Abstract: 32nd International Labour Process Conference, London UK, April 7-9, 2014

Myriam Gaitsch, Barbara Glinsner, Johanna Hofbauer, Otto Penz & Birgit Sauer


Once seen as an emotionless, rational and male-dominated sector, the public service sector underwent crucial changes within the last 30 years. Based on empirical research of the work requirements and related professional environments of public employment agents, the paper examines the processes of state transformation towards entrepreneurial governance and enabling states, and focuses on the emergence of new “activate” labour market policies in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The adopted praxeological approach (Bourdieu 2003) plans to reconstruct the changes of the political field trough the investigation of the relationship between state institutions and citizens at the micro-level of public service agencies, i.e. by studying the interaction between agents and their clients.

We conceive affective labour (Gutierrez Rodriguez 2011) as the centrepiece of contemporary service work and a contested area of New Public Management. The paper is based on the assumption that the affective work regime in employment services has changed towards marketization of affects and entrepreneurial self-management of employment agents. That is, we apply the concept of subjectivation of work (Pongratz/Voß 2003) as a new form of labour control to public services and affective labour, albeit arguing for a more encompassing Foucauldian understanding of subjectivation processes where the subjectivity of the “whole person” is at stake (in the interplay of external and self regulation). In order to grasp “affective labour” we carry out qualitative video-based research of the interaction between employment agents and clients. Ethnographic observation of the actual work process, document analysis of regulations of conduct and biographical accounts of long-term employment agents on institutional changes will support our video research.

Hence, the paper draws preliminary conclusions regarding the emergence of new forms of immaterial and affective labour that characterize contemporary front-line workplaces of the public service sector (against the background of rising unemployment and changing labour market policies in the global North). The paper aims to contribute to a fuller understanding of state transformation, the “governmentalisation of the state” and contemporary governmentality that also encompasses affective labour.


Bourdieu, Pierre (2003). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Gutierrez Rodriguez, Encarnacion (2011). Politics of Affects. Transversal Convivality. In: eipcp - European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies. Dossier: Inventions,


Pongratz, Hans J. /Voß, Günter (2003). From employment to “entreployee”. Towards “self-entrepreneurial” work force? In: Concepts and Transformation, 3, 239-254.