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THE JANUS FACE OF INSURANCE IN SOUTH AFRICA: FROM COSTS TO RISK, FROM NETWORKS TO BUREAUCRACIES

Abstract
ABSTRACT

This study examines the consequences of the rapid and unprecedented expansion of insurances for the poor in South Africa. Over the last ten years, South African insurance companies established a myriad of policies in order to incorporate the previously excluded, mostly African, poor and lower middle classes. While poverty, violence and AIDS put state institutions and social relations under pressure, insurances enable people to manage risks in hitherto unthinkable ways. The article examines the development of this new regime of risk as a Janus head, after the Roman god of opening and closing. At the heart of access to insurance were the incongruencies that were caused by the ‘translation’ of risk into the seemingly neutral concept of costs and the inability of brokers and intermediary organizations to navigate these translations successfully. Access to insurance – here not defined as having an insurance policy but as making a successful claim when confronted with the insured risk – was fraught with the contradictions of complex high-tech bureaucracies and the poor's social networks.

RÉSUMÉ

Cette étude examine les conséquences de l'essor rapide sans précédent des assurances pour les pauvres en Afrique du Sud. Au cours des dix dernières années, les compagnies d'assurance sud-africaines ont introduit moult polices pour inclure les classes moyennes inférieures et les classes défavorisées, principalement africaines, jusqu'alors exclues. Alors que la pauvreté, la violence et le SIDA mettent à rude épreuve les institutions d’État et les relations sociales, les assurances permettent aux particuliers de gérer les risques de manières diverses jusqu'alors impensables. L'article examine l'essor de ce nouveau régime de risque à la façon d'une tête de Janus (dieu romain de l'ouverture et de la fermeture). Au cœur de l'accès à l'assurance figuraient les incongruités causées par la « traduction » du risque en notion de coûts, en apparence neutre, et l'incapacité des courtiers et organisations intermédiaires à manier ces traductions de façon satisfaisante. L'accès à l'assurance, qui n'est pas défini ici comme le fait de posséder une police d'assurance mais d'obtenir une suite favorable à une demande d'indemnité lorsque l'assuré est confronté au risque assuré, était pétri des contradictions liées aux administrations complexes versées dans les hautes technologies et aux réseaux sociaux des pauvres.

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Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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