Irrational rationalities and governmentality-effected neglect in immigration practice: Legal migrants’ entitlements to services and benefits in the United Kingdom
(2020) British Journal of Sociology, 71 (1), pp. 96-111.
Governments’ attempts to manage immigration increasingly restrict immigrants’ eligibility to healthcare, education, and welfare benefits. This article examines the operation of these restrictions in the United Kingdom. It draws on qualitative research with civil servants and NGO expert advisors, and applies sociological theories on bureaucracy as a lens to interpret these data. Conceptually, the paper employs a generative synthesis of Ritzer’s notion of “irrational rationality” and Foucault’s perspective on “governmentality” to explain observed outcomes. Findings show that public service workers struggle with complex and opaque regulations, which grant different entitlements to different categories of migrants. The confusion results in mistakes, arbitrary decisions, and hypercorrection, but also a system-wide indifference to irrational outcomes, supported by human factors in contexts of austerity. I consider this a form of governmentality-effected neglect, where power operates as much through inaction as well as through intention, but which results in exclusions of legal migrants that are harsher in practice than in law. © 2019 London School of Economics and Political Science
bureaucracy; governmentality; immigration; rationality; rights; welfare