Read it Open Access, or order it here.

Championed by behavioral economists and the World Bank, conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs are praised as efficient mechanisms for changing poor people’s behavior. While rooted in good intentions and dripping with the rhetoric of social inclusion, CCT successes ring hollow, based solely on metrics for children’s attendance at school and health appointments. Looking beyond these statistics reveals a host of hidden costs for the mothers who meet the conditions. With a poignant voice and keen focus on ethnographic research, Tara Patricia Cookson turns the reader’s gaze to women’s care work in landscapes of inadequate state investment, cleverly drawing out the tensions between social inclusion and conditionality.

Winner of the 2019 National Women’s Studies Association Sarah A. Whaley Book Prize

“In Unjust Conditions, Tara Patricia Cookson reveals the hidden costs of programs instituted to change the behavior of poor people and critiques the rhetoric of social inclusion that is based on conditionality. Through rigorous ethnographic work, Cookson documents women’s care work and the high price they pay for receiving aid from the state and international programs. In doing so, Cookson challenges powerful institutions as well as her readers to think beyond quantitative measures to truly create a just and caring society.”

Winner of the 2019 AAG Globe Book Award for Public Understanding of Geography

“Tara Patricia Cookson’s outstanding book Unjust Conditions: Women’s Work and the Hidden Cost of Cash Transfer Programs is an elegantly written and accessible portrait of how rural women in Peru experience and cope with the often hidden and detrimental socioeconomic demands of a much-heralded development program. Through careful, self-aware ethnographic methods, Cookson presents a powerful counter-argument to the fashionable yet problematic practice of “data-driven development”. Unjust Conditions should be required reading for students, scholars, the general public, and—most importantly—practitioners of development searching for innovative and socially just alternatives to conventional development thinking.”

2019 Global Development Studies Book Award Honourable Mention, International Studies Association


“This is an outstanding book—a stunning indictment of expert schemes that overlook lived realities in order to conjure the appearance of success. Lucid, incisive, and compelling—bravo!” TANIA LI, Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto

“Cookson’s Unjust Conditions stands out as a genuine, major contribution addressing important blind spots frequently neglected in this debate. A must-read for scholars, activists and policymakers committed to combating poverty.” LENA LAVINAS, Professor of Welfare Economics, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

“If there was a need for demonstrating the value of ‘slow research’ for clear policy thinking and informed practice, Cookson provides a powerful and compelling proof.”SHAHRA RAZAVI, Chief of Research and Data, UN Women

Unjust Conditions is a book written for exactly these times, as we collectively demand an end to violence against women in all its forms. Cookson takes us on a journey to find out the truth about conditional aid, introducing us to women who debunk gendered myths underpinning CCTs.” JANE BARRY, activist and author of Rising up in Response: Women’s Rights Activism in Conflict

“Cookson’s research gives voice to women living with unjust ‘shadow conditions’ imposed by CCTs. This book poses compelling questions about identity, power, wealth and justice and challenges us to take the time to listen and identify possibilities for meaningful change.” MARTHA CHOE, former Chief Administrative Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“In this much-needed ethnography, Cookson shows the importance of looking beyond the statistics of short-term poverty reduction to shed light on the hidden, unintended effects on people’s lives and how these undermine long-term social change.” JELKE BOESTEN, author of Sexual Violence in War and Peace: Gender and Post-conflict Justice in Peru

“Cookson’s book brings us to the heart of the workings of contemporary social assistance. This major contribution reveals how inequality is reproduced through the web of social relations these programs create.” STÉPHANIE ROUSSEAU, Professor, Department of Social Sciences, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú

“Cookson’s book is a most welcome contribution to our understanding of CCTs, casting important light on how they work on the ground and what onerous demands they can place on beneficiaries and poorly paid social workers. This book has important lessons for policymakers and scholars alike.” MAXINE MOLYNEUX, author of The Social and Political Potential of Cash Transfers

“Through the tripartite lens of care, power, and geography, Unjust Conditions reveals how CCTs consolidate a post-welfare world in which a redistributive politics of unconditional cash transfers is silenced as a viable alternative in global development debates.” VICTORIA LAWSON, Professor of Geography, University of Washington

“Delving below rosy outcome data, Cookson convincingly demonstrates how the globally popular CCT relies upon, rather than challenges, deep-seated relations of power.” ELISABETH JAY FRIEDMAN, Professor of Politics and Latin American Studies, University of San Francisco

“CCTs have been evaluated by sophisticated statistical methods that ignore moral issues. This book adds to the critique of conditionality and overhyped evaluative methods. It also adds to the demand that the concept of work be radically changed so that care work is given its proper recognition.” GUY STANDING, author of The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class