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Echoes of austerity

Policy, temporality, and public health in South Africa

Theodore Powers

South Africa’s post-apartheid era has been marked by the continuation of racialized socioeconomic inequality, a social situation produced by earlier periods of settlement, colonization, and apartheid. While the ruling African National Congress has pursued a transformative political agenda, it has done so within the confines of neoliberal macroeconomic policy, including a period of fiscal austerity, which has had limited impact on poverty and inequality. Here, I explore how policy principles associated with austerity travel across time, space, and the levels of the state in South Africa, eventually manifesting in a public health policy that produced cuts to public health services. In assessing these sociopolitical dynamics, I utilize policy process as a chronotope to unify diverse experiences of temporality relative to austerity-inspired public health policy.

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Theodore Powers and Theodoros Rakopoulos

This introduction posits that austerity is an instantiation of structural adjustment programs (SAPs) and thus must be revisited in two ways, involving its historical and geographical rendering. First, anthropological accounts should think of austerity in the long term, providing encompassing genealogies of the concept rather than seeing it as breach to historical continuity. Second, the discipline should employ the comparative approach to bring together analyses of SAPs in the Global South and austerity measures in the Global North, providing a more comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon. We are interested in what austerity does to people’s temporal consciousness, and what such people do toward a policy process that impacts their lives. We find, in this comparative pursuit, instead of Foucauldian internalization, dissent and dissatisfaction.