Cultures of Entitlement and Social Protection: Evidence from Flood Prone Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, India

Supriya Akerkar, P. C. Joshi, Maureen Fordham

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13 Citations (Scopus)
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Sen’s entitlement thesis rooted in social contract theory has been used to explain access to food, and is used by states to design social protection programs as transfer entitlements to diffuse food insecurities. Social protection programs have now burgeoned in several countries as a strategy to enable the poor to overcome risks, vulnerabilities and poverty. These social protection programs have inclusion and exclusion errors, which current theorization attributes mainly to political clientalism, social vulnerability, elite capture, targeting inefficiency, leakages and corruption, lack of information transparency and improper designing of social protection programs. This paper argues that the errors are due to a more fundamental assumption made in application of social contract and entitlement-based approach to social protection programing. It identifies an uncritical application of Sen’s entitlement thesis to social protection programs, as leading to inclusion and exclusion errors. The main problematic, the paper shows is that the social contract-led entitlement thesis works within the domain of formal rights situated within the state-citizen relations, and as such, misses out on the non-formal entitlements and non-state influences that impact materialization of social protection programs in practice. Evidences from flood prone Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, India indicate that non-state rules linked with clientele and patronage relations, moral and local political economies trump over formal rights to mediate social protection entitlement outcomes. Rather than abstract state-citizen social contract, it is the moral contracts of reciprocal exchanges with influential patrons embedded in the moral economy of the villages that ultimately ground the social protection entitlement claims of poor villagers. Conceptualizing this process of access as cultures of entitlement, the paper builds a framework for reinterpretation of entitlements and their outcomes, suggesting a recalibration of application of Sen’s entitlement thesis to social protection programs. In conclusion it argues that Sen’s entitlement thesis which is pitched at transfer of economic resources through social protection from the state to the poor is inadequate. Learning from social movements currently leading the transparency and accountability struggles in India, it calls for an instituting and recognition of accountability as new cultural resource and entitlement. In conclusion it argues that information, and accountability as new cultural entitlements, when mobilized through collective agency of the poor can potentially challenge the current cultures of entitlements evidenced in this paper that presently underlie social protection outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-58
JournalWorld Development
Early online date30 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


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