Accepted paper:

Precarious kinship and the stability of dependency: welfare beneficiaries in rural Nicaragua


David Cooper (UCL)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will explore Nicaraguan efforts to become beneficiaries of state welfare programs. Challenging the premise that kinship is a paradigmatic realm of solidarity, the ways in which ‘handouts’ serve to negotiate a precariousness emergent from the dependencies of domesticity will be stressed.

Paper long abstract:

Kinship as a paradigmatic realm of solidarity has frequently informed those anthropological analyses which span kinship and the political. To model political relations on those of the family is assumed to be an effort to recreate the familiar unity of the family in the more impersonal realm of politics. But what about ethnographic contexts in which intimate relations with kin are as much about the management of precariousness and volatility as an already-achieved cohesion? This paper will explore such issues in relation to the case of rural Nicaraguan involvements with recent state programs of assistance and welfare, social projects that form part of the current leftist trend in governance across Latin America. Such programs are often critically understood in reference to notions of clientelism; a political form long viewed as founded on the kin model of paternalistic protection and solidarity. But for rural Nicaraguans seeking to establish themselves as beneficiaries of state distributions, efforts to become dependents have as much to do with the negotiation of insecurities integral to the intimate realm of domesticity, as they do with putatively external or impersonal threats. Appreciating this importance of becoming a recipient of state assistance among a community of loyal Sandinistas — beyond assumptions of sheer response to the economic incentive of 'hand-outs' — demands attending to local understandings of productivity, power and agency. Such understandings are inseparable from the ways everyday labours and material exchanges mediate quotidian efforts to secure the domestic dependencies of kinship.

panel P054
Kinning the state - state kinning: reconnecting the anthropology of kinship and political anthropology