2019 Honours Research

Empowering the ‘Unemployed’: Representations of Unemployment in Australian Work Integration Social Enterprises (WISEs)

Summary

Research Puzzle

 

In Australia, social enterprises have been gaining traction as a response to difficult social problems. For instance, work integration social enterprises (WISEs), or employment-focused social enterprises, are organisations that engage in business to create jobs, or training opportunities, for people who are ‘disadvantaged’ in the labour market. Because they allow individuals to work, rather than be the passive recipients of welfare payments or charity ‘hand-outs’, WISEs supposedly empower job-seekers.

 

Despite increasing enthusiasm for social enterprise, there is still little evidence to back up the claim that social enterprises are based on a principle of empowerment. This study examines this claim by looking at the extent to which it is reflected in the use of language of the annual reports of six Australian WISEs. Language is powerful — it both reflects and reinforces the structure of the social world around us.

Research Strategy

This study utilises critical discourse analysis as its methodological framework. It looks at how annual reports use language to create representations of people experiencing unemployment, and interprets the sociopolitical implications of these representations.

The analysis is framed by three research sub-questions:

  1. What are the representations of unemployment constructed in WISE annual reports?

  2. How have these representations been shaped by the different aims and interests of WISEs?

  3. How might these representations affect how we theorise WISEs as a response to unemployment?

Research Findings