ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P65)

Linking the moral and the political economy in the European periphery

Location Appleton Tower, Lecture Theatre 1
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Jaime Palomera (Universitat de Barcelona) email
Theodora Vetta (Universitat de Barcelona) email
Mail All Convenors

Summary

This panel will focus on the current 'remaking' of the European periphery, with its accelerated processes of dispossession, to explore how moral arguments around provisioning are simultaneously linked to economic models, forms of regulation, and actual everyday practices of livelihood.

Long Abstract

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith contends that human beings tend to identify with what others feel, and to form moral judgments based on this. We determine whether the feelings of others are just or unjust, correct or incorrect, depending on whether we sympathize with them or not. Because we tend to sympathize more with those who are affectively connected to us, the privileged space for moral sentiments is that of intimacy. This approach somehow resonates with anthropologists' general conception of moral economies. Theorists have traditionally confined their analyses of morality to the strict sphere of kinship, friendship and community. Yet the difference is that anthropology has the capacity to expose the ways in which moral economies are articulated with the political economy, i.e. with the sources and forms of structural inequality. In this panel, we invite anthropologists to explore the current 'remaking' of the European periphery, with its accelerated processes of dispossession, as a way to scrutinize how moral arguments around provisioning are simultaneously linked to economic models, forms of regulation, and actual everyday practices of livelihood. Following this broad question, presenters are asked to reflect on the following questions: 1) What are the material and ideological conditions of possibility that increasingly impoverished people face when designing life projects? 2) How do they negotiate different moral frameworks in their pursuit of a better life? 3) What is the relationship between authoritative models of the economy and the real economic projects and practices of ordinary people?

Chair: Victoria Goddard (Goldsmiths College, University of London)
Discussant: Frances Pine (Goldsmiths College, University of London)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The morals in the models: southern Europe in historical perspective

Authors: Jaime Palomera (Universitat de Barcelona)  email
Theodora Vetta (Universitat de Barcelona)  email

Summary

This presentation will explore the role that different schools of thought have historically accorded to moral economies in their analyses of political-economic developments in southern Europe. Moreover, it will highlight the moral frameworks that emerge in different models and political projects.

Long Abstract

Mainstream economic theories analyzing Southern Europe have generally presented forms of family solidarity, reciprocity and patronage as backward cultural norms. The assumption is that these forms of organization, allegedly specific to the south, are sustained by moral values preventing them from fully 'converging' with the European countries of the core. Interestingly, during the 1990s, a more positive attitude emerged following a dominant cultural turn in economic policy that celebrated the 'social capital' of regional economies. Yet more recently, essentialist elements of modernization theories have been resurrected and popularized through the moral fable on the euro-crisis. According to this tale, the economies of the south crashed and fell into massive public debt partly because of the transhistorical 'cultural' traits of their peoples. In this paper we will attempt to historically expose the models and political projects behind all the above reasonings. We argue that attaching moral arguments when analyzing the south obscures the fact that moral obligations and social embeddedness are actually a fundamental part of how economies work everywhere. Our aim is not only to deconstruct cultural essentialisms but also to show how such southern "particularities" are indeed historical and emerge in a dialectic articulation with structural processes and shifts in the global political economy. To sum up, we hypothesize that moral arguments around provisioning pervade and simultaneously articulate economic models, forms of regulation and everyday practices of livelihood-and vice versa.

On the moral economy of European integration: debt and obligation among Greek technocrats

Author: Dimitrios Gkintidis (Princeton University)  email

Summary

This paper aims to underline the moral premises on which pro-EU and pro-austerity discourses currently addressed by Greek technocrats to the national audience are structured.

Long Abstract

The recent economic crisis in Greece has entailed a series of discussions in the Greek public sphere regarding the past and the future of Greece's position within the European Union (EU). The discourse of those who advocate the implementation of neoliberal reforms has been largely structured around the deemed necessity to meet the EU's demands and avoid a potential Greek exit from the eurozone or even the EU. Networks of Greek technocrats who had mediated the project of European Integration in Greece over the last 30 years stand, among others, as public supporters of these neoliberal reforms. Their analyses of political economy or European politics have been largely paired with moral readings of past Greek-EU relations and essentialist representations of a morally ambivalent Greek society. Their insistence on reminding the Greek audience of the large amounts of developmental EU funds that had been channeled to Greece for the previous 25 years is telling of a particular moral experience of Greek-EU relations in the terms of "european solidarity", gifts and ensuing obligations. Based on ethnographic and textual material, this paper will attempt to retrace the moral genealogy of this particular strand of pro-neoliberal discourse in Greece. It aims to point out that these social agents have in fact assumed the role of mediating and reproducing particular representations of social obligation, indicative of their own experience and interests in the moral economy of European Integration.

'Honest and successful Serbia': reconfiguring moral economy at the time of neoliberal reform

Author: Marek Mikuš (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Summary

The moral rhetoric employed by politicians in present-day Serbia is analysed as a way of tapping into, and reconfiguring, the established moral economy in order to legitimate the emergent neoliberal state form and politico-economic model.

Long Abstract

Spatio-temporal fixes to crises of capitalism, including the one currently unfolding in the European periphery, necessitate transformations of the state and its relations with the market and society. Since 'state forms are always animated and legitimated by a particular moral ethos,' as Corrigan and Sayer have shown, this entails a remaking of moral economy - the popular conceptions of economic justice and acceptable forms of exploitation that underpin hegemonic politico-economic models. This paper unpacks moral rhetoric employed by politicians in present-day Serbia to legitimate neoliberal reforms as an example of such top-down reconfiguration of moral economy. Rather than 'de-moralising' the economy, as James Ferguson argued for structural adjustment in Africa, this market-populist rhetoric, and the governmental interventions and bureaucratic routines it justifies, are analysed as an instance of 're-moralising' the emergent neoliberal regime and styling it as both 'modern' and 'honest.' The politicians use popular moral metaphors of theft, looting or 'living on the hump of the nation' as a proven strategy of discrediting the state-centred accumulation strategies of hostile elites, but increasingly extend the stigma also to the 'parasitic' public sector that remains a crucial source of livelihood in the devastated economy. Virtuous private enterprise, 'flexible' labour regime, and sacrifice for the country and the future are to supersede the alleged lazy and state-dependent ways of the Serbs. In the process, the social purpose of the state is being redefined as facilitating neoliberal capitalist development - the one truly rational and moral source of subsistence and welfare.

The moral and ideological foundations of austerity welfare: an ethnography of bureaucratic regulation in Portuguese job centres

Author: Patrícia Alves de Matos (University of Barcelona, GRECO)  email

Summary

Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Portuguese job centres, focusing on the bureaucratic transactions between unemployed benefits recipients and front-line staff, this paper reflects on the moral and ideological foundations underpinning the current austerity-led welfare state regime.

Long Abstract

Following the economic crisis of 2008, Portugal signed a structural adjustment programme with the 'Troika' in 2011, binding the government to undertake a re-evaluation plan of the role and functions of Public Employment Services. In March 2012 the 'Relaunching Programme of Public Employment Services' put into effect changes in the organization and administrative functioning of job centres, with the broader stated aim of promoting, among the growing unemployed population, the reinforcement of 'behaviors leading to active job search and 'employability' skills improvement'. In the everyday life of job centres this is expressed, for instance, in a) an expansion of workfare practices (i.e. stronger conditionalities, sanctions and tighter eligibility criteria for accesing benefits; compulsory requirement made upon benefits recipients to participate in training or work-oriented programmes), and b) the increased enactment of surveillance administrative practices (i.e. the systematic summon of benefits recipients to attend sessions of individual data updating at job centres). It is argued that in Portugal, the emerging state-led welfare austerity regime of unemployment social protection is underpinned by a 'paternalistic utilitarianism' framework of regulation: unemployed recipients are treated as child-like dependents, whose individual behaviour should be under surveillance and aligned with the government's goals, while simultaneously being urged to act as independent individuals, responsible for their own well-being through their entrepreneurial, rational and self-maximizing utilitarian efforts to improve themselves and act upon their condition. Consequently, welfare unemployment provision shifts from being defined according to need or social right, to be made conditional upon the enactment of the normalized state-induced expected behaviour.

The moral economy of subsistence: an ethnography of every-day life in post-soviet Russian countryside

Author: Glenn Mainguy (Université Bordeaux Segalen)  email

Summary

From an ethnographic study of every-day life in post-soviet rural Russia, I argue that the moral sentiments structure the household production and explain, following the concept of moral economy of subsistence, how individuals experience and negotiate the economic changes that happened in Russia.

Long Abstract

Toward a study of the everyday practices of livelihood of people living in the rural Russia, we try to understand how individuals experience and negotiate the economic (Wegren, Nefedova, O'brien) changes happened in Russia. I started an ethnographic study of every-day life (Humphrey, Caldwell, Weber, Schwartz) in 2012 in the regions of Kolomna. During my fieldwork, I have analyzed the production, the consumption and the exchange of products from the household production. The aim of my purpose is to show that the household production is not only structure by economical (is the sense of political economy) logics (Kostov, Lingard, Davidova) but also by a set of moral sentiments. I argue that those moral sentiments are based in an ethic of good, of necessary and of fair and are based on an opposition between "us", people living in the countryside "the established" and "them" people living in the city "the outsiders" (Hoggart, Elias). Thus, from the study of moral sentiments I define a type of moral economy of subsistence (Thompson, Scott, Tchayanov). I analyze this concept with three modalities: the practices of livelihood; the embeddedness of economic structures and social structures: cultural values and moral concerns (Polanyi, Granovetter); the opposition and the resistance to domination toward the notion of svoy and nashemu. The definition of this type of moral economy of subsistence will help us understand a paradox of the rural Russia society: why whereas the overall living conditions increase, individuals have the feeling of living worse and worse.

Solidarities and tensions among workers: household, kinship and intimacy across and beyond the production line

Author: Dimitra Kofti (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Summary

In the context of flexibilisation of labour, this paper explores the ways in which work relations inform and shape household and relations of intimacy and vice versa.

Long Abstract

This paper explores how flexibilisation of labour interrelates with workers' kinship, household and other types of intimate relationships which, in their turn, affect relationships between different workers' groups on the shopfloor as well as inform managerial practices of production. This reciprocal set of relations suggests an understanding of moral and political economic choices as interlinked. Based on long-term ethnography of working class families and on factory ethnography in Bulgaria, I will discuss the ways in which inequalities between workers' groups with different statuses and positions, such as permanent and temporary ones, which often have conflicting interests, are intertwined with other tensions among relatives and household members. Furthermore, I will discuss how solidarities and relationships of dependency among household members, who work at the same company, clash with solidarities among shopfloor workers and cut across structural divisions of production. Taking into account anthropological literature on small and large scale industrial companies, this paper aims to contribute to discussions on contemporary inequalities shaped by flexible regimes of production.

Family strategies and social restructuring in historical perspective: the case of Greece

Author: Anastasios Grigorakis (Université Paris 8)  email

Summary

This paper aims to explore the shifts in historically dominant family practices and strategies in Greece within the context of the current radical economic depression and deregulation.

Long Abstract

This paper aims to explore the shifts in historically dominant family practices and strategies in Greece within the context of the current radical economic depression and deregulation. Throughout the whole post-war period and mainly during the period of rapid urbanization and economic transformation in Greece, family and kinship networks constituted a locus of social norms, practices, strategies and solidarities which despite their contradictions not only served as a vehicle for subsistence but also as a mean for social reproduction and/or mobility. Thus, socially and geographically widespread family practices, such as pluriactivity, intergenerational housing strategies or expensive educational strategies within an otherwise 'free' education system played a structural role in the process of social transformation. Moreover, due to the late and residual development of the Greek welfare state, the "family moral" constituted the main mechanism for social welfare.

However, the severe economic crisis that hit the country since 2010 has put into question family's ability to develop long-term intergenerational practices and strategies. Neo-liberal counter-reform such as deep cuts in wages, extreme unemployment, labour market deregulation and public services retrenchment constitute a social environment where dominant social norms and practices can't fulfill their social role as individuals and their families are increasingly unable to follow the established forms of social reproduction and subsistence. Therefore, the reshaping of the way families cope with the crisis and the reconstruction of intergenerational strategies among the different social classes need further scrutiny as a revalorization of "grassroots" practices (i.e. revival of family farms) seem to emerge.

"Why should we eat the buttocks every day? Just because we are poor!?" Informal credit, poverty and competing grounds of belonging

Author: Alexandra Szőke  email

Summary

The paper examines the ways in which informal credit and every-day consumption is utilized in local claims and negotiations of belonging in a remote Hungarian village and its connection to the broader phenomena of 'rescaling of insecurities', a concomitant of neoliberal reforms.

Long Abstract

The paper examines the ways in which informal credit is utilized in local claims and negotiations of belonging in a remote Hungarian village, where resources are scarce and unemployment is high. A large part of the population lives from state assistance and rely on continuous credit for their everyday consumption. Similar to other remote rural localities, informal arrangements, such as informal credit, gain special importance within the various practices that individuals or families can utilize for their or their families' present and future security. Examining the way such credit practices are established and locally constructed, the paper explores their effects vis-a-vis social citizenship. It is shown that indebtedness of local unemployed and the short-termism evident in their consumption practices are the results of a broader phenomenon, namely the rescaling of insecurities, a concomitant of neoliberal reforms in the country. Within this political economic context, the dominant public discourse describes the unemployed and their practices in highly moralized terms, which not only stigmatizes people living in poverty but also demands public control over various spheres of their life, such as parenting, living arrangements or money-spending. The paper discusses informal credit, and what is judged as "unthoughtful consumption" by the majority and underlines the role of consumption in local claims and negotiations of belonging.

Who does Trepča work for? Ethnicity and property regime in northern Kosovo

Author: Marko Balazevic (Central European University)  email

Summary

Built on the ruins of socialist modernization and contested sovereignty claims, the social reproduction of life in northern Kosovo is articulated through a moral economy of ethnic homogenization through which an unstable appeasement of a dispossessed and disenfranchised class is maintained.

Long Abstract

The paper discusses the material reproduction of life of people in Northern Kosovo, focusing in particular on the Trepča Mining Enterprise which was built around the, now ethnically divided, city of Kosovska Mitrovica where the fieldwork was conducted. While the formal economy has been reduced to a marginal role in the economy of Northern Kosovo, Trepča still remains the largest employer with estimated 4000 employees. Only 1000 to 1200 people are effectively employed, while rest rely on a modest stipend and, with enough social capital, a place in the rotating employment scheme. The enterprise inherited a network of social subsidiaries which were integral part of the enterprise during socialism and today remain funded and staffed by Trepča. They are crucial for the social reproduction of life of local people, further blurring the understanding of the property regime, caught up between residual social ownership articulated with the capitalist mode of production. Trepča is still regarded as 'ours', bound to secure for the people, albeit redefined in exclusive ethnic categories. Organic conception of ethnic people supplants the former socialist entitlements, while masking the conspicuous inequalities between a dispossessed and disenfranchised subaltern and a shadowy political-economic elite. Intra-ethnic class antagonism is pacified through modest material entitlements and through ethno-nationalist galvanization gazing at the 'other' across the river. However, behind the veil of militant nationalism, people are painfully aware that the ambiguity over sovereignty in Northern Kosovo creates lucrative opportunities for an oligarchic elite, whose business activities are not hindered by ethnic considerations.

Local worlds, state subsidies and external resources: moral expectations and economic practices in a Transylvanian village

Author: Árpád Töhötöm Szabó (Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca)  email

Summary

This paper presents the everyday economic practices of the different local groups in a multiethnic Transylvanian village in the light of the marketisation and investigates how they interpret their successes and failures and formulate moral expectations in relation to each other and the state.

Long Abstract

The paper presents on the background of the postsocialist change, marketisation and the recent crisis the case of the villagers from a multiethnic village (Romanians, Hungarians, and Roma) in Transylvania whose life and economic practices are characterized by a threefold tension. They experienced the economic disintegration of the local world (the village does not offer enough resources for making a living); the socialist, paternalistic state disappeared, but in recent years has become one of the major economic actors through its different subsidies (e.g. SAPS funds) and social aids; and those are the really successful ones, who are able to embed into external markets. The villagers are part of and see themselves as part of a global context, while they are able to influence only their close surroundings being unable to exert effects on the national or global levels. They try to surmount these tensions by evoking moral views about fair conditions and happier life, but these morally embedded discourses differ depending on ethnicity, social and economic position. The decreased demand for their work and products, the devaluation of land, the ambiguous presence of the state, the foreign investors have thus two effects: the villagers have to reinvent repeatedly their economic practices and while trying to do this they formulate moral sentences to interpret successes and failures. The paper analyzes how the hope for a better future, the religious and ethnic communities, the networks of mutual help, political conditions and economic circumstances interplay in the formation of a popular wisdom (metis).

Articulating 'capitalism', 'socialism' and 'crisis' among Cuban migrants in Spain

Author: Valerio Simoni (The Graduate Institute, Geneva)  email

Summary

The paper considers how Cuban migrants suffering the effects of current economic transformations in Spain articulate different values and frameworks of expectation associated with living in ‘capitalist’ Spain and ‘socialist’ Cuba, and are led to reassess possible life projects in the two ‘systems’.

Long Abstract

In the last two decades, an increasing number of Cuban nationals have migrated to Spain with the prospect of improving their lives and livelihoods. A common narrative circulating among the Cuban migrants with whom I carried out fieldwork in Barcelona during 2012 and 2013 is that they had left behind a crisis-ridden socialist system with the hope of joining a more affluent capitalist one. The current transformations in Spain, however, are reshaping the conditions of possibility these people are facing, prompting a reassessment of the two 'systems' and what they have to offer. Grounded in ethnographic research in Cuba and Spain, and inductively linking moral and political economies, the paper explores how Cuban migrants articulate these two frameworks of expectation, and are led to reassess and reimagine different life projects in the two countries. Discussing their precarious conditions in Spain, people criticize insecurity, individualism, isolation, lack of solidarity, and the primacy of work and money as current features of life in the capitalist country. This is contrasted with the situation in Cuba, seen by some as 'the best country in the world to be poor', where basic needs are guaranteed and solidarity still thrives, and where making a living is not predicated on having a formal job. Such relational oppositions and the assertions they prompt on the two systems and their different possibilities in times of crisis, lead to wider reflections on what makes for a good life, and what ought to be the place of the economic in it.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.