Geographies of faith, welfare and substance abuse: From neoliberalism to postsecular ethics
Date: 2 April 2012
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
PhD in Geography
The increasing prominence of faith-based organisations (FBOs) in providing welfare in the UK has typically been regarded as a by-product of neoliberalism, as the gaps left by shrinking public service provision and the contracting out of service delivery have been filled by these and other Third Sector organisations. In this way, FBOs ...
The increasing prominence of faith-based organisations (FBOs) in providing welfare in the UK has typically been regarded as a by-product of neoliberalism, as the gaps left by shrinking public service provision and the contracting out of service delivery have been filled by these and other Third Sector organisations. In this way, FBOs have been represented as merely being co-opted as inexpensive resource providers into the wider governmentalities of neoliberal politics – a process that allows a particular secularised form of religion in the public realm. In contrast FBOs working outside the financial and regulatory frameworks of government are understood to resist co-option and maintain the integrity a faith-motivated approach - an approach commonly assumed to be ideologically coercive and tainted by proselytising self-interest. This thesis challenges these conventional accounts of FBOs and the bifurcation of third sector welfare providers into “insiders” and “outsiders”. Drawing upon in-depth ethnographic research with FBOs providing drug rehabilitation services in the UK – and with the clients of these services – this thesis illustrates how neoliberalism can be co-constituted through the involvement of FBOs, which can offer various pathways of resistance in and through the pursuit of alternative philosophies of care and political activism. I critically question the difference faith makes in the processes of care and welfare in FBOs, critiquing the varied ethics of care derived in part from theological belief, and emphasise the relationships of care embodied and performed within organisational spaces as to complicate oversimplified stories of neoliberal co-option, proselytisation and social control. Equally, I argue that some accounts of secularisation of FBOs overlook a broader rapprochement between secular and faith-based ethical motivations, which can solicit new political and ethical spaces that run counter to, and sometimes actively resist, neoliberal (and religious) governmentalities. By drawing attention to the ethical agency of staff and clients in these spaces of care and regulation, this thesis paves the way for a more nuanced understanding of the geographies of faith, welfare and neoliberalism.
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