Linguistic Diversity as a Challenge for Street-Level Bureaucrats in a Monolingually-Oriented Organisation

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

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Linguistic Diversity as a Challenge for Street-Level Bureaucrats in a Monolingually-Oriented Organisation


  • Elisabeth Scheibelhofer Department of Sociology, University of Vienna, Austria
  • Clara Holzinger Department of Sociology, University of Vienna, Austria
  • Anna-Katharina Draxl Department of Sociology, University of Vienna, Austria


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Abstract:  Migration-induced diversity has led to the global emergence of multilingual life worlds in which language regimes are particularly intertwined with labour markets. Thus, state institutions such as national unemployment services must fulfil a special role in society. In a qualitative research project (2019–2021), we interviewed employees at the Austrian Public Employment Service (AMS) at multiple organisational levels. The results demonstrate diverging and (apparently) contradicting approaches and strategies throughout the organisation concerning the appropriateness of using German exclusively during interactions with clients. This is illustrated along a continuum, ranging from a reflective, critical approach towards linguistic diversity that is at least partly based on ideas promoting the value of multilingualism to frequently encountered notions of the need for monolingualism. Such a framework must be understood by considering the coexistence of diverging ideas and ideologies surrounding multilingualism, as well as a neoliberal working context characterised by new public management and activation policy.

Keywords:  communication; labour-market integration; language regimes; language-based discrimination; linguistic diversity; migration; social security; street-level bureaucracy; public employment service

Published:   14 January 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v9i1.3520


© Elisabeth Scheibelhofer, Clara Holzinger, Anna-Katharina Draxl. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.