EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Re-embedding the market economy: innovation, legacy, and techniques of intimate sociality after socialism

Location M-342
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00


Dong Ju Kim (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) email
Hyun-Gwi Park (Cambridge University) email
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Short Abstract

How has intimate sociality changed in the everyday economy after post-socialist transformations? How does neoliberalism change the shape of social relations? By posing these two questions together, this panel seeks to explore efforts to deal with the neoliberal market in post-socialist countries.

Long Abstract

After two decades of post-socialist transformations, the shape and meaning of intimate sociality and its role in everyday economic practices has changed. This panel tries to address the following two questions: How has neoliberalism changed the shape of sociality in our present world? If neoliberalism has changed the meaning and role of intimate sociality in post-socialist everyday economy, what remains or re-emerges from the socialist past? By posing these two questions together, this panel seeks to explore multifarious efforts on the ground to deal with the neoliberal market in post-socialist countries.

We would suggest that participants of this panel view economic practices as broadly as possible - as bodily technique, performance, or interaction with material things - to highlight the formation of social networks and the production and circulation of meaning in the everyday life. From this perspective, changes, disruptions and continuities in post-socialist contexts can be examined with a view on the present neoliberal globalizing world. Any kind of economic practice ranging from farming to peddling, from small shops to chain-markets, from farmers' markets to financial markets, is significant for the imagining and interpreting the present world through the lens of the market and the economy. By approaching the market economy and economic practices from the everyday and below, we hope to shed light to various ways the neoliberal economy is challenged and resisted against, while simultaneously lived upon, conceptualized, circulated and reproduced.

Discussant: Liviu Chelcea

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Trust and sociality in post-socialist bazaars: from migrant contract worker to street vendor to entrepreneur

Author: Gertrud Hüwelmeier (Humboldt University)  email

Short Abstract

After the breakdown of Communism, Vietnamese contract workers found themselves in a desperate situation. Drawing on intimate social and economic ties formed during the socialist past, a number of migrants became transnational entrepreneurs in various countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

Long Abstract

Prior to the collapse of Communism, hundreds of thousands of migrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America arrived in various localities throughout COMECON countries by way of programs of mutual cooperation and 'socialist solidarity', including in East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, thousands of former contract workers, mostly from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, did not return to their home countries, and instead remained in their respective host societies, where they became entrepreneurs mostly engaged in wholesaling and retailing. The local markets in which the migrants established their businesses, and which are increasingly comprised of diverse peoples, play key roles in post-socialist economic development while transnationally linking a variety of geographical and socio-cultural spaces. Based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork with Vietnamese migrants in 'Asian' bazaars in the eastern part of Berlin as well as in Prague and Warsaw, this paper addresses questions of (1) experiences of work, trust, and sociality during socialist times, (2) everyday survival and street peddling straight after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and (3) retailing and wholesaling in contemporary post-socialist bazaars. By exploring how social networks and multiple domains and forms of intimate sociality are shaped, constructed and transformed in migrants' socialist and post-socialist experiences while also taking into account the overarching social, cultural, political and economic conditions, this paper contributes to an understanding of what trust and intimacy mean for various kinds of economic practices and for different actors after socialism.

From subsistence economy to gambling: dealing with risk in nature and market in the Russian Far East

Author: Hyun-Gwi Park (Cambridge University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how subsistence economy of domestic agricultural production has changed to risky business in the expanded market economy in the Russian Far East.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the way cultivators of watermelons deal with the risk brought about with neoliberal changes in market economy in the Russian Far East. The risk the cultivators are concerned with derives from the fluctuation in market price of watermelons, depending on different degree of harvest with annual climate change. The cultivators consider that the cultivation work is risky, because of the unpredictability in the nature (i.e. climate) and market. In response to this risk, a conjoined effect from market and climate, some watermelon cultivators engage with various tactics in order to mitigate those risks and the success or failure in administering these tactics is a crucial criterion for the personality and character of the cultivator in question. The most popular narrative employed in describing their responses to this insecurity is in the idiom of gambling. I consider the idiom of gambling as a subjective appropriation of market economy in contemporary Russia. Furthermore, I argue that we could see the symmetry between my ethnographic material on watermelon cultivation and other anthropological works on financial sectors such as on futures traders in Chicago, which might show a certain nature of market and human engagement with it.

Experiencing and digesting neoliberalism: the role of affect and food in "experiential gastronomy" in the Czech Republic

Author: Iveta Hajdakova (Freelance Researcher)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the broader role of affect in the context of Czech gastronomy, where enjoyment and positive experience are vehicles of individual and social transformation. How do consumers learn to eat and experience food? What is the role of affect in creating new inequalities?

Long Abstract

"We are willing to accept substitutions; we lack not only self-confidence but also education in the basic attributes of human life," says Zdeněk Pohlreich, Czech celebrity chef, entrepreneur and a critic of Czech gastronomy and the entrepreneurial practices of restaurant owners. Like other experts on gastronomy, he blames socialism: "with some exaggeration, we can say that it was socialism that laid the ground for this gastronomic misery we are in until today. It killed several good generations of cooks and created the breeding ground for culture, where people are used to ignoring work and craft."

The hospitality industry and gastronomy in the Czech Republic have become arenas for negotiating various aspects of the post-socialist transformation, especially the changing relations between customers and service workers, entrepreneurial practices within the service sector, and food production and consumption (Hajdáková 2013). Entrepreneurs and experts on gastronomy educate the public on correct consumption practices and eating habits. Knowledge of food and the enjoyment and pleasure of eating become not only technologies of the self (Rose 1996) but also the key vehicles of "purification from socialism" (Eyal 2003). The capacity to zažívat, which in Czech means both to experience and digest, is a capacity to be affected by materialities, discourses, and power. How do consumers learn to experience food? What is the role of affect in creating new inequalities?

The paper will be based on my analysis of the expert discourse on Czech gastronomy and my long-term participant observation conducted in three luxury restaurants in Prague.

Gone with the smoke: workers' everyday neoliberalism in a cigarette factory in central Poland

Author: Hanna Gospodarczyk (University of Warsaw)  email

Short Abstract

The paper presents how the privatization of state monopoly and introduction of market logic in industrial management influenced social relations in a workplace as well as meanings ascribed by workers to production and consumption of cigarettes.

Long Abstract

In my paper I would like to present how the privatization of state monopoly influenced everyday sociality among workers from lower and middle rank in a certain tobacco factory in central Poland and changed meanings ascribed to the production and consumption of cigarettes. Basing on the in-depth interviews with employees who had been working in the factory from the 70's, I will argue that the impact of neoliberalism is visible on two different levels: social relations amongst workers and their approach to the product they manufacture.

The job scarcity in the region which is mainly caused by the demise of state-owned industry in the 90's, imposes rising feeling of insecurity and competition in the workplace. Workers' responses to the lack of former solidarity, embeddedness, and intimacy vary depending on their personality, habitus and resources. However, most of the employees' struggles to maintain self-respect and challenge the market oriented logic of factory are intertwined with their remembered experiences from the period of state-owned factory. The socialist past is being used by workers as a reservoir of meanings and values in order to reconfigure their position in changing workplace. Cigarettes which in socialism served as strong currency in informal economy (cigarettes were hard to buy and sometimes rationed), nowadays are perceived differently. Due to neoliberal conception of the responsible, goal-oriented self and the medicalization of smoking, tobacco is no longer described as a socialization tool, but as a product, which has to be advertised and sold to different strata of consumers.

Dealing with neoliberal discourse: Slovak au pairs and their creation of life projects

Author: Zuzana Sekeráková Búriková (Masaryk University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper contextualises the motivations of Slovak women for au pair migration by relating them to neo-liberal discourse. Arguing that traditional modes of creating biographies in the area have been challenged I will show how au pairs see their migration as necessary for their life projects.

Long Abstract

This paper contextualises the motivations of Slovak women for au pair migration by relating them to neo-liberal interpretations of post/socialism and discourse of neo-liberal governmentality (MacNay 2009). Neoliberal politicians, economists and the media in Slovakia have often portrayed the socialist period as an era when the natural flow of history and modernity stopped for forty years and the collapse of actually existing socialism as a return to the mainline of western modernity (Holy 1996). A consequence of this discourse has been a general sense amongst the population, as well as policy-makers, that not only the political economy of Slovak society, but also subjectivities of its inhabitants, need to change. Consequently, traditional modes of creating of personhood and biographies in the area have been challenged (Dunn 2004): a secure life tied with only one locality is not only impossible anymore, but it is no longer understood as ideal. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork amongst Slovak au pairs working in London in 2004 -2005, I will show how au pairs have come to see a temporary stay in Western countries as necessary for their careers and personal development. I will reveal how au pairs stress importance of studying the language, learning new skills and improving their chances for better employment arguing that this socially (and ideologically) legitimate discourse of self-improvement frequently conceals a set of rather more complex goals associated with migration, in particular search for freedom and empowerment in particular relationships and growing up and gaining independence.

How to become a better version of yourself: (re)construction of self-developed individuals in Bucharest

Author: Elena Trifan (SNSPA Bucharest)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, I will explain the relation between the inhabitants of Bucharest and the market economy observing the practices of personal development and how the influence the everyday life.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I explore personal development practices in Bucharest. The starting point of this analysis is the relationship between them and the changes that occurred at economical level in Romania. The global shift from the industrial to the post-industrial economies and regional transition from a centrally planned economy to a market-based one have introduced new expectations from employees. Personal development products are advertised as suitable solutions for accomplishing these new expectations, focusing especially on issues of flexibility personal and professional. Personal development helps with the (re)construction of a person in order to have a well-paid job in renowned company, social mobility, or create a thriving business, as well as gain a fulfilling relationship with a significant others. Therefore, it can help overcome new social impediments such as lack of communication skills, troubles finding the inner self or a positive attitude.

Through personal development are reiterated neoliberal values, the individuals are solely responsible for their own fate and the capable of improving it. Therefore, they becomes aware of their responsibility and thus are able to manipulate their entire universe according to their needs. This paper explores the social impact of these practices and their values on the participants and their social environment, while pursuing the relationship between citizens, free market and the neoliberal state.

The paper is part of an ongoing research begun in 2010 with observation of the coaching scenery in Bucharest and an ethnography of a personal development group for youngsters, and continues with mapping the other actors.

Handling the unwanted: waste as a vehicle for value creation

Authors: Lenka Brunclíková (University of West Bohemia)  email
Daniel Sosna (University of West Bohemia)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the effects of neoliberalism on manipulation with things. Based on ethnography and analysis of waste we reveal the construction of value via the relationship to materiality, action, and semiosis.

Long Abstract

Since 1989 post-socialist societies have passed through significant changes that shaped manipulation with things including domestic refuse. Waste represents a sphere where the effects of neoliberalism can be traced along the line of value creation. Value is constructed through the relationship to materiality, action, and semiosis. We take advantage of both ethnography and analysis of household waste in a rural milieu in the Czech Republic to examine the relationship between humans and things. Our research reveals that certain things never become part of solid waste while other things indicate various ways actors engage with things. Plastic bottles and bags reflect the potential of being recycled whereas other kinds of plastics are disposed to solid waste. Recycling of old clothing by donation to Charity or renewing army equipment suggests that value of things may be hidden in actors´ action. Finally, value emerges through the creation and modification of meaning derived from signs. This includes special terminology and labeling of categories of the classification system. Through identification of interconnections among the three levels, we aspire to reveal contemporary construction of value and juxtapose it with the situation before the onset of neoliberalism in Eastern Europe.

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This panel is closed to new paper proposals.