Sorting People In and Out: The Plasticity of the Categories of Employability, Work Capacity and Disability as Technologies of Government

Christina Garsten, Kerstin Jacobsson

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    The ‘employable individual’ is today a powerful normative category, saturated with assumptions about what it takes to be attractive in the labour market. What happens to people who cannot meet those expectations? For some, the way to employability and employment goes through a process of detecting and coding of disability at the Public Employment Service (PES). Based on interviews with staff at a rehabilitation unit in the Swedish Public Employment Service, the article analyses processes of evaluating work capacity for marginally employable people as part of the Employability Rehabilitation Programme. By studying the classification procedures, the article analyses how administrative categories work as ‘technologies of government’ that ‘make legible’ desirable traits in the individual. The analysis shows that employability is mediated, or enabled, by classificatory procedures that spring out of a template for what is considered acceptable and desirable individual characteristics, hence reinforcing standards of normalcy. Moreover, the categories through which the individual moves are plastic and pliable in relation to political predicates and labour market fluctuations. In this process, to be non-employable becomes a disability and conversely, to be disabled can make one employable.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEphemera: Theory & politics in organization
    Issue number4
    Pages (from-to)825-850
    Publication statusPublished - 2013

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