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Accepted Paper:

BUILDING THE ‘WORK-BASED SOCIETY’: STATE-ENABLED GRASSROOTS CLIENTELISM AND THE RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF ORDER IN PRESENT DAY HUNGARY  
Kristof Szombati (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) Cecília Kovai (Centre for Economic and Regional Studies) Gergely Pulay (Centre for Social Sciences, Budapest)

Paper short abstract:

We probe the Hungarian government's ‘public work' programme and show that rural mayors played a key role in its effort to ‘restore order’. Mayors acted as brokers by implementing public work schemes in a way that was in synch with the needs of the poor and projected an image of communal development.

Paper long abstract:

We propose to investigate the Hungarian government's landmark ‘public work programme’, which has been a key vehicle of its effort to ‘restore order’ in the countryside in the aftermath of the Great Recession. We focus on the figures of rural mayors who were assigned a key role in the building of a ‘work-based society’: they are responsible for organising local public work schemes. Relying on ethnographic material we collected in two peripheral villages and a small town, we argue that mayors' principal task is to mediate between the interests and aspirations of welfare-dependent ‘surplus populations' and crisis-stricken ‘post-peasant’ petty bourgeoisies. We show that to fulfil the state-assigned role of brokerage mayors drew on the historical archive of rural clientelism to forge new types of patron-client relations with the poor, and organized public work schemes in a way that projected an image of community cohesion and development. The key takeaway is that state-enabled grassroots clientelism has successfully tamed social conflicts in the countryside through the hierarchical reincorporation of socio-economically excluded surplus populations and by upholding the simulacrum of development in economically stagnating rural regions. Our interpretation is at odds with scholarly interpretations of public work, which emphasize its top-down character or portray the poor as passive suffering subjects. Instead, we emphasise that the programme reserves a certain room of manoeuvre for mayors and that clientelism creates mutual - if asymmetric - obligations and is therefore amenable to building consensus.

Panel P067b
Grassroots states: Transformations of statecraft II
  Session 1 Friday 29 July, 2022, -