Skip to main content
×
Home

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.

Copyright
References
Hide All
Alexander C. (2009) ‘Illusions of freedom: Polanyi and the third sector’ in Hart K. and Hann C. M. (eds), Market and Society: the Great Transformation today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bähre E. (2007) Money and Violence; financial self-help groups in a South African township. Leiden: Brill Academic Publisher.
Bähre E. (2011) ‘Liberation and redistribution: social grants, commercial insurance, and religious riches in South Africa’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 53 (2): 371–92.
Baker T. and Simon J. (eds) (2002) Embracing Risk: the changing culture of insurance and responsibility. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.
Beck U. (1992) Risk Society: towards a new modernity. London: Sage.
Bourdieu P. (1999) Acts of Resistance: against the tyranny of the market. New York NY: New Press.
Bourdieu P. (2002) ‘The abdication of the state' in Bourdieu P., (ed.), The Weight of the World: social suffering in contemporary society. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Caplovitz D. (1967) The Poor Pay More: consumer practices of low-income families. London: Free Press.
Comaroff J. and Comaroff J. (eds) (2001) Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism. Raleigh NC: Duke University Press.
de Goede M. (2004) ‘Repoliticizing financial risk’, Economy and Society 33 (2): 197217.
Dekker M. and Wilms A. (2010) ‘Health insurance and other risk-coping strategies in Uganda: the case of Microcare Insurance Ltd’, World Development 38 (3).
Dercon S. (2008) ‘Fate and fear: risk and its consequences in Africa’, Journal of African Economies 17 (Supplement 2): ii 97ii 127.
Douglas M. (1994) Risk and Blame: essays in cultural theory. London: Routledge.
Elyachar J. (2002) ‘Empowerment money: the World Bank, non-governmental organizations, and the value of culture in Egypt’, Public Culture 14 (3): 493513.
Ericson R. V. and Doyle A. (2004) ‘Catastrophe risk, insurance and terrorism’, Economy and Society 33 (2): 135–73.
Ewald F. (1991) ‘Insurance and risk’, in Burchell G., Gordon C. and Miller P. (eds), The Foucault Effect: studies in governmentality with two lectures by and an interview with Michel Foucault. London, Toronto, Sydney, Tokyo and Singapore: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Ewald F. (2002) ‘The return of Descartes’ malicious demons: an outline of a philosophy of precaution’, in Baker T. and Simon J. (eds), Embracing Risk: the changing culture of insurance and responsibility. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.
Ferguson J. (2005) ‘Seeing like an oil company: space, security, and global capital in neoliberal Africa’, American Anthropologist 107 (3): 377–82.
FSC (2002) ‘Financial Services Charter 2002’. Pretoria: South African Treasury, <http://www.treasury.gov.za/comm_media/press/2003/2003101701.pdf>, accessed 21 October 2011.
Guyer J. I. (2009) ‘Composites, fictions, and risk: toward an ethnography of price’ in Hart K. and Hann C. M. (eds), Market and Society: the Great Transformation today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Handelman D. (1995) ‘Response to Heyman, J. M. (1995) “Putting power in the anthropology of bureaucracy: the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the Mexico–United States border” ’, Current Anthropology 36 (2): 261–87.
Hart K. and Hann C. M. (eds) (2009) Market and Society: the Great Transformation today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Herzfeld M. (1992) The Social Production of Indifference: exploring the symbolic roots of Western bureaucracy. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.
James D. (2011) ‘The return of the broker: consensus, hierarchy, and choice in South African land reform’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17 (2): 318–38.
Kiernan J. P. (1974) ‘Where Zionists draw the line: a study of religious exclusiveness in an African township’, African Studies 33 (2): 7990.
Leliveld A. (1997) ‘The effects of restrictive South African migrant labor policy on the survival of rural households in Southern Africa: a case study from rural Swaziland’, World Development 25 (11): 1839–49.
Livingston J. (2009) ‘Suicide, risk, and investment in the heart of the African miracle’, Cultural Anthropology 24 (4): 652–80.
Maurer B. (1999) ‘Forget Locke? From proprietor to risk-bearer in new logics of finance’, Public Culture 11 (2): 365–85.
Nienaber P. (2005) ‘An industry under siege’, speech of the Ombudsman for Long-Term Insurance on opening the LOA's Annual General Meeting: 18 November, Cape Town.
Nienaber P. and Preiss J. (2006) ‘Funeral insurance: a perception from the Office of the Ombudsman for Long-Term Insurance’, South African Merchantile Law Journal 18: 291.
Porteous D. (2005) ‘The access frontier: as an approach and tool in making markets work for the poor’, paper commissioned by Department for International Development's policy commission, <http://www.bankablefrontier.com/assets/pdfs/access-frontier-as-tool.pdf>, accessed June 2010.
Prahalad C. K. (2004) Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: eradicating poverty through profits. Upper Saddle River NJ: Wharton School Publishing.
Strathern M. (ed.) (2000) Audit Cultures: anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the academy. London: Routledge.
Thomson R. and Posel D. (2002) ‘The management of risk by burial societies in South Africa’, South African Actuarial Journal 2: 83127.
Zelizer V. A. (1978) ‘Human values and the market: the case of life insurance and death in 19th-century America’, American Journal of Sociology 84 (3): 591610.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 1
Total number of PDF views: 36 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 258 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.