Actuarial States: Protection and Damage in Paraguay’s Micro-Insurance Industry

7 February 2018 (Wed), 5pm
At Global Learning Room 2

A talk with Dr. Caroline Schuster, a senior lecturer at the School of Archeology and Anthropology at Austrailian National University.

Critical approaches to neoliberalism posit that financialized capitalism thrives on risk, and that the most powerful financial actors are especially adept at harvesting profits while strategically transferring damages. But how do these transfers actually happen? When we claim that powerful interests ‘offload’ risk onto others, what does that mean and how are those transfers enacted in everyday economic practice? Curiously, the Paraguayan government has enlisted the insurance industry itself to mediate risk in its effort to make the distribution of harms more equitable. Life insurance policies for its most vulnerable citizens – beneficiaries enrolled in direct cash transfer aid – have been rolled into a wider suite of programs aimed at increasing access to basic financial services. This talk considers ‘actuarial states’ of risk management, where public provisioning and private profit are complexly intertwined. By tracking these transfers ethnographically from the Paraguayan Central Bank, to private insurance providers, to government social workers, to the debit cards of ordinary Paraguayans, I suggest that the social management of transfer is a crucial mechanism for enacting politics within financial systems today.