Accepted Paper:

Re-thinking social security, welfare and the privatization of care  


Tatjana Thelen (University of Vienna IAS Paris)

Paper short abstract:

This paper intends to introduce into the topic of workshop and present the theoretical framework used by convenors to analyse recent reconfigurations of welfare, social security and care.

Paper long abstract:

The collapse of socialist states reinforced global neoliberal trends that surfaced in the early 1980s. State frameworks for welfare have been interpreted as being too paternalistic and consequently increasingly subject to processes of privatization, decentralization, and neoliberal reform in many parts of the world. This development has often been described as a state withdrawal. Yet while socio-economic transformations have undoubtedly produced severe forms of hardship, which may well have been experienced as a loss of the state, the notion of state withdrawal is analytically problematic. There are two (inter-related) reasons for this. Firstly, it implies a rather one-dimensional view of 'the state' which makes it difficult to grasp the complex and contradictory nature of reforms, particularly the ways in which a range of state bodies, actors and institutions, far from being in retreat, continue to shape social life, albeit in altered form. Secondly, the state withdrawal model provides little analytical purchase on the dynamic reconfigurations of public and private spaces, institutions, moralities and subjectivities. In this introductionary paper I propose to analyze these developments using anthropological understandings of social security in combination with feminist perspectives on care. Applying this theoretical perspective promises to overcome the conceptual inadequacies of the "state withdrawal" model. More important, it helps illuminating the nuanced ways in which what is public and private (as spaces, subjectivities, institutions, moralities, and practices) re-emerge and change, continually shaping the trajectories and outcomes of reforms to care and mutual support networks.

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