Digital bodies and digitalised welfare: North-South linkages in the politics of food assistance and social welfare

This paper examines North–South linkages in the politics of contemporary food assistance and social welfare, and in particular the normalisation of poverty and humanitarian crisis caused by increased digitalisation, privatisation and individualisation of aid or welfare. We use Sudan, India and the UK as case-study countries which have seen persistently high levels of acute malnutrition or rising levels of hunger (as in the case of the UK), as well as the introduction of new digital welfare systems. Digital practices often aim to improve access to food and form a key part of humanitarian and welfare assistance, thereby creating digital welfare states. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated processes of digitalisation across all three countries. In this paper, we argue that digitalisation has not addressed hunger, but instead is likely to lead to exclusions and invisibility of the already politically marginalised groups. Additionally, a number of troubling political and economic questions linked to identity, surveillance and profit have been subsumed in the larger debate about efficiency and accountability in provisioning. On the other hand, evidence of protests and organised struggles indicates a growing opposition to the digitalisation of bodies and lives.