Justice Principles and Judgment Practices in Allotting. Emergency State Financial Aid in France
Set up in 1998 in response to a highly popular protest movement of “ the unemployed and underprivileged ”, the Social emergency fund (Fonds d’Urgence Sociale : FUS) had 1 billion francs to distribute. Allotment of fund money was determined by decentralized state services. In accordance with government instructions, the procedure adopted in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis involved a kind of administrative casuistry : each request for aid was handled by an allotment commission that decided who was to receive what amount of aid on the basis of figures representing applicant’s budget realities and arguments written by applicants themselves in their own favor. Commission decisions about applicant eligibility and sum to be allotted may thus be considered a kind of tragic choice in which agents evaluated arguments aimed at demonstrating applicants’ necessity and suffering. On the basis of interviews with involved actors and a sample of three hundred applications, this article analyses the alleged principles of justice and the actual judgment practices underlying the commission’s deliberations and decisions. Eligibility was mainly decided by calculating a “ remainder to live on ” after expenses and with reference to a threshold value, but there were also many exceptions to this rule. While sum allotted was fixed according to a very rough scale, it could also be determined with the intention of sending the aid recipient a “ message ”. Analysis of the functioning of this welfare program suggests that contemporary politics of pity are structured, on the one hand, by recognition of merit and sympathy for distress, on the other, by the weight of contingency and arbitrariness.