Madalitso Zililo Phiri - Black Political Thought Speaker Series

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Black Political Thought Speaker Series - Departments of Political Studies and Philosophy

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"The Colour of Inequality in South Africa and Brazil: Making Sense of Transformative Social Policy "

Madalitso Zililo Phiri

Monday, June 14, 2021 | 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

ABSTRACT | South Africa’s and Brazil’s social policy architectures attempt to address the residues of institutional poverty, inequality, and unemployment. South Africa remains deeply unequal and polarized despite the African National Congress (ANC) government’s commitments to undo centuries of social stratification resulting from colonial legacies and post-apartheid policy constraints. On the other hand, at a heightened period of ‘progressive’ politics (2003—2016), under the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT)—Workers Party led government, Brazil’s social assistance programmes like the Bolsa Familia was viewed as a model to reduce inequality to be emulated across most countries in the Global South. To what extent are the social policies being pursued by both South Africa and Brazil leading toward a realisation of a new social contract? My presentation departs from the theoretical prism of studying welfare regimes through Eurocentric lenses, exemplified in the typologies of the welfare regime approach (WRA), liberal, corporatist, and social democratic regimes; and advocates a transformative social policy (TSP) as a paradigm to be considered. The experimentation of South Africa’s and Brazil’s social policies contain ideational and practical antinomies which are discussed by analyzing the role of social assistance in the wider social policy architectures which presents novel vistas to comprehend social and political change in the Global South. Drawing on 45 original key informant interviews and in-depth interviews of social assistance beneficiaries and policymakers in both South Africa and Brazil, and quantitative public datasets; the presentation argues that the commodification of social provisioning under the guise of neoliberal social policymaking threatens the imagination of a new social compact. Both countries are not prototypical examples of 21st century progressive social policies of the Global South. While progressive in design the two countries social policies fail to challenge institutional legacies of anti-black racism which are foundational to citizenship in both South Africa and Brazil.

BIOGRAPHY | Dr. Madalitso Zililo Phiri, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study, University of Johannesburg (UJ), South Africa, is a critical Black Studies scholar of political economy of development, social policy, historical sociology, and Black Radical Thought. He is a Pan-Africanist: Malawian citizen by birth, a South African permanent resident, with a transnational upbringing having lived in Mozambique for over ten years. Phiri pursues a research program of three complementary lines of inquiry: comparative social policy in South Africa and Brazil, race and the political economy of development in Africa, and Black Radical Thought. He is currently working on a book manuscript that builds on his doctoral thesis tentatively entitled ‘The Colour of Inequality in South Africa and Brazil: Making Sense of Transformative Social Policy’ under contract with Brill Academic Press. He recently published a book chapter entitled ‘History of Racial Capitalism in Africa: Violence, Ideology and Practice’, in the Palgrave Handbook of African Political Economy (2020). Phiri’s other publications include book chapters, refereed journal articles and policy briefs in the Journal of Southern African Studies (JSAS), Africa Insight, Black Agenda Review, African Journal of Conflict Resolution (AJCR), Innovation and Development, and the South African Journal of International Affairs (SAJIA). Phiri earned his Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in Sociology from the University of South Africa (UNISA); a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Development Studies, Bachelor of Social Science (Honours) in International Relations and Bachelor of Social Science in Politics and Sociology, all from the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa. He is a three time Fellow (2014-2017), through the US-based Social Science Research Council, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


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Organizer Department of Political Studies, Queen's University

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