The Chinese minimum living standard guarantee (dibao), which has been in place since the 1990s, is one of the most important social assistance programs run by the Chinese government. There is extensive literature on dibao, a majority of which deals with how it is allocated in rural communities and its effectiveness in alleviating rural poverty. Receiving dibao is often considered a sign of poverty. Scholars have long discussed the shame experienced by people in poverty. However, very few empirical studies have paid attention to the interplay between shame and dibao. This study draws on one month of qualitative fieldwork, focused on dibao implementation in both urban and rural China. It aims to understand how dibao and shame are connected in relation to three elements of policy provision: discretion, rights, and negotiation.
Interactional Impacts on Claimants of Chinese Dibao
Jian Chen and Lichao Yang
Tracing Rights, Discretion, and Negotiation within a Norwegian Labor Activation Program
Erika Gubrium, Leah Johnstone and Ivar Lødemel
Within a Norwegian labor activation program for social assistance, we explore how the presence of a work-oriented ethos shapes and changes the balance of rights, discretion, and negotiation available to and marking the interactions between service providers and program participants. We trace connections between changed delivery interactions and heightened shame or enhanced dignity for participants. Two themes emerge, the first related to an imagined institutional trajectory of progress attached to labor activation in which participants were offered “more” and the second to whether participants and caseworkers had a meaningful voice in co-negotiating the terms of activation. Unrealistic optimism and an institutional focus placed on individual participants’ new responsibilities fueled a longer-term negative impact. Descriptions of enhanced rights, new possibilities for negotiation, and reported feelings of shame and frustration depended both on the participant’s distance to the labor market and on the point at which respondents were interviewed.
The Daily Practice of Welfare Control
This article focuses on the means by which the state controls welfare recipients in France. The paradox of these actions, which are made in the name of legal rigor but are characterized by ambivalence and the discretionary power of grassroots agents, reveals the broader functioning of a government over the poor. These actions are based on the combination of a multitude of individual relationships, which, although unevenly coordinated, derive from the structural rationale of the post-welfare era. Individualization and uncertainty signal not so much a disaggregation of the state as a consistent mode of governance in which discretion and leeway accorded to street-level bureaucrats are necessary for the state to exert power over citizens' behaviors.
Administrative Lists, European Union Food Aid, and the Local Practices of Distribution in Rural Romania
Ştefan Dorondel and Mihai Popa
In this article we analyze local distribution practices within an EU food aid program in Romania. We show that an understanding of this program's implementation can contribute to our understanding of how the state works in present-day Romania and, more generally, to the anthropology of the state. We examine the ways in which local-level bureaucrats gain discretion and exercise it when implementing the program. By securing greater control over a scarce transnational resource, local officials are able to shape national policy according to local distributive models. The described distribution process is conducive to community building, although in very different ways in the two rural settings being studied. We argue for a relational analysis of the workings of the state that explores the embeddedness of local actors and their participation in historically shaped power relations.
Official permissiveness and prohibition in India
This article examines the Indian state’s engagement with deportable foreign migrants. It draws on an ethnography of officials’ responses in Mumbai to noncitizens from Bangladesh and countries in Africa. The conceptual focus is on the “sanctioning state”: official powers that alternately permit or prohibit migrants’ presence. At one level, the Indian state sanctions, or prohibits, unauthorized migration. Simultaneously, via authorities’ discretionary power, the state can sanction, or permit, foreigners’ presence. To address why state actors simultaneously sanction migrants’ enduring presence, and also sanction their intermittent removal, this article delves into the Indian state’s historical evolution and everyday functioning. The domains of bureaucratic practice, discretionary authority, and differentiated citizenship are framed by antecedent logics. This historical survey undergirds an ethnographic study of the state in migrant-saturated neighborhoods in Mumbai. Based on interviews and observations with officials and migrants, this article elucidates the rationales, capacities, and strategies that comprise the “sanctioning state.”
Discretion and hypertransparency in Chinese biosecurity
Katherine A. Mason
In this article I argue that the global biosecurity project that arose out of the events of the SARS epidemic of 2003 created a new balance of secrecy and transparency within the public health arm of the Chinese state. In an effort to meet national and international demands for greater transparency in support of a “common good,” local public health officials engaged in what I call hypertransparency. This hypertransparency took two forms: the real-time online sharing of disease incidence data within the public health bureaucracy, and the over-performance of disease fighting strategies in front of a wider local and global public. Because local Chinese officials interpreted the “common good” differently from their international partners, neither of these efforts succeeded in erasing the crucial role that local officials continued to play in determining what should and should not be shared, and with whom. Secrecy continued to be an important component of China’s securitization efforts, with hypertransparency ultimately concealing more than it revealed.
Encounters and Interactions within Two US Public Housing Programs
Erika Gubrium, Sabina Dhakal, Laura Sylvester and Aline Gubrium
We operationalize the concepts of rights, discretion, and negotiation in service provision at two public housing sites, exploring their connections to the generation of shame or dignity building for residents. Using data from in-depth interviews with housing residents and caseworkers, we found that resident rights were limited by a decentralized system that actively prevented them from taking control of their lives. Residents frequently experienced caseworker discretion as personally intrusive, yet there was some, if limited, space for negotiation between caseworkers offering personalized care and residents evaluated as worthy of such focus. These interactions offered the potential for enhanced recognition and dignity.
The Potential for Shaming and Dignity Building through Delivery Interactions
Erika Gubrium and Sony Pellissery
The special issue focuses on the impact of antipoverty measures—accounting for social and structural dimensions in the poverty experience and moving beyond an income-only focus—in five country cases: China, India, Norway, Uganda, and the United States. Particularly, we focus on the implications of shame in the delivery of antipoverty measures, as an individual and social phenomenon that relates to feelings of self-inadequacy, as well to a lack of dignity and recognition. We analyze delivery interactions through an analytic framework of rights, discretion and negotiation, as this enables us to parse out how policy delivery interactions presumed or enabled individual choice, ability, control, and voice. We suggest social citizenship can structure the relationships between welfare recipients and administrators. As a concept, it expands the objects of social rights beyond the materiality of human life (e.g., housing, pensions) to include intangible processual elements (e.g., dignity) in the construct of rights.
Negotiated Spaces in India’s School Meal Program
Sony Pellissery, Sattwick Dey Biaswas and Biju Abraham
In human rights literature, human dignity is the foundation of human rights. Thus, scholarly literature has focused on rights to further enchance dignity. In this article, we argue that rights alone provide only a minimum of dignity. We examine India’s right to food legislation and its implementation in school meal programs. Based on our observations, we argue that discretion and negotiation are complementary institutional spaces that can be developed for the meaningful enjoyment of rights and thus dignity. The negotiations that take place between school management committees and schoolteachers determine the dignity of the midday meal by improving meal quality and nutritional content, infrastructural facilities, and working arrangements for the cooking and delivery of meals. The findings are based on a study of four schools in the states of Kerala and West Bengal and on a review of studies on the midday meal programs in other Indian states.
Finding Perpetrators and Switchboard Operators in Post-Authoritarian Argentina
Antonius C.G.M. Robben
In conducting fieldwork among perpetrators of state violence, it is a major methodological problem to gain access to competing factions within the research population. Ethnographers often succeed in finding access to at least one faction but this successful rapport might then immediately close off other factions that mistrust the ethnographer’s politics, intentions, or alleged sympathies. The ethnographic challenge is to find intermediaries or switchboard operators, as they are called in this article, who have established informal channels of communication between hostile factions. Switchboard operators have the following characteristics: discretion, neutrality, lack of formal power, disinterestedness, trustworthiness, and they act as a conduit of communication. This article describes how switchboard operators were located in Argentina, and how they played a crucial role in my fieldwork among a broad spectrum of military perpetrators who had terrorized the Argentine people between 1976 and 1983 with enforced disappearances and state repression.