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Accepted Paper:

The meritocratic ideal in times of crisis: disproportionate consequences and public support for social protection  
Annalena Oppel (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Paper short abstract:

I discuss a political balancing act across targeted versus universal social protection by opposing meritocracy with ideas of empowerment in the South African Covid-19 context. Using recent media outlets and policy initiatives, I highlight structural patterns in considerations of 'who deserves what’.

Paper long abstract:

Piketty begins his book Capital and Ideology with “every human society must justify its inequalities: unless reasons for them are found, the whole political and social edifice stands in danger of its collapse” (2019, 1). Understanding such justifications matters especially now – in times, when owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, old and new inequalities are immediately felt, experienced, and (re-)evaluated. Yet, little is known about how these (unequal) experiences strengthen or weaken public support for social protection, especially regarding universal versus targeted approaches.

In this paper, I discuss the case of South Africa where there is in a (re-)opened debate on pandemic-related relief measures, reflecting an ideological divide over a key principle of ‘who deserves what’. Amidst South Africa’s post-apartheid context and continued racial inequalities, meritocratic ideals, where rewards should track effort and ability, compete with the idea of empowerment, giving priority to the marginalized. For instance, I show while relief measures include discussions of a basic income grant for the unemployed (eNCA 2020), there is also support for formerly implemented race-preferential policies, such as the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) framework (Arnoldi 2020). Using media outlets and policy documents, I revisit the political balancing act across targeted versus universal approaches to discuss the two-fold challenge of facing the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic amidst prevailing structural inequalities.

Panel P27b
The politics of expanding and sustaining social protection: continuities and ruptures in unsettled times II
  Session 1 Thursday 1 July, 2021, -