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.
Theodore Powers and Theodoros Rakopoulos
Audit cultures and the weakening of public sector health systems
Austerity across Africa has been operationalized through World Bank and IMF structural adjustment programs since the 1980s, later rebranded euphemistically as poverty reduction strategies in the late 1990s. Austerity’s constraints on public spending led donors to a “civil society” focus in which NGOs would fill gaps in basic social services created by public sector contraction. One consequence was large-scale redirection of growing foreign aid flows away from public services to international NGOs. Austerity in Africa coincides with the emergence of what some anthropologists call “audit cultures” among donors. Extraordinary data collection infrastructures are demanded from recipient organizations in the name of transparency. However, the Mozambique experience described here reveals that these intensive audit cultures serve to obscure the destructive effects of NGO proliferation on public health systems.
Policy, temporality, and public health in South Africa
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.
Ruy Llera Blanes
In this article, through a set of ethnographic vignettes from fieldwork conducted in Angola since 2015, I discuss the political semantics of crisis and austerity, and simultaneously outline an itinerary of a “traveling austerity” between Portugal and Angola, exposing the interconnectedness and mutual binding of both political and economic contexts. Invoking stories of migrant workers in Luanda and the work of local “financial activists” protesting against financial inequality in Angola, I question the relevance of national-based approaches to austerity politics, explore conceptualizations of austerity beyond its “original,” mainstream Eurocentric setting, and argue towards the necessity of analyzing transnational intersections in the study of austerity.
Daniel M. Knight
Associated with notions of family continuity, lineage, national belonging, and cultural roots, in Greece property inheritance was once highly desired. Yet, in recent years, there has been a rising trend of people wanting to be disinherited because of the economic burden of new taxes introduced as part of the international austerity program and the need to focus all resources on the short-term future of the immediate family. The desire for disinheritance amounts to a longing for disconnectedness, for exiting not only political structures but also kinship structures that have been historically closely linked with a Greek sense of self as particular political subjects. A focus on inheritance demonstrates how the political can be located in the mundane and the everyday.
Political control, class imaginings, and ethnic categorization in the Vilnius riots of 2009
This article analyzes the public discourse on the riots of 16 January 2009, in Vilnius, when protest against economic shock therapy ended in violent clashes with the police. Politicians and the media were quick to ethnicize the riots, claiming an “involvement of foreign influences” and noting that the rioters had been predominantly “Russian-speaking.” Analyzing electronic and print media, the article identifies a wider tendency, particularly among middle-class Lithuanian youth, of portraying the social class consisting of “losers of the post-soviet transition” as aggressive and primitive Others. A pseudo-ethnicity that combines Rus sian language and culture with lower-class background into a notion of homo sovieticus comes to stand for what is hindering the “clean up” of Lithuania and middleclass aspirations to form a new European identity. As such, the riots serve as a lens that illuminates the way ethnicity is flexibly utilized to shift political loyalties.
Reversing the world—What austerity does to time and place
Instead of taking for granted that austerity is unidirectionally associated with Europe, the anthropology of austerity should be paying attention to the situatedness of its effects. The levering potential that a comparative analysis of austerity allows is precious, for it opens new critical perspectives on our understanding of temporal and geographical consciousness. An antipode of perspective invites a more historical analysis of a phenomenon that unsettles the conceived understandings of Europe’s position.
Political Challenges under Austerity in the UK
The economic crisis of 2007/2008 presented a challenge to the welfare state in the UK, and, more widely, across Europe. It also presented a challenge to many citizens, who were on the receiving end of the austerity agenda, and subsequent tightening of welfare spending. If nothing else, the financial crisis demonstrated the hegemony of economic theories prominent in neoliberal capitalism. As many academics and commentators have identified, however, the current period of instability is indicative of a systemic crisis. In addition to this analysis, the crisis also exposed the intricate and opaque links between western governments and the financial sector. During and after the crisis an eruption of activity in civil society galvanized many that had been directly affected by either the crisis itself—through loss of employment—or by the subsequent austerity measures imposed. This article aims to examine the current crisis affecting the welfare state in the UK, and social policy more broadly, and, begins to suggest how social movements are seeking to challenge the dominant discourses surrounding austerity politics. The article suggests some reasons as to why traditional forms of resistance and organization—such as the mobilizations of the trade union movement—have largely been unsuccessful in challenging such narratives. The article concludes by considering the shift from trade unionism in the UK to post-crisis social movements, and where an anti-austerity movement more broadly might develop further in pursuit of defending the principles of social welfare, and, ultimately, the welfare state.
Reclaiming labor, conflict, and mutualism in Italy
Since the global crisis of 2008, Italy has witnessed several recoveries of failed private enterprises led by workers trying to escape the precarization of life under austerity. Some see this phenomenon as linked to the highly politicized occupations that took place in Argentina during the crisis of 2001. Italian recoveries, however, are usually far less controversial affairs carried out under the aegis of the state. What explains this difference? Looking at exceptions within the Italian case provides some answers. For example, a protracted conflict between workers (labor) and ownership (capital), the building of links with transnational struggles (including the Argentinian one), and the rediscovery of past working-class values such as mutualism all appear to be factors that can generate collective responses to austerity.
Uneven development, the politics of scale, or global austerity?
This afterword discusses the analysis of “austerity” and globalization and the possible parallels between a history of structural adjustment policies in the Global South combined with further cuts in social funding of recent years with the experience of “austerity” in Europe following the 2008 economic crisis. Questions with respect to the ways in which uneven development and the history of colonialism might complicate the experience in the Global South despite parallel governing strategies are raised. In addition, I suggest the consideration of scale in terms of the implementation of global versus national or local policies, the different scales at which resistance occurs, and the historical circumstances in which classes or subaltern groups coalesce might be important further considerations in this analysis.