The Heretical Political Discourse: a Discourse Analysis of the Danish Debate on Basic Income, by Erik Christensen

Aalborg University Press, 2008, 164 pp, pbk, 87 7307 936 2, £28

This collection of mainly previously published articles and book chapters contains a single simple message: in Denmark there has been a battle between a social and political discourse about workfare and a social and political discourse about Citizen’s Income, and the former has won the battle.

It really doesn’t matter that there is a certain amount of repetition between the different chapters (- there always is in such collections): what the different chapters together achieve is a variety of viewpoints from which the Citizen’s Income and workfare discourses can be explored and from which the relationships and conflicts between them can be understood.

Particularly interesting from a UK perspective is the occasional widespread nature of the Citizen’s Income debate in Denmark. Whilst we have experienced here considerable understanding of a Citizen’s Income’s feasibility and desirability amongst academics, policy analysts and some parliamentarians and civil servants, the kind of public political debate which Denmark has experienced has eluded us. The Republic of Ireland comes closer to Denmark in this respect, which suggests that size of population might have something to do with it.

As well as the debate in Denmark being widespread socially and politically, it has also been widespread in terms of its relationships with ideologies and ideas. Christensen’s chapters on the battles between the Citizen’s Income and workfare discourses in the labour movement and the women’s movement are particularly interesting.

So how can a social and political Citizen’s Income discourse cease to be ‘heretical’ and become mainstream political and social debate? The author suggests that advocates should position themselves between exclusion and inclusion, thus avoiding the marginalisation which advocates experience if they treat a Citizen’s Income as an alternative to the current socio-economic system and the marginalisation experienced when a Citizen’s Income is treated simply as a minor administrative reform. He recommends Mathieson’s notion of ‘the unfinished’, i.e. relating to the current situation and attempting to move it on to something very different. Here the workfare discourse is currently firmly in charge, and only a careful ‘unfinished’ strategy will give the Citizen’s Income discourse any leverage at all. Such a strategy is possible because a Citizen’s Income relates both to practical problems with the present system and to substantial reforms of the current system, so avoiding both inclusion and exclusion is possible in principle.

The UK isn’t Denmark, but many of the issues are the same, and particularly the dominance of the workfare discourse. This book contains some valuable lessons and it should be essential reading for anyone interested in promoting debate on a Citizen’s Income.