaucracies among
interviewees. The interviewees’ frame of reference is mostly
experiential. The injustices’ experienced are shared with re-
searcher. Experience of inadequacy is generating the most of
the talk of street-level bureaucrats. However discipline and un-
predictability of street-level bureaucracy are also raised in in-
terviewees talk. For my study and for this article the talk of
street-level bureaucracy encompasses institutions as The Social
Insurance Institution of Finland, Employment and Economic
Development Office, Courts, Social Services as well as Mu-
nicipal Health Services. The excerpts from the research mate-
rial presented here are anonymised. However the context of the
excerpts has been maintained, i.e. which institution the inter-
viewee is referring to in his/her speech.
Three-Pronged Inadequacy
Removal of unemployment, the level of basic income bene-
fits and the services provided are all considered inadequate by
interviewed recipients. These three aspects brought up discur-
sively construct the inadequate position. To begin with the in-
terviewees think that street-level bureaucrats don’t provide
enough help for getting employment. This is addressed to au-
thorities of Employment and Economic Development Office.
The most disappointing part is the labour market training which
almost every interviewee brought up.
Employment and Economic Development Office internet
pages state that “the objective of labour market training is to
improve the participants’ chances of finding work. Labour mar-
ket training can also be preparatory, including training, provid-
ing guidance towards an occupational field and improving job
search capacities, IT skills and language training for immi-
grants. Labour market training also aims to promote the em-
ployment of the long-term unemployed, ageing and disabled
and to prevent exclusion.” An interviewee reasons his situation
as unemployed:
“What would be the use of it? (Labour market training) I am
aware of my situation. It is not going to change by taking
courses of how to apply jobs. Neither can those clerks help.
They are only passing papers back and forth” (Interview 4).
It is commonly shared view among interviewees that labour
market training is not the cure for their unemployment. The
courses offered are thought not to be valued among employers.
It is hard to motivate oneself to take a course which is consid-
ered useless in terms of getting a paid employment. The matter
in here is not whether the clerk is doing a right thing but that
the welfare support system is constructed in a controlling way.
The second aspect of inadequacy is the level of basic income
benefits which interviewees think is too low for decent living.
Usually the interviewees’ basic income benefits are supple-
mented by general housing allowance and social assistance. In-
terviewees are also critical about the level of these supplement
benefits. General housing allowance has left behind from the
housing costs and owing to that the social assistance often sup-
plements the general housing allowance the social assistance is
insufficient for all the living costs. This is the case for those
who are eligible for social assistance. An interviewee describes
the situation:
“I guess that almost every municipality in Finland has re-
duced granting at least the preventive social assistance. It is
terrible fight for your rights in there (in social services)” (In-
terview 13).
Inadequacy of the level of basic income is associated with
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 49
Municipal Health Services which resources are seen to be too
low. Interviewees view that it is very hard to get treatment from
public health services. Waiting time for seeing a doctor is very
long and the treatments are too short-term as well as inefficient
particularly with the mental health problems. Interviewees have
experiences where doctors favour medical treatments over try-
ing to see patient as a whole.
“I went to the doctors because of continuing fever. They did
run several blood tests but found nothing. They agreed with me
that something was wrong but suggested me to go home and
book another appointment later on if I felt like it. It is as if they
don’t see patient as a whole: they don’t inquire and they don’t
let the patient tell them about their life. It is very clinical pro-
cedure” (Interview 15).
All recipients aren’t ready for that kind of procedure and they
easily become considered difficult customers. Difficult custo-
mers have more difficulties to get served and they become an-
gry and threatening as is the case following.
“When they are cutting down services there are 1500 mental
patients left without treatment in this city. I send an email last
week for the head of social and health services that have you
forgotten what happened in Jokela or Kauhajoki. I asked that
who is taking the responsibility if something happens. The head
promised to find out and get back to me. In the meantime I was
given short continuation in mental therapy” (Interview 13).
In addition to threatening street-level authorities some inter-
viewees threatens themselves. An interviewee reasons his self-
threatening actions
“I had to start talking about suicide. As a single man I am not
getting any help but as I am a single parent they have to think
about what my suicide would do for my children. The resources
for mental health care are so weak that they only gave me one
appointment with the doctor. One appointment” (Interview 8).
It seems like capability of interviewees turns out to be, when
set against low resources of social and health care, aggressive-
ness or illegal matters towards the street-level bureaucracies or
oneself. But if we can get over the angry matters revealed here
we are able to reason the structure of this functioning. Dubois
(2010: p. 166) argues that the recipients violence can be a last
resort for people who are facing difficult social situations as
extreme poverty and isolation. That is the case also when the
recipient is threatening oneself. When raising his voice and
threatening reception agent or directly contacting manager the
recipient hopes for more favorable treatment (Dubois, 2010: p.
167). Lipsky (1980: p. 59) notes that people come to street-le-
vel bureaucracies as individuals with different life histories but
in their encounters with bureaucracies they are treated with and
put in to only a few categories. With these encounters recipients
lose their uniqueness and violence is then a way for self-asser-
tion (also Dubois, 2010: p. 167).
The inadequacy of services provided is the third factor. In-
terviewees see that street-level bureaucrats in many cases
should have told more about matters concerning the service
“I inquired well in advance about what I have to do in terms
of applying the unemployment benefits. I think they should
have told me that the decision is going to take a long time. It
took a month and two weeks to get the decision” (Interview
The experience about long decision times is common among
all interviewees. There are also cases where an interviewee
hasn’t got help at all. These are often complex cases which
require cooperation between ranges of street-level bureaucrats.
“I am continuously trying to think who would be the right
person to help me. You would think that there was someone in
this country. They are only juggling me around. I have never
received any proper help. I think it is because this society has
become so short-sighted” (Interview 13).
Even though complex problems are hard to deal there are
also problems with getting common appointments to social
workers. The need of social assistance is not a cause for being
able to see social worker. Some of the interviewed social assis-
tance recipients think they should automatically be eligible for
social work and others think they just need the money. It seems
that being able to acknowledge these divers needs would help
the people i n need.
“They sent me a letter which stated that clerks in social ser-
vices don’t have discretion. Clerks only routinely go through
applications and makes computer-aided decisions according to
certain standards. You would think that these clerks had enough
wisdom to get in contact with the customer who seems to be in
need for social work. That would be good service” (Interview
Dubois (2010: pp. 139-140) presents similar results in his
study on encounters with the bureaucrat and the poor. Accord-
ing to his research cases where recipient feel that the computer
decides are not uncommon.
Disciplining Procedures
Feeling disciplined is about having to do something unrea-
sonable in order to receive public support. In the former chapter
about inadequacy interviewees thought that the clerks don’t
have enough discretion when it comes to the social work. How-
ever interviewees think that individual authorities in Employ-
ment and Economic Development Office are able to use too
much discretion.
“I just got unemployed again and have to find some part-time
work because an officer didn’t grant subsidized full-time em-
ployment for me. The officer used discretion and decided not to
grant me. There wasn’t an opportunity to complain” (Interview
Part-time work whilst receiving basic income benefits has its
downsides. Working two hours a week for example, whilst be-
ing essentially unemployed removes the possibility of obtaining
a long-term-unemployed status. This means that one is not eli-
gible for the support intended for the long-term-unemployed.
Long-term-unemployment support is mainly implemented by
subsidized full-time employment. The interviewees were criti-
cal of the fact that under the current social security system one
is better off staying at home and doing nothing for 500 days
than going out and finding a part-time job. The interviewees
think that due to these regulations the system promotes apathy.
Those who work part-time in order perhaps to maintain their
work skills are in a way punished by the welfare support system
for trying to be active.
Another disciplining manner mentioned is street-level bu-
reaucrats’ diktats.
“When you are poor or unemployed you don’t really get to
say what kind of help you would need. The street-level bureau-
crats tell you that “look we have done these things like this and
listen we do these things like this and you have to bring this and
that form and so on” (Interview 8).
There are also experiences of officers who aren’t telling all
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
the possible options but instead dictating the interviewees to
apply unsuitable jobs. Interviewees feel that the street-level
bureaucrats blame them for being unemployed and the blame is
even worse if recipients aren’t aware how basic income system
works. Interviewees also feel disciplined owing to the filing of
the benefits application information.
“When I have to go to for example Kela (social insurance in-
stitute of Finland) and no matter what is my reason to go there
they open up my file and for the first half an hour officer reads
through the information although that information has got
nothing to do with my existing matter. It is frustrating and I am
quite sure that these already past matters have effect for the
future decisions” (Interview 13).
When the basic income security system is concerned the in-
terviewees think that the bureaucracy is the worst part of it.
Bureaucracy appears to make life harder when interviewees
either apply for social assistance or have part-time jobs together
with benefits.
“I fill the social assistance application every month. Always
the same amounts of electric bill, rent and so on. I give them a
copy of my lease and other costs monthly. Monthly” (Inter-
view 10).
An interviewee suggests a solution for monthly bureaucratic
“Single-window system would be the best. There wouldn’t
be any begging for your rights. Social assistance is the worst
benefit owing to that you have to present your bank statements
and all. For the labor market subsidy you have to present the
amount of your income and that’s it” (Interview 11).
Monthly repeated bureaucratic control takes the motivation
away from part-time job and encourages the recipients to search
for alternative ways of coping for example illegal earnings and
instant loans (see Mäki, 2011; Autio, Wilska, Kaartinen, &
Lähteenmaa, 2009).
Unpredictable Advice
Interviewees feel that the basic income security system is
unpredictable for several reasons. The interviewees receiving
social assistance don’t know how much they can earn without a
reduction in or loss of their benefits. Interviewees said to me
that they haven’t received a proper answer for their question
about the eligible amount of own earnings whilst living on so-
cial assistance. This also exists with basic unemployment bene-
fits and housing allowance. Opacity gets worse with recipients
receiving these three benefits simultaneously. Irregularities in
the system such as delays, mistakes in calculations and lost
documents also cause unpredictability.
“I once received social assistance and it stated in the decision
letter that they have granted me 25 euro for other costs. Rather
negligible amount. A friend of mine had once received money
for his hobby so we thought that these other costs meant that.
Well it became clear that there had been a mistake in calcula-
tion and social services claimed the money back” (Interview
In addition to the system street-level officers are also a cause
for unpredictability. Interviewees have experiences where an
officer hasn’t been aware of what documents should be in-
cluded in applying certain benefits. That is the case especially
with complex issues where recipient is receiving multiple bene-
fits. Recipients have also been asked to submit unnecessary
documents and some necessary documents are lost by officers.
“I received a letter from Social Insurance Institute of Finland
saying that treatment of my benefits is almost completed. I
started to wonder what it meant and I called to the office and
asked about it. The officer couldn’t answer me which benefit
the completion letter meant. She promised to find out. Still at
this day I don’t know what benefit that letter was about” (In-
terview 13).
Dubois (2010: p. 140) also pays attention to administrative
letters which according to his research are occasionally income-
prehensible even for those who have a good grasp of adminis-
trative language for example reception agents. This kind of
letters is often sent automatically and doesn’t require any action
from the recipient. But like Dubois (2010: p. 140) puts it “these
letters often cause recipients to worry” and they either come or
phone to the office. These experiences “foster an Orwellian
vision of an inhuman institution to which men—including the
benefit office agents have to submit” (Dubois, 2010: p. 140).
Victims of the Welfare State?
Welfare bureaucracy in general is the core of my analysis
and how it appears in the lives of clients in relation to street-
level bureaucracy. Position construction of inadequacy, discipl-
ine and unpredictability all derive from interviewees having a
close and sustained relationship with street-level bureaucrats.
The greater the involvement of the recipient with the street-
level officer, the more sustained and critical are the implica-
tions of the interactions (Lipsky, 1980: p. 66). Interviewed peo-
ple living with scarce economic resources have to depend on
several agencies and they are often bounced from one agency to
another. Feelings of dependency, powerlessness, and, deriving
from these, anger are everyday life for the interviewees.
Positions of inadequacy, discipline and unpredictability ap-
point the responsibility of current situation from the recipient to
the street-level bureaucrats. Interviewees are reciting these self-
victimizing positions when the bureaucracy is concerned but
are at the same time positioning themselves as active job seek-
ers and modest consumers. I interpret this difference in posi-
tioning deriving from unfolding story-line of victimhood. Posi-
tioning one and the others this way one is able to distance one-
self from the system, denouncing it and prove self-affirming
(see Dubois, 2010: p. 143). Bureaucracy: the use of discretion
of the street-level bureaucrats, local and/or legal enforcement
i.e. practices of individual welfare departments as well as the
statute of welfare support system influence the clients and how
they experience the welfare state. Interviewees are in their
speech able to differentiate the bureaucracy into these three
aspects but the consequences in action are only seen in the
It seems that the interviewees are obliged to prove their
worth for benefits by choosing between two sides in their
speech. It has been argued (Cole, 2007; Lamb, 1999; Minow,
1993) that being a victim forfeits the agency. Minow (1993,
1411) describes that “the victim is helpless, decimated, pathetic,
weak, and ignorant. Departing from this script may mean losing
whatever entitlements and compassion victim status may af-
ford.” She interestingly continues that “fear of losing those
benefits may explain why support groups for victims seldom
involve challenges to the victim identity itself.” Acknowledging
the victim status for oneself is to give up the autonomy for
those in control. On the contrary for being a victim and show-
ing some agency is to complicate their status, thus they are not
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 51
real victims and eligible for the benefits. People can be either a
victim or an active subject, but not both. (Ronai, 1999: p. 149.)
It might seem according to the positioning introduced in this
article that the interviewees are victims yielding the power to
the street-level bureaucrats. That is not the whole story since at
the same time interviewees are positioning themselves as capa-
ble survivors resisting the existing order (Mäki, 2012). By be-
ing capable, which is to say frugal and inventive, interviewees
show their worth as active not passive members of a society
who deserves to be helped. Although seeking capable lifestyle
basic income receivers face authorities who control and require
obedience in terms of bureaucracy. It seems that the victimhood
is imperative part of the basic income recipients’ life when it
comes to authorities and claiming benefits. This r aise a question
whether people living on a basic income are accused being
passive while the welfare support system is actually forcing to
The problematic part is that no matter how they talk and how
they want to appear to the public interviewed people are strug-
gling with powers beyond their control. Like Lamb (1999: p.
126) puts it “we might wish for a culture in which all aspects of
victimization—the strength as well as the vulnerability—would
be acceptable”. For the basic income system this would mean
that benefits receivers should not be made to earn their funda-
mental rights like they seem to currently be doing. In practice
this could mean for example that recipient of basic income
benefits could enter a part time job for general amount of time
without losing the benefits. If we keep hanging on these two-
fold either victim or agent solutions in the statute of welfare
support we keep losing resources and decrease well-being of
many individuals. In the eyes of basic income recipients the bu-
reaucracy is a barrier they are continuously trying to climb over.
What would be beyond bureaucracy is a question hard to an-
swer. Maybe equal rights to all humans or complete chaos.
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