Ironies of Solidarity: Insurance and Financialization of Kinship in South Africa [Mīkstie vāki]

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Ironies of Solidarity makes an important and empirically rich contribution to our understanding of what finance does to society. Set in one of the world&;s most unequal and violent places, this ethnographic study examines how insurance companies discovered a vast market of predominantly poor African clients.

After apartheid ended in 1994, South Africa has become a testing ground for new insurance products, new marketing techniques, and pioneering administrative models with a potentially global market. Erik Bähre considers both how Africans enjoy the freedoms that they have gained in financial terms and how the onset of democracy effected the risks faced in the everyday life. In order to answer such questions, this book offers a detailed analysis of South Africa&;s insurance sector, examining both the organizations and networks through which policies are sold and claims are handled, and also the social world of African clients and their dependants. Brought to life with vivid case studies, this theoretically innovative book draws on Rorty&;s notion of irony for understanding how the contradictions inherent to solidarity affect inequality and conflict. It makes an important contribution to urgent debates in economic anthropology by exploring the moral and social consequences of insurance companies and their products.


'In this book's surprising and sharp argument, Bahre questions the association between neoliberalism and financialization in the context of post-apartheid South Africa. Offering a mode of analysis attendant to the ironies of political economy, prying open the iron cages of our own limited analytical imagination, Bahre revises old concepts and introduces refreshingly new ones.' Bill Maurer, University of California 'This important book explores how the growing market in insurance services for the poor in South Africa mitigates risks for some while precipitating family conflicts. Bahre's thoughtful and compassionate study confronts simplistic assertions about neoliberalisation by showing how financial mechanisms can enable practices of solidarity which have both positive and negative dimensions.'Maia Green, The University of Manchester 'Bahre warns us against nostalgic notions of social relationships as inherently good and caring, and the market and money as polluting this imagined paradise. This book should be required reading for every student of society in the 21st century.'Mamphela Ramphele

1. Introduction
2. An ironic analysis
3. Hope and redistribution
4. Penetrating a new market
5. The Janus face of inclusion
6. The enchantment of abstract finance
7. Transforming mutualities in business
8. Death as moral hazard
9. Conclusion: Ironies of solidarity
Erik Bahre is Associate Professor at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University. He is the Principal Investigator of the ERC Consolidator Project Moralising Misfortune: A Comparative Anthropology of Commercial Insurance and author of Money and Violence: Financial Self-Help Groups in a South African Township.