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  • Foreword / Thomas Gibson vii

    Preface and Acknowledgments xi

    Introduction. Cash Transfers and the New Welfare States: From Neoliberalism to the Politics of Distribution 1

    1. Give a Man a Fish: From Patriarchal Productionism to the Revalorization of Distribution 35

    2. What Comes after the Social? Historicizing the Future of Social Protection in Africa 63

    3. Distributed Livelihoods: Dependence and the Labor of Distribution in the Lives of the Southern African Poor (and Not-So-Poor) 89

    4. The Social Life of Cash Payments: Money, Markets, and the Mutualities of Poverty 119

    5. Declaration of Dependence: Labor, Pesonhood, and Welfare in Southern Africa 141

    6. A Rightful Share: Distribution beyond Gift and Market 165

    Conclusion. What Next for Distributive Politics? 191

    Notes 217

    References 237

    Index  259
  • Thomas Gibson

  • “Half comparative ethnography, half political pamphlet, Ferguson’s impressive narrative is a tour de force questioning, deconstructing and reconstructing classic and contemporary notions of poverty, development and the welfare state in the region and beyond. … With his creative and flexible analysis, he provokes thinking for action beyond narrow ideological boundaries. One could imagine enthusiastic endorsements of his work by Marxist campaigners, World Bank technocrats and traditional leaders alike. This highly original book is likely to leave a lasting mark not only on contemporary anthropological debates around poverty and development, but also policy and activist thinking in southern Africa and beyond.”

    "The book offers an exciting challenge to many of the default ways of thinking in development and social policy. ... Give a Man a Fish is a remarkable combination of scholarly breadth, intellectual challenge and grounded reflection on the realities of people living with hardship. Avoiding the easy characterisations of left or right, it is a thoughtful, stimulating and ultimately hopeful book, which deserves to be widely read, discussed and acted on." 

    "Ferguson’s knowledge of the anthropological literature on Southern Africa is impressive, and this work demonstrates his ability to, once again, illuminate this literature through contemporary debates around political economy, national belonging, and citizenship.... The value of this book for labour scholars is twofold. First, it is a vital addition to recent debates about the nature of 'precarity'.... Second, conditions in South Africa are extreme but not exceptional and offer possibilities for imagining new forms of social welfare in the rest of the world where wage labour is by no means obsolete, but cannot possibly fulfill the distributive role imagined for it."

    "Overall, this is an ambitious, imaginative, and hopeful book. Although the notion that distributive processes must be understood and appreciated is already widely accepted in African studies, Ferguson's achievement is in analyzing the dynamism and implications of these claims and relations within his chosen region’s shifting political economy." 

    "Ferguson provides a significant contribution to a growing area of social theory and practice, ably summarizing the conceptual bases of this movement, reviewing recent empirical evidence, and describing broader possibilities of new forms and mechanisms of distribution." 

    "Those readers concerned with development and/or income distribution issues will benefit from the reflections presented in this text. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals and practitioners."

    "[T]he book is beautifully written, and a pleasure to read. Ferguson seamlessly weaves together data, a wide range of social science literature, anecdotes, historical details, and a sprinkling of anthropological theory.... Ferguson’s book is an erudite, enjoyable, and important synthesis of facts, stories and ideas, bridging a wide range of topics around the rise of social grants in Southern Africa."

    "James Ferguson’s latest book makes an important contribution to the basic income literature. The book draws its empirical ballast from cash transfer programs in southern Africa, but this is not an ethnographic text; rather, Ferguson leverages the idea of cash transfers and basic income to launch a theoretical meditation on the nature of money, value, society, welfare, justice, and the state. The end product is reflective, thought-provoking, and beautifully written. One is left with the distinct impression that Ferguson is feeling his way into a social theory of the future." 

    "Give a Man a Fish is an original contribution by a scholar who distinguishes himself by his ability to think outside the box."

    "The implications of the trend Ferguson has pointed out are broad. Give a Man a Fish suggests that with the increasingly popular cash transfer programs, an idea has been planted in powerful circles--an idea that could grow into a new way of thinking about poverty, political mobilization and relationship between state and citizens."

    "In frankly motivational terms, Ferguson speaks of and exemplifies a search for new ways of thinking by studying theory already being invented through practice."

    "The writing is clear and the analysis lucid throughout. Readers may be left wanting more extensive ethnographic treatment of the way existing cash transfer programmes are playing out, but the book comprises a powerful theoretical intervention, and can be expected to provoke anthropologists to undertake such studies."

    Reviews

  • “Half comparative ethnography, half political pamphlet, Ferguson’s impressive narrative is a tour de force questioning, deconstructing and reconstructing classic and contemporary notions of poverty, development and the welfare state in the region and beyond. … With his creative and flexible analysis, he provokes thinking for action beyond narrow ideological boundaries. One could imagine enthusiastic endorsements of his work by Marxist campaigners, World Bank technocrats and traditional leaders alike. This highly original book is likely to leave a lasting mark not only on contemporary anthropological debates around poverty and development, but also policy and activist thinking in southern Africa and beyond.”

    "The book offers an exciting challenge to many of the default ways of thinking in development and social policy. ... Give a Man a Fish is a remarkable combination of scholarly breadth, intellectual challenge and grounded reflection on the realities of people living with hardship. Avoiding the easy characterisations of left or right, it is a thoughtful, stimulating and ultimately hopeful book, which deserves to be widely read, discussed and acted on." 

    "Ferguson’s knowledge of the anthropological literature on Southern Africa is impressive, and this work demonstrates his ability to, once again, illuminate this literature through contemporary debates around political economy, national belonging, and citizenship.... The value of this book for labour scholars is twofold. First, it is a vital addition to recent debates about the nature of 'precarity'.... Second, conditions in South Africa are extreme but not exceptional and offer possibilities for imagining new forms of social welfare in the rest of the world where wage labour is by no means obsolete, but cannot possibly fulfill the distributive role imagined for it."

    "Overall, this is an ambitious, imaginative, and hopeful book. Although the notion that distributive processes must be understood and appreciated is already widely accepted in African studies, Ferguson's achievement is in analyzing the dynamism and implications of these claims and relations within his chosen region’s shifting political economy." 

    "Ferguson provides a significant contribution to a growing area of social theory and practice, ably summarizing the conceptual bases of this movement, reviewing recent empirical evidence, and describing broader possibilities of new forms and mechanisms of distribution." 

    "Those readers concerned with development and/or income distribution issues will benefit from the reflections presented in this text. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals and practitioners."

    "[T]he book is beautifully written, and a pleasure to read. Ferguson seamlessly weaves together data, a wide range of social science literature, anecdotes, historical details, and a sprinkling of anthropological theory.... Ferguson’s book is an erudite, enjoyable, and important synthesis of facts, stories and ideas, bridging a wide range of topics around the rise of social grants in Southern Africa."

    "James Ferguson’s latest book makes an important contribution to the basic income literature. The book draws its empirical ballast from cash transfer programs in southern Africa, but this is not an ethnographic text; rather, Ferguson leverages the idea of cash transfers and basic income to launch a theoretical meditation on the nature of money, value, society, welfare, justice, and the state. The end product is reflective, thought-provoking, and beautifully written. One is left with the distinct impression that Ferguson is feeling his way into a social theory of the future." 

    "Give a Man a Fish is an original contribution by a scholar who distinguishes himself by his ability to think outside the box."

    "The implications of the trend Ferguson has pointed out are broad. Give a Man a Fish suggests that with the increasingly popular cash transfer programs, an idea has been planted in powerful circles--an idea that could grow into a new way of thinking about poverty, political mobilization and relationship between state and citizens."

    "In frankly motivational terms, Ferguson speaks of and exemplifies a search for new ways of thinking by studying theory already being invented through practice."

    "The writing is clear and the analysis lucid throughout. Readers may be left wanting more extensive ethnographic treatment of the way existing cash transfer programmes are playing out, but the book comprises a powerful theoretical intervention, and can be expected to provoke anthropologists to undertake such studies."

  • "Give a Man a Fish is a vitally important book that aims to unsettle often-unspoken commonplaces about the contemporary politics of social welfare. Its wide-ranging and provocative investigations in southern African countries—which raise fundamental questions about the changing relationships among autonomy, dependency, and security—are of global relevance and importance."
    — Stephen J. Collier, author of, Post-Soviet Social: Neoliberalism, Social Modernity, Biopolitics

    "Give a Man a Fish disentangles the confusion of languages in which we talk about work, welfare, and distribution. Some of these languages are old and anachronistic, others new but inchoate. James Ferguson himself speaks with clarity and grace, compelling us to inspect long-held intuitions and inviting us to explore a genuinely new politics." — Jonny Steinberg, author of, Little Liberia: An African Odyssey in New York

    "What—give away money? In this clear and cogent discussion of the politics of cash transfers, James Ferguson urges us to reconsider our basic ideas on states' responsibilities to their citizens. Give a Man a Fish will stimulate new thinking both within and beyond the academy. Distribution may be the new way to empower the poor, he argues—but only if we can work our way past conventional economic truths." — Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, coeditor of, Words in Motion: Toward a Global Lexicon

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  • Description

    In Give a Man a Fish James Ferguson examines the rise of social welfare programs in southern Africa, in which states make cash payments to their low income citizens. More than thirty percent of South Africa's population receive such payments, even as pundits elsewhere proclaim the neoliberal death of the welfare state. These programs' successes at reducing poverty under conditions of mass unemployment, Ferguson argues, provide an opportunity for rethinking contemporary capitalism and for developing new forms of political mobilization. Interested in an emerging "politics of distribution," Ferguson shows how new demands for direct income payments (including so-called "basic income") require us to reexamine the relation between production and distribution, and to ask new questions about markets, livelihoods, labor, and the future of progressive politics.

    About The Author(s)

    James Ferguson is Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. He is the author of Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order and the coeditor of Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology, both also published by Duke University Press.
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