Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 January 2022
In public debates on unemployment and social protection, the unemployed and beneficiaries of social security schemes have often been considered as passive clients who need to be activated by others. It has been assumed that their lack of resources, and especially labour power, turns them into passive victims and objects rather than active actors and subjects (Offe, 1973; van Berkel, 1997; Williams, 1998; Williams et al, 1999). However, over the last two decades we find a number of empirical cases of social mobilisation of and by social security claimants in several western European countries (Halvorsen, 2001). This is a relatively new welfare-policy condition that requires greater understanding. It appears that our conception of the prospects for self-help activities and initiatives from and among social security claimants and the welfare-policy relevance of these initiatives have to this point been underdeveloped.
By analysing the emergence of social-movement organisations initiated by social security claimants in Norway during the 1990s, we ask whether it is possible that social-movement organisations established by and composed of social security claimants may have been successful and have had an impact on public-welfare policy, even if many of them have been short-lived and unstable.
Demands of new actors and policy measures in western European welfare regimes
The ongoing welfare policy reforms in many western European countries are focused not only on the choice of the most efficient welfare-policy measures and management problems. They also focus to a considerable extent on changing relations between the citizen and the state and on questions of participatory or deliberative democracy. Arguably many of the challenges that western European welfare states face today involve citizens not seeing themselves simply as passive costumers but as willing to take an active part in the deliberation and implementation of public-welfare policy, and more generally act as co-responsible for the development and governance of society. It has been assumed that the information and knowledge society requires its citizens to be in a position to keep updated and respond adequately to new and changing problem conditions, with the requisite condition that they are informed, make competent choices and contribute as best they can to the lives of their communities.