Race, debt and the welfare state (New Formations 87, )

Author: Ben Pitcher



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Publication date: May 1, 2016

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Ben Pitcher

In this article I explore how the figure of debt illuminates the racial politics of welfare in neoliberal Britain. I begin by giving a reading of the simultaneous unfolding of post-war race politics and the Beveridgean welfare state, and then turn to consider the interpellative appeal of neoliberal debt to minoritiSed subjects who have, in certain respects, been de facto excluded from prevailing models of welfare citizenship. In particular, this article considers the ways in which household debt might, even as it increases social inequality, simultaneously produce ideas about equality and futurity, as well as gesture towards the possibility of post-national forms of identity and belonging. If we are to challenge the lowest-common-denominator logics of ‘capitalist realism’ it is necessary to develop orientations to the economic that are as convincing as the popular stories that circulate about the operations of the neoliberal marketplace, and which are as meaningful as the social relations they play a part in constituting. Rather than reproduce the racialized model of welfare citizenship that is implicit to the ‘defence’ of the postwar welfare state, I suggest that there are elements of prevailing neoliberal market relations that might themselves serve as a more substantial basis for expressions of racial equality. There is, in other words, something that we can learn from neoliberal debt regimes in order to develop a more egalitarian future-oriented politics of social welfare and economic redistribution.

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