visibility 1 – the state

Pop quiz. Who can draw the logo of their city, province/state/canton etc, or country off the top of their heads? Your answer will depend in large part on where you are and how visible governments make themselves in your everyday life.

In Denmark no matter who you are you’d be hard pressed to go through a day without some interaction with the state, even if it’s just seeing your Kommunes (city government’s) logo on a couple of buildings. Esping-Andersen argued that the visibility and active nature of governments tied Danes together with middle class residents as invested in the welfare state as working class or poor residents.

On the other hand Suzanne Mettler refers to the US situation as that of a submerged state, particularly with reference to the reliance on providing benefits and services through tax expenditures and various private organizations. She makes the argument that the invisibility of the state in many people’s lives weakens American democracy, because it weakens people’s connection and commitment to the welfare state.

As I plug along with dissertation research I’m starting see that commitment to the welfare state and membership strategies are defined as much by variety in visibility as by average levels.

For example, in Canada, the visibility of the state in ones life is dependent on both where you are, and who you are. In Winnipeg the province is everywhere, reminding you to get a flu shot or take some exercise, and letting you know that it’s supporting the construction of new hospitals, apartment buildings and food coops. While in Toronto all eyes are on the mayor’s recent proposals to slash services. But many of these services were, until recently, provincial responsibilities downloaded to cities in a larger retreat of the state in the late 90s and early 00s. Additionally, where programs remain they are increasingly segmented, moving away from a comprehensive focus on social and political centeration, and towards limited projects built around state-defined notions of difference.

In many ways multiple states are emerging in Canada, and each resident is left to their own devises, competing to be governed by the most generous. This has the potential to create, simultaneously clientelism, and competition between groups of residents. Tensions, for example, between New Canadian and Urban Aboriginal residents in Winnipeg are at least partially fueled by the ways in which these communities increasingly interact with segregated states, distinctly different in their levels of paternalism, support and visibility.

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visibility 1 – the state

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