Racialization and Racism

Sophia’s choice: Debt, social welfare, and racial finance capitalism

In this article, I examine normative assumptions about cash transfers as public goods and the lived experience of cash transfers as private debts. Policy makers and social scientists often assume cash transfers are apolitical, value-neutral monetary instruments, which improve upon inappropriate, top-down, universalizing development projects. Instead, I show how cash transfers introduce their own universals, by imagining liberal sovereign subjects, who use credit and financial markets to manage their own financial and developmental needs. I argue that this narrative elides the deep historical and geographical production of racial difference through credit and debt in South Africa’s Western Cape farmlands. I call this phenomenon racial finance capitalism. First, I trace how 'coloured' people have been racialized as debtors for the benefit of capital accumulation across generations. Then, I explore how the contemporary spatial and temporal realities of cash transfer distribution continue to racialize grantees as debtors and dispossess them of their social entitlements. Finally, I demonstrate how grantees draw upon transgenerational experiences of debt to challenge the continued social reproduction of themselves as debtors. Some South African social grantees demand recognition that they are, and have been, net creditors to the nation.

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Volume 39 Issue 1

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