Giving Everyone a Fish: COVID-19 and the New Politics of Distribution
In response to widescale job losses produced by the COVID‑19 pandemic, states have drastically expanded social protections, primarily through cash transfer programs. Drawing from James Ferguson’s notion of distributional politics, this reflection analyzes the meaning of this rapid global expansion of the welfare state and the political opportunities it provides. Based on two seemingly disparate cases, South Africa and Canada, I suggest that these expansions provide valuable opportunities for rethinking existing approaches to livelihoods, labour and social protection. These interventions also provide political possibilities through which a more radically redistributive politics can be articulated. In both contexts, state responses have provoked new challenges, dialogues, and experiments in distribution at multiple scales, from the neighbourhood to the nation state. This reflection calls for deeper inquiry into the multiple meanings of cash transfers and the political openings they provide. Finally, it provides guiding questions for future anthropological inquiry into livelihoods and social protection.
Copyright (c) 2021 Christopher Webb
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Authors contributing to Anthropologica agree to release their articles under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 Unported license. This licence allows anyone to share their work (copy, distribute, transmit) and to adapt it for non-commercial purposes provided that appropriate attribution is given, and that in the event of reuse or distribution, the terms of this license are made clear.
Authors retain copyright of their work and grant the journal right of first publication.
Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.