‘A policy that kills’: Austerity, welfare reform and legacies of state coercion at Britain’s margins
In my presentation, I draw upon my recently published book ‘Personalizing the State: an anthropology of law, politics and welfare in Austerity Britain’ to provide an in-depth ethnographic insight into the lived experiences of austerity at Britain’s margins. In Britain’s marginalised neighbourhoods, including its post-industrial council estates, a decade of austerity rule and welfare reform have come on top of long-standing legacies of state coercion that have operated across areas of social welfare, criminal justice and housing policies and exposed their residents to economic and political dispossession. By considering residents’ daily acts of engagement with, withdrawal from, and sometimes outright resistance to dominant configurations of citizenship, I trace austerity’s more quotidian but profound impact on the spaces of social reproduction that the liberal state has typically deemed private: the domestic spaces and communities. I argue that austerity policies have played a central part in cementing Britain’s political crisis – from widespread voter withdrawal to the alleged rise of populism, as evidenced in the ‘Brexit vote’ – at a time when mechanisms for collectivising redistributive demands have been silenced.