Accepted Paper:

Poverty relief as neoliberal education  


Alexandra Bakalaki (Aristotle University, Thessaloniki)

Paper short abstract:

Based on fieldwork among the members of a small group of poverty relief volunteers, this paper explores some of the ways in which the sufferings of the poor are deployed toward the naturalization and reinforcement of personal autonomy, delf-sufficiency and rational self management

Paper long abstract:

The paper draws on fieldwork among the members of a small group of volunteers in Thessaloniki Greece. Along with food, they offer poor people "psychological support" the aim of which is to transform them from victims of their own immaturity and irresponsibility into autonomous, rational, self-sufficient individuals. To become more effective in the therapeutic role they assume for themselves, they seek the guidance of social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. Their efforts to rehabilitate the poor and their apprenticeship to experts reveal to them the causes of the problems their interventions seeks to address. Volunteers come to view poverty as a symptom of individual psychological problems and failures and / or of dysfunctional interpersonal relations. They also feel that their own commitment to helping others access the real causes of their troubles is the outcome of a personal choice that contributes to their own empowerment, namely to their capacity to cultivate in their own lives the attitudes and virtues they try to teach to the poor. Involvement with poverty relief under expert guidance transforms their sense of themselves and of the world within which their self-improvement efforts make sense. Attending the deployment of the sufferings of the poor for the generation of lessons about the advantages of personal independence and rational self management may contribute to the understanding of the processes through which neoliberal values and constructs are gradually naturalized and appropriated by "ordinary" people.

Panel W077
Care, welfare and mutuality: anthropological perspectives on shifting concepts, boundaries and practices