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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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Austerity in Africa

Audit cultures and the weakening of public sector health systems

James Pfeiffer

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.

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Social Movements and Social Policies

Political Challenges under Austerity in the UK

Gregory White

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.

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Afterword

Reversing the world—What austerity does to time and place

Theodoros Rakopoulos

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.

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It Was Not Meant to Be This Way

An Unfortunate Case of Anglo-Saxon Parochialism?

Tom Frost

In June 2016, the United Kingdom’s electorate voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. This article examines ‘Brexit’ from the perspective of British, or English, exceptionalism. It argues that the Leave vote was caused by a number of factors: underlying myths and exceptionalism about the U.K. and its relationship with ‘Europe’; the fallout from the 2007–2008 financial crisis; the austerity policies undertaken in the U.K. since 2010; and the increased migration into the U.K. after the financial crisis, in particular from other EU Member States. The article concludes by arguing that Brexit should serve as an important lesson to listen to all people who feel abandoned by the EU, austerity and globalisation, to hear their stories and perspectives. Only then can we start to think about whether there are shared values and principles which could form the basis for a European politics of the future.

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Rage and Protest

The Case of the Greek Indiginant Movement

Marilena Simiti

In 2011 numerous 'Occupy' and anti-austerity protests took place across Europe and the United States. Passionate indignation at the failure of political elites became a mobilizing force against formal political institutions. In Greece a mass movement known as the Aganaktismeni (the Indignant) became the main agent of social resistance to the memorandum signed by the Greek government, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The Greek movement did not take the form of a social movement sharing a collective identity. Left-wing protestors played a prominent role. Protestors embracing right-wing populist frames also participated actively in collective mobilizations, while segments of the extreme right attempted to manipulate rage to their advantage. During the Greek Indignant movement civil society remained a terrain contested by conflicting political forces. This unique feature of the Greek movement posed a completely different challenge to the principles of diversity and inclusiveness than the one debated within the Spanish Indignados and the Occupy protests. Furthermore, it illustrates that rage and indignation may spark dissimilar forms of political contention. Hence, rage and indignation do not merely motivate ‘passive citizens’ to participate in collective protest. They are linked to cognitive frames and individual preferences, which influence protestors’ claims and mobilizations’ political outcomes. Accordingly, advances in democratization and inclusive citizenship are only one of the possible outcomes of mobilizations prompted by rage and indignation.

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Civil Societies and Uncivil Times

The Rubber Band Ball of Transnational Tensions

Brian Callan

This article introduces a special issue of Contention Journal addressing various contemporary mobilizations of civil society in response to the war in Syria and the migration of refugees into Europe. With contributions from Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Canada, the Czech Republic and Germany, the cases represent a breadth of multidisciplinary approaches and a variety of stylistic standpoints, from statistical media analysis to troubled personal reflections of engaged activist academics. The subject matter ranges from political mobilization against authoritarianism and austerity, transnational philanthropy, the emergence of local grassroots voluntary aid to right-wing populist nationalism. Though diverse, a coherent narrative is seen to converge around the refugee crisis as it unfolds in Europe; one of radical polarization within civil societies and starkly conflicting imaginaries of social futures that claim to preclude the legitimacy of other possibilities. At the same time alliances are being generated beyond borders in an attempt to bolster ideological capacity, authority, and force. This is not a clash of civilizations but the rubber band ball of transnational tension, a strained, chaotic and overlapping global contestation. At stake is the understanding of what a civil society should be.