The State, Legal Rigor, and the Poor

The Daily Practice of Welfare Control

in Social Analysis

This article focuses on the means by which the state controls welfare recipients in France. The paradox of these actions, which are made in the name of legal rigor but are characterized by ambivalence and the discretionary power of grassroots agents, reveals the broader functioning of a government over the poor. These actions are based on the combination of a multitude of individual relationships, which, although unevenly coordinated, derive from the structural rationale of the post-welfare era. Individualization and uncertainty signal not so much a disaggregation of the state as a consistent mode of governance in which discretion and leeway accorded to street-level bureaucrats are necessary for the state to exert power over citizens' behaviors.