Welfare, redistribution and new forms of the "public good" [Sponsored by AFRICA: Journal of the International African Institute]
Elizabeth Hull (SOAS, University of London)
Ruth Prince (University of Oslo)
Elizabeth Hull
Social Anthropology
Appleton Tower, Lecture Theatre 2
Thursday 13 June, 16:15-17:45, 17:55-19:25

Short abstract:

This panel considers newly emerging ideas of the "public good" in Africa. In contexts of austerity and state withdrawal, how is public provisioning being newly structured, funded and legitimised, and with what implications for our understanding of state, citizenship and economy?

Long abstract:

As austerity and stagnation continue to constrict African economies, and earlier poverty-alleviation programmes have floundered, new efforts are emerging to address trenchant inequalities, many of which address concerns about "the public good". Public works and social protection programmes, the expansion of health insurance as part of aspirations for ┬┤Universal Health Coverage┬┤, education programmes (especially those targeting girls) and 'inclusive' economic initiatives are redefining ideas of citizenship and the public good, often blurring the distinctions between public and private, welfare and work. Following Laura Bear and Nayanika Mathur, the idea of the "public good" can be broadened to include not only traditional forms of government provisioning such as health, education and social security, but also techniques of bureaucratic management - those of transparency, fiscal discipline, good governance and decentralization. Often framed as citizenship entitlements, these projects generate a utopian language around which meanings of state and citizenship are debated. Corruption, too, is being newly reclaimed as a public good, as Moses Ochonu's discussion of the popular refrain 'bring back corruption' in Nigeria highlights. Sarcastically drawing attention to plummeting living standards as a result of an ever more constricted economy, the phrase also reveals recognition that a previously more rampant culture of corruption was actually instrumental in producing a trickle-down economy from which people benefited, albeit unevenly. The panel invites historical and social science papers to explore tensions and contradictions, connections and disruptions produced by emerging narratives and projects of the "public good" and their implications for understanding state, citizenship and economy.