The commodities bust and the politics of conditional cash transfers in Brazil
Martin Fotta (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main)
Paper short abstract:
The paper is based on a fieldwork in Bahia, Brazil, during the recent economic and political crisis. It focuses on the work of front-desk bureaucrats tasked with fiscalisation of the Bolsa Familia Programme. It argues that the programme is built on differential citizenship and premises of scarcity.
Paper long abstract:
Cash transfers have been hailed as one of the most important social policy interventions in the early 21st century. In Latin America in particular conditional cash transfers (CCTs) were praised as the endogenous and sustainable solution to the problem of social protection. Brazil, which under the Workers' Party governments (2003-2016) rolled out the largest CCT in the world, the Bolsa Familia Programme (PBF), has risen to global prominence. In the context of low non-energy commodity prices, economic downturn and crisis of political legitimacy, however, any unproblematic view of redistribution is quickly disappearing. The paper is based on a fieldwork in the interior of Bahia in 2016 and 2017 at the height of recession and corruption scandal that led to the impeachment on President Dilma Rousseff. It focuses on the work of front-desk bureaucrats, who have been tasked with increased fiscalisation of the PBF as its future was becoming uncertain. By analysing how people saw the programme and new demands from the federal government, it argues that this novel distribution regime has been underpinned by liberal notions of scarcity and austerity from the very beginning. And despite the excitement that the cash transfers have produced in the recent past, shares from extraction are not always seen as rightful and universalising. On the contrary, they might build on and reproduce existing labour market segmentation and differential citizenship.
Renegotiating the social contract: ethnographic explorations of the contemporary welfare state [Anthropology of economy]