The institutionalization of guaranteed minimum income systems in France and Belgium, carried out through the modernization of assistance schemes (Minimex in 1974, RMI in 1988), has generally been presented as the political outcome of the “rediscovery” of “hidden” poverty in the “affluent” societies of the mid-1960s. This article argues that a vision of this shift in terms of a “discovery,” however, suffers from significant limitations. To understand the historical pedigree of the reforms, this article will examine how the issue of “poverty” as such, was not simply “discovered” as a neglected social ill, but rather, “produced” to allow for new techniques of social intervention. The theoretical discovery of the “poverty” issue then, was marked by the slow constitution of a new political subject known as the “poor,” whose categorization and conceptualization would stand in stark opposition to the postwar welfare state notions of social justice and equality.

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