Renegotiating the social contract: ethnographic explorations of the contemporary welfare state [Anthropology of economy]

Knut Myhre (University of Oslo)
Douglas Holmes (Binghamton University)
Start time:
17 August, 2018 at 11:15
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel investigates ethnographically the contemporary welfare state with a particular focus on the processes and relationships they enable and entail, and the social contracts they afford and actualise.

Long abstract:

The classic welfare state envisaged a society of full employment, where the relief of suffering and the wellbeing and productivity of its citizens were central concerns for government action and state administration. Its conception relied on the emergence of macroeconomics and the notion of progressive taxation, where the state was responsible for managing the economy as a whole, and the individual owed taxes to the collective for its achievements and their reliance on public goods. The welfare state thus involved a complex social contract, where work or labour served as the basis for membership and social belonging, and productive contributions were constitutive for the relationship between the individual and collective. For at least four decades, this conception has been challenged by different policy developments. These developments range from workfare programmes and tax reforms to austerity policies and basic income grants, and extend to sovereign debt and its counterpart in sovereign wealth funds. In different ways, these policies and practices change the grounds and justifications for extraction and distribution, and thus redefine the social contract and its constitutive relationships. For this panel, we call for ethnographic explorations of such policies and developments with a view to shed light on contemporary welfare states, and the processes and relationships they enable and entail, and the social contracts they afford and actualise. In particular, we welcome attempts to investigate empirically topics related to macroeconomics that transcend the common microeconomic perspectives of anthropology and thus investigate the movement of the concept of the welfare state.