Before and Beyond Neoliberalism: The Development Of Precarity and The Emerging Alternative

Monday, July 14, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: 501
Oral Presentation
Kevan HARRIS , Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Ben SCULLY , Sociology, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
In this paper we contend that, to understand what might exist beyond neoliberalism, we need to rethink processes of capitalist development before neoliberalism.  We make two arguments.

First, for poorer countries, processes of commodification which are highlighted as evidence of neoliberalism often predate the neoliberal era.  Third World development policies tended to make social and economic life more precarious as a corollary to capital accumulation, before neoliberalism as an ideology took hold.

Second, intense theoretical focus on neoliberalism obscures a recent shift in the global South towards a tendential and tangible de-commodification of social life.  In fact, during the height of what is widely accepted as the period of neoliberal triumph in many countries across the global South, the relationship between work, land, and welfare has begun to transform in ways that look quite different from what the dominant paradigm leads us to expect.

The most salient examples today are state-led social protection programs which have been implemented across the former Third World.  For those who lament that the post-2008 crisis has produced no Polanyian double movement, we argue that these state-driven social assistance policies are precisely such a mechanism.  These emerged not out of technocratic fixes from above but often out of political and social struggles from below.  The rise and spread of these programs are not only in stark contrast to popular conceptions of a neoliberal reinforcement, but are specifically targeted at social strata whose precarity has been largely generated by developmental policies which predated the neoliberal era.

Our paper presents a macro-level quantitative survey of the rise and spread of social protection policies over the past two decades in the global South, and qualitative comparisons of these programs in the BICS – Brazil, India, China and South Africa – as evidence of our argument.