COVID-19's ambiguous parcel: Agency, dignity, and claims to a rightful share during food parcel distribution in lockdown South Africa
Number of pages
SourceEconomic Anthropology, 9, 1, (2022), pp. 137-148
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ RSCR CAOS
SubjectAnthropology and Development Studies
During the South African lockdown, food relief was largely delivered by civil society, after the government failed to honor its pledge to provide for the population. By taking a local food parcel initiative in a small rural township as an ethnographic case study, this article examines why the attempt to mimic government food distribution generated dissatisfaction and tension in the targeted community. At the heart of this argument is the way the local parcel project created ambiguous anticipation regarding the consequences for residents' experience of dignity, as it undermined an established binary understanding of economic dependency. This understanding clearly distinguishes between relationships within the community and those with the government. Proximity and intimacy increased the risk of public humiliation arising from indebtedness, while dependence on the government did not inevitably generate the same anxiety. Agency is identified as a key signifier to understand strategies for upholding dignity in the different relationships. This article examines different stakeholders' spontaneous and creative attempts to control the relational outcome of the distribution. It discusses how narratives about the distribution as a rightful share to the community's wealth emerged among potential recipients in an attempt to negate any notion of personalized reciprocity following the distribution.
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