Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Anthropologists have widely explored the impacts of a retreating welfare state under neoliberal imperatives of public efficiency on the provision of social services. Many have noted the growing importance of non-governmental players filling the void left by the downsizing state. Yet few have examined the growing “markets” of state-outsourced social work and the social worlds such marketized social work is making.
My paper addresses the French state’s most recent moves to subcontract the social work of resettling refugees and sheltering asylum seekers to non-governmental “operators.” Unlike non-governmental players that spontaneously fill in the gap, these operators respond to government call for tenders to “win the market.”How are neoliberal precepts of austerity and competition conditioning the kinds of relations possible between social workers and refugees and asylum seekers they work with? What forms of personhood are constituted whenNGOs enter markets of state-outsourced social work? How does the marketization of social work impact social workers’ understanding of their ability to act on the world?
Focusing on a refugee resettlement program and two accommodation centres for asylum seekers in France, I examine how market conditions are producing precarious personhood for those at the tail end of the outsourced state—social workers—and the racialized Others with whom they work.I argue that neoliberal conditions of austerity and competition depreciate the relationship of care, provoking deep ethical conflicts amongst operators. Prompted by a sense of ethical precarity, social workers hired by operators act in excess of their contracts and remuneration, leaving the market unchallenged.