Accepted paper:

Welfare utopia: Popular insurance in Dar es Salaam


Irmelin Joelsson (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper conceptualise the broad scope of repertoires manoeuvring economic governance through anticipation as "popular insurance" by exploring hedging strategies in Dar es Salaam, a city where the access to social security is highly constrained, public goods are scarce; yet insurance are brokered.

Paper long abstract:

"I'm doing it for the connections," Ally asserted, "we don't have insurances here, you see, we make connections and friendships, it's our insurance." It was spring 2016. Mzunguko wa pesa umekatika, "money's stopped circulating," was the expression on everybody's lips. It put the current hardship of life in Dar es Salaam into words, and reiterated in daily conversations it took the form of a contemporary proverb. The austerity narrative had many expressions, and while social insurance as a technology of risk management and financial governance, have come to embed life in the West, life in Africa is often lived uninsured, where only a small percentage is enrolled in a social security scheme. Inspired by recent calls from Laura Bear et al (2015) and Veronica Gago (2017) to consider the generative powers of capitalism, this paper explores modes of anticipation and "providential practices," conceptualized as here as "popular insurance." When formal welfare institutions do not hold, were never in place, indifferent to paying out what was invested, or "failed" to eclipse the totality of life, its double steps in. The "absent presence" of formal physical and bureaucratic infrastructures in African cities gives life to various "in-structures" (De Boeck 2016) that become operational in the inoperability of its formal twin. I argue that popular insurance is "twinning" the public good, working through investments urban residents put down order to slow down time, to insure life through social and material entanglements, often by making speculative and affective connections.

panel Anth03
Welfare, redistribution and new forms of the "public good" [Sponsored by AFRICA: Journal of the International African Institute]