The Consolidation of Authoritarian Rule in Rural Hungary: Workfare and the Shift from Punitive Populist to Illiberal Paternalist Poverty Governance

The new open access article by Kristóf Szombati was published online in Europe-Asia Studies and is available at HERE.


The essay analyses the consolidation of authoritarian rule in Hungary by focusing on the ruling party's workfare programme, which has become a cornerstone of rural poverty governance. While most scholars treat workfare as a disciplinary-cum-punitive apparatus seeking to both stigmatise and activate surplus populations, I interpret the Hungarian workfare programme as a strategy of reincorporation pursued by the hegemonic ruling party with the aim of taming the angry politics born out of the dislocations caused by neoliberal restructuring. It is argued, on the basis of my own ethnographic research and the secondary literature, that workfare consolidated naturalized rural hierarchies by tying surplus populations into clientelistic relations with local mayors. The attractiveness of clientelism for impoverished and marginalized surplus populations resides in the mixing of subjectivation and discipline with the guarantee of (a modicum of) social security and the prospect of social membership.