Abstract Social security is firmly rising on the international agenda. Discourses that depart from the assumption that societies can only afford a certain level of social expenditure give way to a recognition that social security is an important investment in development. New interventions in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan express this changing vision and a larger commitment on the part of the state. This increased emphasis on the need to provide social security is appropriate, if not long overdue, given the grave insecurities that large parts of the populations of these countries experience. However, the new weight that social security has gained in national discourses also brings to light a paradox: While the state is supposed to protect people against vulnerabilities, these very vulnerabilities seem to be created or reinforced by manifestations of economic and political regimes. While this paradox has been identified earlier, its understanding is poor and has yet to be reflected in measures to provide income and employment security. This is an important gap in our understanding of social security that I address with the paper in the context of South Asian agricultural workers. The paper takes the paradoxical role of the state in both creating insecurities and having the means to alleviate them as its starting point. It aims to understand the expressions of this paradox in the life and work of agricultural workers in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan from a political economy perspective. Polanyi’s (1965 [1944]) theorisation of a ‘double movement’ towards both commodification and protection that characterises the situation of labour in market societies provides an analytical starting point.

International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Siegmann, K. A. (2012). Populous, Precarious – Protected? The Paradox of Social Security for South Asian Agricultural Workers. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1765/38413