EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination
Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010
Class, crisis and anthropology: the place of class in understanding the discipline and the world
Location John Hume Lecture Theatre 2
Date and Start Time 25 Aug, 2010 at 11:30
In considering the current crisis, we should not forget that much of Europe was in crisis in the first half of the 1800s. One response to that crisis was a political-economic understanding of society as made up of classes, an understanding derided and forgotten in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The results have been unfortunate for anthropology, for understanding society and for people's lives. It is time to reconsider that forgotten response. This panel will do so in three ways. Firstly, it will consider what 'class' means, both analytically and empirically. Secondly, it will consider how class affects people's lives. Thirdly, it will consider the implications of the concept for how anthropologists think about their object of study and the discipline. The result will be a consideration not just of the significance of class in the world, but also of the place of class in anthropology.
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.
This presentation will lay out the themes of the panel: why class is important, what our inattention to it has cost us, and why a return to the use of class is timely.
Reflections on the spirit level: anthropology and the eating class
Wilkinson and Pickett, in The Spirit Level (2009), shedding any complex notions of class, make a compelling class-based argument that shows a strong correlation between a pathological habitus and high levels of social inequality. This level of meta-analysis succeeds in a way that has evaded an anthropology tied to an ethnographic notion of holism. In this paper I look at the way the fetishization of 'the ethnographic' has restricted the long-standing ambition to transpose methods designed for one kind of social formation onto others, particularly those in which class is identified as a significant feature. The appeal to class analysis, of which this session is indicative, often carries with it the explicit or implicit demand for 'relevance', a familiar claim from many quarters of anthropology. In focusing The Spirit Level it will be argued that 'relevance' often represents the confusion of two aims in anthropology: the conservation of professional terrain and the extension of explanatory ambition regardless of disciplinary protocol.
The financial crisis: a view from a Brazilian barrio
The paper discusses the impact of the financial crisis on some residents of Primavera, a favela of Volta Redonda, a steel town funded by President Vargas in 1930s around the Companhia Siderurgica Nacional (CSN) the symbol of Brazil's industrialisation. Some of the residents described in the paper are workers of the CSN - the biggest steel plant in Latin America - some are informal or illegal workers and others are unemployed. On the one hand the micro-politics of the barrio insulated its residents from the worst effects of the financial crisis. On the other hand, the crisis highlighted and expanded local stratifications. Through in-depth neighbourhood and shopfloor ethnography, the paper highlights the links between poverty, industrialisation and social stratification and questions the very notion of capitalist crisis. Rather than challenging capitalism, the financial crisis de facto reinforced the power of the Brazilian state, of the main national industries - such as the CSN - and of traditional elites.
Industry forging masculinity: 'tough men', hard labor and aspects of class identity
Hard-working men in a heavy industry milieu - e.g. shipyards, mines or metallurgy, have developed a specific attitude towards unhealthy, difficult and often very poorly paid jobs which created the very core of their masculine class identity. A high tolerance of danger and a propensity to take a wide range of risks was part and parcel of macho working culture which was often developed in defiance of and resistance to a managerial one. That is why it must be seen as part of Gramsci's propulsive concept of popular culture opposing the hegemonic one which is "born inside the factories"; i.e. "tough men" (and women e.g. Stakhanovism) were the industrial "version" of "progressive folklore". These virilities and manhood postures are largely constructed in workers' relations with each other, with their employers and with women. Here a fourth element should be introduced, which influenced their self-perception and perception of their class identity - an 'outsider's point of view'.
Class revisited: social analysis, the organic intellectual and the production of class
Using the example of present-day struggles in industrial Ferrol (NW Spain), I will show how the 'organic intellectual' is central to the production of class through the pedagogical transmission of a knowledge useful for analyzing reality and for organizing strategies of struggle. A work of commemoration reconfigures the memory of past 'class' struggle and produces 'exempla' to be followed. In a conjuncture of post-fordist fragmentation, delocalization and transnational migration where 'identity politics' and individualized idiosyncratic conflicts take center stage, producing class in real life practice is increasingly difficult and often appears as meaningless. Forms of struggle have become short term and targeted without the horizon of a radical systemic change. As producers of theoretical concepts that feed back into organic intellectual's categories of analysis and concrete action, social scientists might act as linchpin between structural and emergent aspects of collective struggle.
Corruption, class formation and the anthropology of neoliberalism
Recent anthropological work dealing with corruption has oscillated between essentialising and radically deconstructing perspectives on the phenomenon. Corruption was thus seen as either a consequence of specific organisational cultures or a phenomenon which first and foremost is narratively constructed. This paper argues that the symbolic and discursive aspects of corruption cannot nevertheless be untangled from either practices or the power relations in which its agents are embedded. In particular, given corruption's resonance with both practices and the credo of contemporary entrepreneurial capitalism, we need to interrogate its contribution to current processes of class formation. A particular attention will be thus given to the manner in which corruption is enmeshed in the "class projects" of the new ascending classes engendered by current neo-liberal transformations. The paper will take as examples cases exposed in the book on "Corruption" edited by Haller and Shore, as well as those documented during fieldwork on informal practices in the Romanian health sector.
Dispossession, disorganization and the anthropology of labour
Our perspective on the anthropology of class begins from what Marx called the "multiplication of the proletariat," which he understood as the mirror process to capital accumulation. We take this as a call for a sustained focus on the continual making, unmaking, and remaking of labor forces and working classes - politically, culturally, and structurally - through the lens of dispossession and disorganization. Labour, in our understanding, is first and foremost a political entity, whose movements, organizations, and cultures reflect its multiple engagements with capital and state, as well as the relationships with other labourers, locally, regionally, and globally. This relational approach brings labour's political agency to the fore, and suggests that the outcomes of working classes' attempts to make themselves are multiple and uneven, resulting in attempts at solidarity, as well as racial, ethnic, and gender exclusions. Drawing together recent theoretical debates and ethnographic cases, we will chart the effects of simultaneous, global processes of dispossession and disorganization for particular landscapes of production and working class life.
Not globalization: on the relations between class and culture in the light of the current crisis
The current global crisis is a diagnostic expression of relations that are often hidden from view if not simply repressed. This paper addresses the nature of the structures of cosmology in contemporary capitalist orders and their relation to class structure and cultural production as they are revealed in crisis via the social struggles and contested representations of reality that have dominated recent debates and 'non-debates'. The analysis is yet another onslaught on the failure of certain assumptions of the discourses of globalization and an argument for a systemic analysis of contradictory social orders.
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.