• Line Britt Madsen
4. term, Social Work, Master (Master Programme)
This thesis concerns the issue of welfare fraud and the inspection measures by which society seeks to identify and limit this. The thesis applies a social constructivist perspective, which causes the welfare fraud to be considered as inconstant and unstable of nature and also as being continuous and changeable through social construction processes at various levels of society. Hereby this study breaks with traditional comprehension of welfare fraud as an objective and unambiguous existing phenomenon, which is immediately observed. Instead welfare fraud is considered a product of social processes where the examination hereof relocates focus from the citizens, being regarded as the problem, to the processes, from which the citizens are defined as such.

Applying the case study as research design, this thesis elaborate how the citizen is constructed on micro level as a welfare fraudster by a municipal control group. It is being examined how the institutional characteristics of the inspection measures creates a special framework for the social construction of the citizen as a welfare fraudster and also how certain investigation techniques is applied to fit citizens into the categories of the control group. Finally, it is examined how the decision-making of the control group emphasize the definition and sanction of the citizen as a welfare fraudster. Hereby it is strived to clarify each part of the investigation, categorization and decision-making processes, which comprise a more overall construction process.

For the exposition of the research objectives, empirical data in terms of ethnographic fieldwork derived from a municipal control group in a greater Danish municipality, is applied. During the fieldwork, documents are gathered and finally an interview is conducted with two out of three members of the control group.
Subsequently, the empirical data is interpreted based on Howard Becker’s theory of labelling and Erving Coffman’s theory of social interaction.

From the analyses it is concluded that the inspection measures as an institution are characterized by ambiguous frameworks, informal result management and a significant economical cost saving rationale, which holds incentive to define citizens as welfare fraudsters. These institutional characteristics lead to a boundary pushing and result-oriented conduct tendency among the control group employees and a selective prioritization of cases for profit.
Furthermore, it is concluded that investigation techniques such as “observations” and “citizen interviews” contribute to adapt the citizen into the control group’s administrative categories by challenging the participation of the citizen in the interaction with the control group. The observation practice of the control group includes indirect incentives to throw suspicion on the observed citizen, whereas being observed comprise an autonomous risk for being categorized as a “welfare fraudster”. The framework of the citizen interview is inconclusive and impression management under the interview is applied to get the citizen to “open up” rather than to “keep quiet”. Thus, techniques actively challenge the citizen’s participation and the categorization process will therefore rely on the control group’s definition of the situation.
Finally, it is concluded that the framework of the control group’s decision-making is inconclusive and confusing, contributing to the definition and sanctioning of the citizen as a welfare fraudster. Furthermore, the control group’s observations are presented as objective representations of reality, risking marginalization of the citizen’s participation, since the citizen experiences to be observed “backstage” without any knowledge of this.
Publication date28 Aug 2013
Publishing institutionAalborg Universitet
ID: 80442833