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Democratization of the individual availability of “leisure” through the introduction of an Unconditional Basic Income in times of ac-celerating societal change (with reference to the perspective of social policy research and social work)

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Paper presented at the Basic Income Korea Network (BIKN) Workshop “Social Policy and Basic Income: Cases of Germany and Korea”, Friday, 5th October, 2018, Seoul NPO Center
Democratization of the individual availability
of “leisure” through the introduction of an
Unconditional Basic Income in times of ac-
celerating societal change (with reference to
the perspective of social policy research and
social work).
Presented at the Basic Income Korea Network (BIKN) Workshop “Social Policy
and Basic Income: Cases of Germany and Korea”, Friday, 5th October, 2018,
Seoul NPO Center.
Dr. Manuel Franzmann, Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel
Democratization of the individual availability of “leisure” through
the introduction of an UBI in times of accelerating societal change
(with reference to the perspective of social policy research and
social work).
In recent years, the idea of an unconditional basic income seems to have
had its breakthrough in worldwide debates about our future. Numerous basic
income experiments have been launched in a wide range of countries, re-
gions and cities. There is a broad stream of highly diverse arguments in favor
for this idea. However, there is one thing, that supporters of an UBI seem to
appreciate especially: the autonomy not to be forced to work for living. And
I, too, think that the gain in autonomy is the heart of the matter. It also seems
to be the neuralgic point, which causes defensive reactions against it among
many fellow citizens.
In my short presentation, I will put forward some theses to characterize more
positively what it means not to be forced to work for living. I will do this as a
German and from the perspective of social policy research and social work.
I will start with an historical interpretation of the UBI within the context of the
development of the welfare state. Summed up in a simple formula, an UBI, to
my view, would represent the universalization of a largely unrestricted availa-
bility of “leisure”, especially for working-age adults. However, of “leisure” in a
very specific sense, which has to be clarified now. I do not refer to “leisure” in
the sense of the usual dichotomy “work versus leisure”. Most of the “leisure
time” that remains after work in the evening, at weekends and in the holiday
season is characterized by aspects of heteronomy and of alienation just like
paid work itself, because this “leisure time” is functionally linked to the sphere
of work and produces a recreation of the workforce.
What I am talking about instead is free time, which emerges after we have
completely recovered and would start to feel bored if we don’t look for
something interesting or worthwhile. “Leisure” in this particular sense is almost
the quintessence of autonomy, its most radical form. It represents the specific
psychological state as well as the practice of doing something freely without
any pressures and imperatives. The privileged ancient Greeks called this
“scholé”, the Roman aristocrats “otium” and in my German mother tongue
there is the word “Muße” (In Korean??: yeoga or lejeo ??). An early modern
example of such a leisure culture were the wealthy British gentlemen, who
had no need to work for their living, but could live to work freely in dedicating
their life-time to self-determined worthwhile activities.
The individual availability of “leisure” in this radical sense is a privilege, be-
cause it presupposes specific conditions. You need to have, on a long-term
basis, guaranteed means to live, and it must also be culturally legitimate. The
unemployed of today, for example, usually suffer psychological stress, even if
they get the monthly living expenses reliably paid by the state and have
plenty of time, because being unemployed is culturally constructed as a neg-
ative deviation from the norm. It’s a stigma. As such, this form of existence is a
mental strain, which prevents feeling free and “leisurely”.
Historically, “leisure” in the radical sense, in which I am using this expression
here, was foremost a privilege of the aristocracy and later of the wealthy
bourgeoisie. It still is. However, with the enormous capitalist production of
wealth, the society in general over a long period in modern industrial history
also gained at least some scope for “leisure”. Strangely enough, this develop-
ment ended in most of the industrialized modern democracies in the 1970s
and 80s. Since the 1990s the scope for “leisure” in society often decreased
again, although the overall wealth had further increased! It is obvious that this
has to do with our societies’ deep normative attachment to the obligation to
take part in paid work. Since the 1980s, it pushed many modern societies into
a defensive position towards the effects of accelerating technological pro-
gress on employment and resulted in an advancing precarisation of jobs and
of everyday lives among normal people. This precarisation was fostered by
the so called “activating welfare state”, which subsidized human work
against machines on a large scale and institutionalized a culture of mistrust to-
wards the unemployed. The whole course of development was destructive to
the accessibility of “leisure” within social structure.
The modern, “neoliberal” decline of “leisure” resources in many countries hits
normal people at the time of a dramatically accelerating structural transfor-
mation of our societies, driven by globalization, digitalization, migration and
climate change. It might be true what opponents of an UBI steadily put for-
ward against employment projections, which assume a dramatical loss of jobs
in the coming decades, when they say optimistically that these lost jobs will
be compensated by new ones. However, for sure, these new jobs will be very
different from the old ones and they will require even more sophisticated
qualifications. How should all affected people manage to follow these fast
transformations with their qualifications and identities under current condi-
tions? The speed of transformation has reached a level, where the normal
succession of generations doesn’t suffice anymore as a mechanism of cul-
tural adaption. However, the same holds true for so-called “lifelong-learning”
in the usual sense, because what we are talking about are groundbreaking
biographical transformations, which can’t be mastered alone through a rou-
tine like practice of continuing training courses and the like. What we will
need, is a societal situation, where everybody has the means to deal with fun-
damental biographical and societal transformations all over the lifespan, i.e.
a social system, which allows every citizen to reconstruct and adapt her or his
identity and life-conduct from time to time in an autonomous way. And the
only consistent solution not to become alienated from the fast-changing
world, to my view, would be a society with an UBI, because it provides every
member of society with the necessary “leisure”-resources to explore the
changing world open-minded, with curiosity, without pressure and fear, to
some extent like an adolescent again.
Let us now look on the basic theory behind this whole argumentation, a the-
ory, which has been strongly influenced by the German sociologist Ulrich
Oevermann. It begins with the proposition that the formation and education
process of the Individual is principally centered around crises, not routine
practice. Without a crisis, you don’t experience something new. “Crisis” should
here be understood as a situation, where former routines of perceiving and
acting become uncertain and questionable. A crisis can be negative or posi-
tive in nature. And there are three types of crises, which differ in the scope of
autonomy that the critical situation leaves for the human actor. The first type
leaves no time for action. Here, a crisis overwhelms a human as in the case of
an accident. Only afterwards we can reconstruct and understand, which
premises (of perceiving and acting) ended in failure and why. The second
type already leaves some time for reflection and action, because it appears
as a finite time-slot, in which a decision has be made into an uncertain future.
The third type is the most important one for us. Here, a crisis occurs through
“leisure” in the sense outlined above. If you deal with a matter based on “lei-
sure”, i.e. freely, without practical pressures, you will pay attention to detail,
and you will very likely discover some aspects, which are new for you and
contradict your former schemes of perceiving and acting. With “leisure” you
have time to reflect on these discovered things and build on them. There is no
more intense educational and formative process for the Individual than crises,
which are based on “leisure”, i.e. autonomy.
Now this is the point in time, where we arrive at a theory of the emergence
and development of autonomy. Controversies about UBI often suffer from the
fact that there are questionable assumptions about this process involved,
which remain implicit and undisputed. That’s why I rely on such a theory ex-
plicitly. One basic proposition of it goes as follows. Autonomy grows through
its performative practice and according to its challenges. An UBI, which
means not to be forced to work for living and to have “leisure” at your dis-
posal, would imply the highest level of structural autonomy in life-conduct.
And this enormous scope for action would, according to this theory, generate
a corresponding substantial autonomy among its recipients too. Of course,
this is a way to put it very simple and there is a need for many differentiations.
However, it can be proven in many ways. And it has already a prominent and
long history.
For example, it is at the heart of the bible’s expulsion of Adam and Eve from
paradise! The decisive moment within this illustrative myth about the origins
and nature of humankind is, where Adam and Eve decide to eat the fruits of
the tree of knowledge. Through this autonomous act, they set in motion a pro-
cess of experience by which they gain knowledge what it means to decide
for this option. Thereby, they acquire a substantial autonomization in the end.
And what is important here, is that they did not decide to eat the fruits forced
by hunger. They decided completely freely, only out of curiosity in a situation,
where the creator god and the snake both have made opaque and contra-
dictory statements about the consequences of eating the fruits from the tree
of knowledge. Therefore, Adam and Eve wanted to see for themselves what’s
true, without any practical pressure, with “time and leisure” and a thirst for
knowledge. And that is, to my view, the core of holistic educational pro-
cesses, the core of the formation as an autonomous subject.
Let me conclude with some theses on the question what this means for the
target group of social work. Think of fellow humans, who are drowning in so-
cial problems and are trapped in them, also because their “poor” subjectivity,
i.e. their lack of fruitful experiences and educational processes, is part of the
problem. In such a situation of cumulative existential pressure and despair,
which absorbs psychological energies, there is no room left for fruitful subjec-
tive transformations based on free curiosity and “leisure”. And I think, that’s
the main problem! Here, UBI comes into play, which calms the threatening sit-
uation and creates space for reflection, experiential processes and biograph-
ical reconstruction based on intrinsic, autonomous motivation. This last point is
also decisive for social workers, because the most powerful ally for a social
worker, who wants to help someone out of misery through an arduous subjec-
tive transformation is the autonomous, intrinsic motivation of this person in
need. Unfortunately, modern incentivism, which dominates the activating
welfare states of our time, is very naive in this respect. It notoriously overesti-
mates the power of extrinsic motivation techniques and underestimates the
reality of structural autonomy, which is ruled by intrinsic motivation and con-
crete answers to questions of the meaning of one’s individual life.

Supplementary resource (1)

December 2018
Manuel Franzmann
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