Love, money and care in post-Soviet Havana
Heidi Harkonen (University of Helsinki)
Paper short abstract:
Large-scale economic transformations may change and create complicated consequences to intimate relationships. In post-Soviet Cuba, structural shifts have highlighted uncertainties in individuals’ experiences of love and care.
Paper long abstract:
Economic transformations may create shifts in intimate experiences of love and sexuality. While discussions on the potential commodification of social relations have marked anthropological approaches to economic change for long, recently love has received attention as the site for exploration of the possibilities, restrictions, contradictions and ambiguities involved in large-scale processes of change. Since the 1990s, material issues have become particularly significant in Cuban social relations. The fall of the country's closest ally, the Soviet Union, launched the island into severe economic crisis, forcing the state to make several concessions to the socialist ideology. State services were ruthlessly cut, the country was opened to tourism and day-to-day life became increasingly monetised, as money was needed for acquiring goods and services that were once provided by the state. Everyday survival has come to depend increasingly on individuals' own activeness and inventiveness and on the support available by personal social bonds. Gender relations in particular, have become suspected of being marked by relationships of "interest" as opposed to more emotional bonds. This paper seeks to complicate the idea of commoditised social relations by exploring how lower-income Havana residents negotiate Cuba's current structural changes through gendered understandings of love as intertwined material-emotional exchange of care. Such practices draw both on longer-term cultural imagery and developments particular to the post-Soviet era. The paper argues that a focus on care, which is simultaneously material and symbolic, pragmatic and emotional, provides a nuanced approach to the complexities brought by extensive economic changes to intimate relations.
Innovation and continuity in times of uncertainty: bridging perspectives on economic life