Accepted paper:

Presumed guilty until proven innocent: legitimising the criminalisation of livelihood under austerity


Carmen Leidereiter (Universitat de Barcelona)

Paper short abstract:

This paper investigates the case of day labourers arrested during work to question how the dispossession of their means to livelihood is rendered legitimate in the wake of austerity restructurings.

Paper long abstract:

This paper investigates how the erosion citizenship rights is rendered legitimate in the wake of austerity restructurings. Building on the ethnographic case of day-labourers arrested during their work, I display what they conceive of as legitimate practices of livelihood, such as untaxed employment off the books. During arrests, labourers frequently referred to probable cause and their right to an unbiased hearing, while the arresting officers responded with "you lost your rights when you broke the law", essentially implying that only law-abiding citizens are entitled to due process before a court of law. From this case, I 'scale up' to question the bizarre reversal of the elementary judicial presumption of innocence that austerity's ideological backdrop seems to have rendered acceptable. How did public discourse portray day-labourers as tax-avoiders deserving the harassment and dispossession they received? Moreover, how does subjecting a group of citizens to general suspicion produce a situation in which they routinely presumed guilty, even fined, without trial? By investigating what I term "the presumption of guilt rather than innocence", this paper displays how, what to my informants is an unalienable right and the state's duty to protect them, increasingly appears as a type of privilege that must be earned before it can be had: a process akin to "conditional citizenship" (Gibney, 2011). In the case at hand, dispossessing day labourers of their means of livelihood then seems to become ideologically legitimate, because their failure to engage in formalized employment apparently excludes them a priori from basic citizenship and its rights and protections.

panel P012
Ideologies of dispossession along the private/public conundrum [Anthropology of Economy Network]