‘Show me you're trying, that's all…’: Exploring the discursive impact of punishments and incentives in the Welsh homelessness system as ‘controlled conditionalities’

Discussion around sanctions within the welfare state has been largely framed within a Wacquantian understanding of punitive modes of governance, neglecting the discursive life of conditionality as a source of normative social control. This study uses a Critical Discourse Analysis of extended interviews with 98 actors within the Welsh homelessness system to propose that conditionality operates through sanctions to further an agenda of creating a context responsibilisation and empowerment. It draws upon Deleuze's Societies of Control approach, proposing the term ‘controlled conditionalities’ to account for the power of illusory freedom through opportunity, operating through tight control of choice. It shows (1) that despite the changes to homelessness law in Wales, Wacquantian-style punitive conditionality is perceived as largely irrelevant by those engaged in administering the system; (2) ‘controlled conditionalities’ operate through abandonment of welfare citizens (3) ‘controlled conditionalities’ operate primarily through curating a desire in applicants to be recognised as normative and compliant. The paper offers a nuanced counter to a prevailing understanding of punitivity as a dominant and effective form of welfare governance and advances theoretical approaches through the development of the concept of controlled conditionalities.