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Stubbs Translating Welfare Assemblages March2012

Stubbs Translating Welfare Assemblages March2012

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Published by: Paul Stubbs on Mar 22, 2012
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 Translating Welfare Assemblages in the 'New' Eastern Europe:re-domaining the social?Paul StubbsThe Institute of Economics, Zagreb
 March 2012Paper for Conference
Lost or Found in Policy Translation? 
Berlin, 30 March 2012
please do not quote or circulate without permission
Trg J F Kennedya 7, Zagreb, HR-10000, Croatia; pstubbs@eizg.hr;telephone +385 1 23 62 239.
I: INTRODUCTION: escaping the orthodoxies of social policy studies
One of the paradoxes of the academic study of social policy, at least in the developed world,has been that, despite the inherent multi-disciplinary nature of its endeavour, it is still rathernarrow in focus, limited in scope and range, and simplistically normative in moving from
analysing „what is‟ to suggesting „what should be‟. Many of the most important recent „turns‟
in the social sciences, be they
„cultural‟, „discursive‟, „interpretative‟, „spatial‟, or „post
have tended to be ignored, dismissed or misunderstood by the main body of socialpolicy scholarship. The recognition that the subject matter of social policy is no longer solely
the nation state, much less a particular Northern and Western European „welfare state‟ form
which had been assumed, wrongly as it turns out, to be likely to remain in place forever, has
hardly stirred the pot. It has led less to a fundamental „rethinking‟,
and more to a new field of
„comparative‟, „international‟ or „global‟ social policy
studies which, on the whole, represents
little more than a “‟scaling up‟ of the objectivist knowledge of nation states to include supra
national actors” (Lendvai and Stubb
s, 2009a; 224) framed in terms of a taken-for-granted
hierarchy of fixed, static, „levels‟: local, national, regional, and global.
There is no need to
dwell on the causes of this, although I share John Clarke‟s suspicion that it relates to a self 
-image as
both „applied‟, aspiring more to be „useful‟ for welfare workers than „academic‟;
, in the sense that complex concepts are best left to others and, hence, arrive late, if atall, and invariably in highly simplified form (Clarke, 2004; 3).One vignette from my own journey towards a more critical, post-structuralist
, approach tosocial policy stands out, in retrospect, as of particular significance. As a part-time researchfellow o
n the „Globalism and Social Policy Programme‟
(GASPP), under the directorship ofBob Deacon, I
attended the third GASPP Seminar on “
International NGOs, Consulting
Companies and Global Social Policy: Subcontracting Governance?”, in Helsinki in December 
. I presented a rather roug
h and very unfinished paper on „
Globalisation,Humanitarianism, a
nd the Culture of Social Policy‟
. In some ways, it updated the ratherorthodox presentation of the Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav story I had written as chapter 5 of
„Global Social Policy‟ (Deacon, Hulse and Stubbs, 1997; 153
-94). It did so under the strong
influence of a „new wave‟ of C
roatian anthropologists working in the Institute of Ethnologyand Folklore Research,
in Zagreb, where I lived, on issues relating to „War, Exile, andEveryday Life‟ (
cf. Jambre
šić Kirin and Povrzanović
(eds.), 1996). The paper also borrowedvery much from the work of authors such as James Clifford (especially Clifford, 1997) andKatherine Verdery (cf. Verdery, 1996)
. I had also just read „Welfare and Culture in Eur 
ope:towards a new paradigm in social p
olicy‟ (Chamberlayne et al (eds.), 1999). In their differentways, these connections, and my „on the ground‟ experience as an
activist/practitioner/researcher in the post-Yugoslav space, led me to want to explore much
more the „cultural‟ conditions and lived experience of welfare as a set of nested
social relations. The attempt was not well received by Deacon (“clever butirrelevant” are the words I recall) nor by other GASPP researchers and associates, troubled
by my
apparent retreat from the goal of „global social justice‟. The criticism should not havebeen unexpected given Deacon‟s strong views on the problems of both the “cynical gaze of Marxism” and “the paralysing gaze of postmodernism” (Deacon et al, 1997; 7). I
receivedsupport, both publically and privately, from two other attendees at the event, Janine Wedeland Jeremy Gould, who drew my attention to emerging work on an anthropology of policy (cf.
Shore and Wright (eds.), 1997) and the possibilities of „studying up‟ within a kind of multi
-level ethnography (cf. Gould, 2004; Wedel, 1999; 2004).The Helsinki paper was published eventually
as „Globalisation, memory and welfare regimesin transition: towards an anthropology of transnational policy transfers‟ (Stu
bbs, 2002). Thetitle, itself, shows that I was not yet fully capable of escaping from the conceptual
I have been known to add two other 'posts' to locate my work: 'post-Marxist' and 'post-colonial'. I resist, rather strongly, being labelled as'post-modernist' or, simply, 'constructivist'.
straitjackets of „welfare regimes‟ and „policy transfer‟
ideas to a more liberating framework,
both intellectually and practically, in terms of ideas of „welfare assemblages‟ and „policytranslation‟.
The statement that the story of global welfare reform is “complex andcontradictory”, accessible through ethnographic methods underpinned by an „anthropology of policy‟
(Stubbs, 2002; 328), whilst rather vague, was at least a marker for future work. Theencounter with the work of No
mi Lendvai (cf. Lendvai, 2004) and John Clarke (Clarke,2004) was crucial in refining these half-formed ideas into a more substantive body of work,leading to ongoing collaborations with both of them (cf. Lendvai and Stubbs, 2007; 2009a;2009b; Clarke and Stubbs, 2011). In addition, the Interest Group on the Anthropology ofPublic Policy (IGAPP) of the American Anthropological Association
, under Janine Wedel‟s
stewardship, has been more than tolerant of three non-anthropologists, allowing us toexplore these issues in two panels
“Beyond Policy Transfer: transnational translations andthe reconfiguring of technocracy and politics”
(in 2009) and
“Tracing Policy: translation and
(in 2011).In some ways, the latter panel shows how far a framing of (social and/or development) policy
in terms of „translation and assemblage‟ has moved
, with the panel organiser, CatherineKingfisher, succinctly summarising the debate thus:
This session brings together two strands of thinking in the anthropology of policy to explore the movement ofpolicy both horizontally, across sites, and vertically, from policy-making centers down to the street level. The firstis the framework of policy production and implementation as translation. Most frequently used to highlight theselectivity, agendas, and power plays at work when policies developed in one location are transferred to another,the framework of translation can also provide insights into how policy is taken up and engaged with both by thosewho apply it and those who are its targets. A second approach is provided by the concept of assemblage, whichserves to highlight the situated, cut-and-paste nature of policy, underscoring the piecemeal, experimental, andconstantly unfolding nature of both policy production and implementation. As policies are translated andassembled, new formations emerge, in the process erasing or accentuating received perspectives and practices.
 (Kingfisher, 2011).
This paper tries to do three things. Section II builds on Kingfisher‟s ideas whilst questioning
 whether the
idea of „horizontal‟ and „vertical‟ movements can be rescued from
their highlyobjectivist ontology, and discusses in broad terms the usage of this framework in socialpolicy and on social welfare. Section III discusses aspects of the social dimension of the
„great transformation‟ in Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe
, revisiting some of my
own, and others‟
, contributions. Section IV makes some general remarks regarding futureresearch agendas and enters into a tentative discussion on
how to build „an ethics of translation‟
into social and development policy interventions.
II: TRANSLATING WELFARE ASSEMBLAGES: reconceptualising social policy
The concept of „translation‟ has, itself, travelled far beyond linguistic theory,
being adoptedand adapted in different ways, within policy studies, cultural studies, anthropology, and post-colonial studies (Lendvai and Bainton, 2011). Like the co
ncept of „assemblage‟, it serves toremind us of the fluid and dynamic nature of the social world, encompassing „displacement‟,„dislocation‟, „transformation‟ and
‟ (Callon, 1986).
Translation is not a process of
arbitrary „free association‟;
rather it is a deeply politicised process which is concerned with
“the building, transforming or disrupting of power relations” (Sakai, 2006; 71
-2). Insofar as
“(p)olicy is made in words, and it moves” (Freeman, 2009; 431), so that “meaning can be lost
translation, or made by it” (ibid, 432), the process through which dominant discourses arereproduced is never automatic but always involves adaptation and change, “reconstituted inanother place, in another form, with different implications” (ibid, 434).
 http://aaa-igapp.net/  (accessed 1 March 2012).

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