chapter  2
15 Pages

Challenges to mutual aid: The Microinsurance Response: James Midgley


There has been a tendency in scholarly work on mutual aid to overstate and even romanticize the cooperative endeavours of traditional communities and to imply that mutual aid practices are an effective way of providing income protection in the Global South. It has often been claimed that traditional communities are characterized by a high degree of altruism and solidarity, with the result that people in need are adequately provided for. This interpretation characterized a great deal of formative ethnographic research in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but it is still popular today. It has even found expression in modern-day interpretations of social welfare such as that offered by Titmuss (1971), who believes that the social welfare policies of the Western nations reflect the same altruistic and solidarity tendencies found in traditional societies. Other social scientists, including hardheaded economists, have also commended the way in which rural communities in the developing world engage in collective action to meet their income protection needs. As noted in Chapter 1, Townsend’s (1994) research in India concluded that cooperative village activities are an effective way of dealing with risk.