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Current Anthropology






The experiences of two programs aimed at poor rural women in India suggest that postcolonial contexts might give us reason to reconsider commonly accepted characterizations of neoliberal states. An anthropological approach to the state differs from that of other disciplines by according centrality to the meanings of the everyday practices of bureaucracies and their relation to representations of the state. Such a perspective is strengthened when it integrates those meanings with political economic, social structural, and institutional approaches. Although the two programs examined here originated in different time periods (one before and the other after neoliberal “reforms”) and embodied very different ideologies and goals (the earlier one being a welfare program that provided tangible services and assets and the later one an empowerment program aimed at helping rural women to become autonomous rather than dependent clients of the state waiting for the redistribution of resources), they were surprisingly alike in some of their daily practices. In a postcolonial context with high rates of poverty and a neoliberal economy with high rates of growth, what we witness is not the end of welfare and its replacement with workfare but the simultaneous expansion of both kinds of programs.

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