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.
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.
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.
Fanon, Marx, 'the Poors' and the 'new reality of the nation' in South Africa
In an earlier paper, written in reaction to those who argued that the African National Congress (ANC) had no alternative but to implement neoliberal economic policies in the context of the ‘Washington Consensus’, I discussed the strategic choices and ideological pitfalls of the ‘political class’who took over state power in South Africa after the end of apartheid and implemented its own homegrown structural adjustment programme (Gibson 2001). Much of this transition has been scripted by political science ‘transition literature’ and much of it is proactive, mapping out what should be done to establish a ‘pacted’, ‘elite’ democracy overseeing neoliberal economic policies (O’Donnell, Schmitter & Whitehead 1986). From another vantage point, I argued that Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth is perhaps one of the most perceptive critiques of the transition literature available. This paper continues the discussion.
Anyone who studies post-socialist political economy probably has to begin a discussion of ‘the commons’ and common property resources by explaining the relationship between common property and collectivism, and the enormous impact that liberal and neo-liberal thought and institutions have had on the social economies of the Eastern European commons. In this article, I want to do this in three ways. First, I argue that contemporary accounts of socialist and post-socialist common property resources and practices have been shaped by the commitments of neo-liberalism and have had the very particular effect (and perhaps intent) of discrediting certain kinds of collective action and common property institutions. Second, I illustrate the ways in which a new definition of the commons has emerged in Europe—one that struggles to harmonize juridical and political aspirations for a peaceful and inclusive European Union with a common economic project and space of harmonized markets and trade policy. These twinned projects of this new ‘common economic union’ and their own versions of what constitutes a public, a commons, as well as their universal value, are increasingly conflated with post-colonial notions of a return to Europe and with deeply historical and racialized views of identity and commonality. The building of markets through the institutions and projects of structural adjustment and shock therapy has resulted in a thoroughgoing integration of the economies of the region with those of the broader international market and a fundamental recomposition of class forces in the region.