This panel explores the institutional processes, social and power relations associated with various social protection programmes; their roles as technologies of statecraft, social control and ordering; and the possibility that many might in fact reproduce rather than attenuate inequalities.
There is a tendency within the current policy and academic scholarship on social policy to view any expansion or deepening of social protection policies and programmes as progressive advances, to the extent of framing these as revolutionary, to be guarded and promoted even at the cost of critical enquiry. In the process, a wide variety of programmes often get lumped together, from more employment centred ones to more conservative, narrowly targeted, even punitive, minimalist cash transfer programmes, with or without conditions. The fact that all of these are celebrated as progressive advances, despite their diversity in modalities and political origins, itself gives reason for a critical pause. Indeed, a small but growing critical scholarship on social policy has highlighted the institutional processes, social relations, and power dynamics associated with currently popular models of social protection programmes, and their roles as technologies of statecraft, social control and ordering. Of particular interest is the possibility that many of these policies might in fact play a role in reproducing and structuring inequalities rather than necessarily attenuating them, particularly with respect to their interaction with important sectors such as health and education, and their instrumentalisation through various targeting modalities. The practices and politics surrounding the role of evidence, or what some have referred to as 'policy-based evidence making', is also important to examine in this regard. This panel invites contributions that seek to explore and advance such lines of inquiry.