New Publication: Sociotechnical Reconfigurations of Social Policy in China

In a new article in the journal Global Social Policy, Christof Lammer examines social policy as a knowledge process and shows how the minimum livelihood guarantee (dibao) of the People’s Republic of China and its relationship to labour changes not only through human actors’ intentions but through the sociotechnical materiality of bureaucratic targeting methods.

The relationship between labour and social policy is at the heart of the social question. Scholars often treat this link as either a causal relation out there or a conceptual connection in policy makers’ minds. This article examines its sociotechnical materiality instead. Christof Lammer follows political anthropologists who ask how bureaucrats practice policy and scholars of science and technology studies who explore how social and technical aspects are interrelated in knowledge processes.

China studies has suggested that the minimum livelihood guarantee (dibao) was originally designed as a market-oriented response to transformations of labour such as mass layoffs, peasant proletarianisation and associated unrest but later revamped to only combat extreme poverty – similar to earlier forms of social assistance during the Mao era. Ethnographic insights into dibao policy in a village in Sichuan show how its designed links to labour were erased and transformed through different methods of bureaucratic targeting, as well as expectations about the bureaucratic ability to know. For a time, dibao was even integrated into alternative rural development projects aimed at decommodification.

Studying social policy as a knowledge process uncovers how its sociotechnical links to labour reconfigure it as an answer to the social question.

Lammer, Christof. 2023. “Social Policy as Knowledge Process: How Its Sociotechnical Links to Labour Reconfigure the Social Question.” Global Social Policy,

Christof Lammer is a social anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Science, Technology and Society Studies (STS) at the University of Klagenfurt.