Javier Auyero: In Harm’s Way

Sociology Department University of Texas at Austin

Paper prepared for special issue of Ethnography on “Planned Suffering: The Politics of Infrastructural Violence.

The recent “left turn” in Latin American politics has placed the reduction of inequality, the “alleviation” of poverty, and “social inclusion” at the center of public discourse and policy- making in the region. In what Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore (2010) recently called a veritable transnational “fast-policy” development, CCTs (conditional cash transfer programs) have become the main strategy to deal with urban and rural poverty (Weyland et al. 2010).

Initiated by centrist and right-wing governments more than a decade ago, leftist governments in the region have recently reassumed, extended, or launched these CCTs (Reygadas and Filgueira 2009). In essence, these welfare programs are conditioned transfers; that is, low-income families receive payments from the state provided that they comply with a range of required activities (health check-ups, school attendance, etc.). The novel progressive consensus seems to suggest that citizenship (and democracy) cannot survive without the “social inclusion” of the masses of marginalized individuals that, according to the new dominant diagnosis, were cast aside by decades of neoliberal economic policies. Both moderate and radical governments (from Bachelet in Chile and Lula in Brazil, to the Kirchners in Argentina, to Chavez in Venezuela, Correa in Ecuador, and Morales in Bolivia) seek to address what they call the “drama of social exclusion” by tackling the lack of a proper income to satisfy “basic needs.” Social inclusion means, first and foremost, access to a “good enough” amount of cash.

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