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Inventing the Needy

Inventing the Needy: Gender and the Politics of Welfare in Hungary

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 351
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  • Book Info
    Inventing the Needy
    Book Description:

    Inventing the Needyoffers a powerful, innovative analysis of welfare policies and practices in Hungary from 1948 to the last decade of the twentieth century. Using a compelling mix of archival, interview, and ethnographic data, Lynne Haney shows that three distinct welfare regimes succeeded one another during that period and that they were based on divergent conceptions of need. The welfare society of 1948-1968 targeted social institutions, the maternalist welfare state of 1968-1985 targeted social groups, and the liberal welfare state of 1985-1996 targeted impoverished individuals. Because they reflected contrasting conceptions of gender and of state-recognized identities, these three regimes resulted in dramatically different lived experiences of welfare. Haney's approach bridges the gaps in scholarship that frequently separate past and present, ideology and reality, and state policies and local practices. A wealth of case histories gleaned from the archives of welfare institutions brings to life the interactions between caseworkers and clients and the ways they changed over time. In one of her most provocative findings, Haney argues that female clients' ability to use the state to protect themselves in everyday life diminished over the fifty-year period. As the welfare system moved away from linking entitlement to clients' social contributions and toward their material deprivation, the welfare system, and those associated with it, became increasingly stigmatized and pathologized. With its focus on shifting inventions of the needy, this broad historical ethnography brings new insights to the study of welfare state theory and politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93610-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Conceptualizing the Welfare State
    (pp. 1-22)

    In 1954, a young Hungarian woman initiated a case in a Budapest welfare office. As her case developed, it exemplified key shifts in the structure of Hungarian welfare. When Mária Kovács, then seventeen years old, discovered she was pregnant, her family had just moved to Budapest from the countryside. Space was limited, money was tight, and Mária’s parents saw only one solution for their daughter: to get married and move out. Yet Mária knew this was not an option; since their sexual encounter, the father of the baby had not spoken to her. Frightened, Mária went to a local state...

  6. Part I. THE WELFARE SOCIETY, 1948–1968

    • 1. Socializing Need: The Restructuring of Social and Economic Institutions
      (pp. 25-61)

      The post-World War II period was one of the most difficult eras in modern Hungarian history. With much of the country’s basic industry and infrastructure demolished in the war, the population faced extreme material hardship. Half of Hungary’s national assets had been destroyed; over one third of its railways and nearly all its bridges were unusable; and one fourth of its housing stock was severely damaged.¹ After the country’s forced “inclusion” in the Soviet bloc, the Hungarian government was enormously constrained in how it could approach postwar reconstruction. This was a period of state-engineered transformation clearly dictated by the Soviet...

    • 2. Strategies of Integration: Collectivism and Individualism
      (pp. 62-88)

      The welfare society of early socialism encompassed a unique arrangement of state policies and practices. Its architecture of need was built around existing social institutions: national-level policies and local-level practices were designed to build stronger institutions and to integrate Hungarians into them. This was how the welfare society appeared when viewed from “above,” from the standpoint of its architects and designers. Yet this picture obscures what the welfare society looked like from “below,” from the perspective of those it targeted. Such a picture is far more difficult to paint. While the regime left behind a plethora of records conducive to...


    • [Part II. Introduction]
      (pp. 91-98)

      Over the first two decades of state socialism, the Hungarian welfare society underwent few reforms. Throughout the period, targeted social provisions associated with a “welfare state” were deemed unnecessary; state policies and practices were guided by the notion that the well–being of the population could be secured through well-connected institutions. In the mid-1960s, these assumptions about what the population needed and how to meet those needs began to change. At this historical juncture, the needs of specific social groups began to be emphasized. Within the welfare society, access to social support had been informally based on bureaucratic privilege and...

    • 3. Maternalizing Need: Specialization and the Quality Control of Motherhood
      (pp. 99-130)

      Throughout the 1960s, Hungarian professionals launched an attack on the welfare society. By the end of the decade, their appeals had been translated into state policies and practices. The historical convergence was striking. In early 1968, the New Economic Mechanisms (NEM) were introduced to incorporate market mechanisms into centralized planning. Later that year, a child-care grant (Gyermekgondozási Segély/GYES) was established to provide mothers with three years of paid maternity leave. By the end of the year, the institutional welfare apparatus had expanded with the advent of Child Guidance Centers (Nevelési Tanácsadók), which addressed child development and child-rearing problems. When taken...

    • 4. Strategies of Expansion: Possibilities and Limitations
      (pp. 131-162)

      The maternalism embedded in the late socialist welfare regime was a mixed blessing for Hungarian mothers. This regime embodied contradictory tendencies that presented both limitations and possibilities for those it targeted. To a large extent, the regime’s limitations were outgrowths of its interpretive narrowness: as the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion were redrawn, entire social groups moved outside the sphere of state regulation. The welfare apparatus then became increasingly segregated by sex. Although women were the primary recipients of state assistance in the welfare society, their spouses had been subjected to considerable state scrutiny. In the mid-1960s, the state’s focus...


    • [Part III. Introduction]
      (pp. 165-172)

      According to prevailing mythology, 1989 marked a major turning point in Hungarian welfare development. That year is thought to be the grand historical marker, the moment when the processes of democratization and marketization restructured the system of re/distribution. On the one hand, democratization is said to have opened up the state to new political contests over what the population needed and to new forms of citizen involvement in satisfying those needs.¹ On the other hand, marketization is thought to underlie welfare restructuring. According to this logic, once the government became committed to a market economy, it began to see the...

    • 5. Materializing Need: The Regulation of Poverty and the Stigmatization of the Poor
      (pp. 173-205)

      Beginning in the late 1980s, social scientists, economists, and representatives of the IMF and World Bank engaged in a series of discursive exchanges over the direction of Hungarian welfare development. These exchanges had concrete institutional effects on the welfare apparatus. Out of policy studies came new proposals for the introduction of means-tested programs. Out of schools of social work came new cadres of welfare workers trained to regulate poverty. And out of international conferences came new casework models. Once organized around a series of maternal entitlements, the welfare apparatus was reconfigured to target and treat the materially deprived.

      These structural...

    • 6. Strategies of Excavation: Inclusions and Exclusions
      (pp. 206-236)

      When scholars evaluate the contemporary Hungarian welfare state, they tend to use one of two lenses. First, many assess it through a political lens to argue that the population has benefited from the “democratization” of the state sphere and the end of “bureaucratic state collectivism.”¹ Although these scholars acknowledge that welfare funding has dried up since the 1980s, such concerns are tempered by their belief in the power of democracy. At the policy level, they see new space for contests over whose needs will be met by the state.² With the ability to elect political representatives and to form nongovernmental...

  9. Conclusion: Welfare Lessons from East to West
    (pp. 237-248)

    In 1994, the Eötvös Lóránd University in Budapest held a memorable conference on welfare reform. Funded by a series of international foundations, the conference brought together prominent welfare scholars from Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and North America. The Westerners arrived with complicated welfare theories and models. Few of them had ever been to Hungary, and thus they began their speeches by rejoicing in how “exciting” it was that Hungary had finally been “opened up” to international comparison. The world was filled with examples for Hungary to learn from, and they were there to provide a sampling of these possibilities. Some...

  10. Methodological Appendix: Historical Excavation in an Era of Censorship
    (pp. 249-260)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 261-304)
  12. References
    (pp. 305-320)
  13. Index
    (pp. 321-338)