Trust and sociality in post-socialist bazaars: from migrant contract worker to street vendor to entrepreneur
Gertrud Hüwelmeier (Humboldt University)
Paper 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.
Paper 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.
Re-embedding the market economy: innovation, legacy, and techniques of intimate sociality after socialism