Marc Aidinoff: "Digital Welfare Reform: The Constitutional Project of Computerizing Government"
Abstract: In the 1980s and 90s, “New Democrats,” many proudly taking up the banner of neo-liberalism, promised a new welfare state. They committed to “end welfare as we know it.” This political project, to revive the partisan label of liberalism, was equally a technical endeavor. It required the imagined technological capacity to administer the entitlements of citizenship with an ever-evolving logic and specificity. To explicate that logic, the presentation draws on the archive of Mississippi’s welfare administration system, where the desire to modernize the Old South was particularly acute. It treats the work of computerizing welfare in Mississippi as a constitutional process. Doing so recognizes the welfare state as something in progress, a soon-to-be-reformed state that relied on the constant promise of renewed modernization and upgrade. This digital welfare state simultaneously expanded the reach of state power and foreclosed the possibility of universal welfare entitlements, let alone rights.
Speaker bio: Marc Aidinoff is a doctoral candidate in MIT’s program in History, Anthropology, and STS (HASTS) where he examines the interplay between technology policy and social policy. His dissertation, “A More Updated Union: New Liberals and their New Computers in the New New South, 1984-2004” traces the computerization of welfare in the United States and the rise of centrist Democratic politics. He has served as a strategist for Democratic campaigns and as an assistant director for domestic and economic policy in the Obama-Biden White House.