In times of increasing pressures due to an economic downturn, increased tax evasion, bail-outs for banks, state obligations to refugees or subsidies for the public pension system, politicians often turn their attention to the welfare system and start debating where possible cuts could be made or it could be organized more efficiently. Workfare has emerged as one concept that is often proposed in those debates. Roughly speaking, workfare is thought to have two advantages compared to traditional welfare: it decreases public spending by bringing more people into work that would otherwise depend on benefits and thus also fosters self-responsibility and self-reliance on the side of the recipients and helps them to become independent from the state. Workfare seems to combine both the value of autonomy (on the side of the recipients) and of solidarity (on the side of the state and the taxpayers) and to rest on the widely-shared assumption that people should take care of themselves if possible and that they should contribute to the common good. Besides such laudation of workfare there is also substantial criticism, for example that it forces people into bad, low-paid and exploitive work and that it disadvantages certain groups, who are more vulnerable to economic inequalities. Also the justification of workfare, for example within theories of justice or theories of democratic legitimacy, is in question.

This workshop aims to take stock of the political philosophical and theoretical debate on workfare, to critically explore the normative underpinning of workfare and those of concrete workfare policies. Workfare will be discussed from various perspectives such as marxism, liberalism or communitarism and in connection to related issues such as the value of work and labor, justice within the welfare system, the wrongs of poverty and exploitation, or the place of the market in the distribution of benefits and burdens.

The workshop invites papers from scholars of all levels, from PhD students to full professors. Papers addressing the following broad topics are especially welcome:

  • Justification and criticism of workfare
  • The distinction between workfare and welfare
  • Workfare under non-ideal circumstances
  • Workfare and democratic legitimation
  • Workfare and the values of work
  • Workfare and populism
  • Workfare and other forms of forced labor
  • Workfare and the regulation of the underclass

If you wish to present a paper, please send an abstract of 500 words ready for blind-review to until May 15, 2016. Decisions will be communicated within two weeks after that deadline.

Please be aware that every participant needs to register for the MANCEPT workshops.

Convener: Gottfried Schweiger, Centre for Ethics and Poverty Research, University of Salzburg,