‘Sorting out income’

Transnational householding and austerity Britain

in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale
Author:
Deborah JamesLondon School of Economics and Political Science d.a.james@lse.ac.uk

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5983-7580
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Samuel KirwanUniversity of Bristol samuel.kirwan@bristol.ac.uk

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The reliance of welfare recipients on the state is classically demonised as a relation of dependency: one that foments passivity on the part of claimants. Critical voices in austerity Britain have drawn attention to government efforts to reconfigure that relationship, by ‘reforming’ welfare, remaking the grantee as a repaying loan‐taker and turning dependents into responsible, autonomous citizens. This paper, based on research in the debt advice sector in England, shows that dependency may involve unexpected directionalities of reliance. (Those who appear as state dependents in one register can be those depended upon in another.) It focuses in particular on encounters with migrants, describing what the process of ‘transnational householding’ tells us about dependency. It discusses the relations between advisers and clients, showing how advice charities create a parallel system of care and support. A punitive and debt‐based welfare system means that many clients owe money to the state as well as to commercial creditors. Austerity and welfare reform are rendering individuals’ obligations to family members and others fragile and insecure. But given advisers’ intervention between a hostile bureaucracy and debtors, the experience of reckoning, owing money and settling accounts can end up as something more akin to householding than to controlling discipline.

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