Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie

Discerning Need

Peer Professionals and the Implementation of the Federal Participation Law for People with Psychiatric Disabilities in Berlin. Projektzeitraum: 2022 - 2025 | Förderinstitution: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)


What happens when disability roles are foregrounded as a form of political labor? How does the disability identity shift when positioned as a form of critical expertise? These questions define the ongoing implementation of the 2018 Bundesteilhabegesetz, in which disabled persons were given full participatory power in defining their needs and advocating for their care. Based on fieldwork with a peer-run advising association in Berlin, this research examines how individuals with lived experience as mental health service users have been repositioned as experts regarding the rights and needs of individuals navigating disability services and the return to work. These professionals represent an empowered other: a disabled identity deemed capable of work and employed to support the working needs of others. Yet they are marginalized by lesser pay, token inclusion, and the resistance of bureaucratic and clinical professionals to redistributing power in the provision of services for disabled populations. Their work unsettles state assessments and understandings of need, the institutional complexities of putting disability and human rights law into practice, the centrality of work to perceptions of deservedness, and the stakes of “empowerment” when political will is ambiguous and the means for implementation rely on a novel form of precarious labor.





Prof. Joerg Niewoehner


Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin

Lauren Cubellis