Between compassion and racism: how the biopolitics of neoliberal welfare turns citizens into affective ‘idiots’

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A sharp increase in racism and xenophobia, alongside an increase in philanthropy and charity, mark Europe’s Janus-faced reaction to the social consequences of the economic crisis. This paper goes beyond the racism/xenophobia vs. charity/philanthropy dualism, arguing that these seemingly antithetical responses have more in common than we may think. (1) Both are equally divisive and ‘othering’ practices. Whilst racism transforms human beings into de-humanized entities in order to be able to hate them, charity transforms human beings into dependent objects in order to be able to offer aid. (2) Both are strongly affective yet deeply apolitical reactions of people who lose their political agency as they become imbued with fear and insecurity; of citizens who turned into indebted apolitical objects, when social solidarity and welfare provision turned from a collective responsibility into a private affair. When housing, healthcare, etc. became accessible mainly through private loans and mortgage markets, private welfare debt became the biopolitical tool that enrolled the workforce into volatile financial speculative practices and turned citizens into fear-imbued ‘idiots’, i.e. private individuals who can only care for their private matters. Understanding the biopolitics of privatized welfare and increased household debt as the process that drives this transformation of citizens into ‘idiots’ allows us to move beyond the false dilemma of charity vs. racism, in search of a politics of solidarity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalEuropean Planning Studies
Early online date11 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Affect
  • biopolitics
  • crisis
  • debt
  • financialization
  • philanthropy
  • racism
  • solidarity
  • subjectification
  • welfare
  • xenophobia


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