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Making un/equal: reassessing inequality and mental health through a praxeographic approach on welfare categorization processes.

PURPOSE: In recent decades, Europe has seen a steady increase in psychiatric diagnoses, which, besides affecting the population in many ways, also challenges the organization of welfare. This paper explores how welfare classification processes impact the contemporary production of mental (ill) health and social inequality in the German welfare state.

METHODS: Based on comprehensive ethnographic research in the public mental healthcare landscape in Berlin between 2011 and 2017, this paper discusses in detail the case of a mandatory prescription of a psychosocial rehabilitation measure for Ms Reisch, a psychiatric service user and ethnographic research partner. The analysis draws on the methodological approach of praxeography to examine how this case challenges the social determinants of mental health framework and the conceptual work of the sociology of inequality on which the categories of welfare are largely built.

RESULTS: The paper highlights the essentializing properties of social categories, whether in the sociology of inequality or in social and mental health policy. It also demonstrates the strength of praxeography to expose how multiple welfare categorization processes shape experiences and events of dis/ability in practice, potentially contradicting the stated intentions of social policy.

CONCLUSION: The results suggest that the attachment of categories to people in public welfare needs to be changed to make public administration more flexible to responding to the situated processes that bring about differentiations of equal and unequal in practice. The paper, therefore, encourages social inquiry into the potentialities of a post-categorical social policy framework.

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