The article investigates how ordinary citizens establish the worth of unemployed persons when discussing politics. It analyses data from two deliberative forums held in Copenhagen, Denmark and Birmingham, UK at which citizens discussed welfare policies. It uses core concepts from French pragmatic sociology in an attempt to grasp the moral complexity of such discussions. Contrary to the moral singularity found in the majority of existing analyses—distinguishing ‘negative’ from ‘positive’ perceptions of the unemployed—the article emphasises the plurality of coexisting normative standards that people turn to when establishing the (lack of) worth of the unemployed. It finds that three normative standards are most important in both countries but being applied in quite different ways: an industrial standard of worth, measuring worth in terms of competences; a domestic standard of worth, measuring worth in terms of behaviour; and a market standard of worth, measuring worth in terms of money.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)124-150
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Pragmatic sociology
  • deliberative forums
  • deservingness
  • unemployment policies
  • welfare regimes
  • workfare


Dive into the research topics of 'Money, competences or behaviour? On the many worths of the unemployed'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this