EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world
Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006
Locating flexibility in Europe and the world
Location MVB 1.11
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 11:30
In recent years social theorists have explored the hegemonic status of discourses of flexibility in contemporary life. This panel focuses on the location of notions of flexibility and their articulation with particular places, histories, economies and experiences in Europe and the wider world.
Flexibility has recently assumed enormous importance across a wide range of arenas. Whether we are talking about citizenship, work places, cultural products and artefacts, or identities, flexibility is on the agenda as a scale of value that resonates with modernity (eg Beck et al., 2003; Beck, U, A Giddens and S Lash, 1994; Appadurai, 1986; 1996). Critics from a range of fields of knowledge seem to agree that flexibility and associated processes (eg mobility, reflexivity) work as dispersers of relations of authority, privilege and exclusion, fracturing previous social relations while simultaneously becoming the axis along which new forms of inequality and marginalisation are constructed (eg Adkins, 1999; 2002; Argyrou, 2003). In different ways these discussions engage questions about agency and structure, and power and difference at the heart of anthropological theory. This panel will imaginatively refine these debates by focusing on a question seldom explored, namely the location and locatedness of notions of flexibility. The contention of this panel is that the where of flexibility matters a great deal. Understanding how hegemonic notions of flexibility travel, how they emerge in and through particular histories, economies and experiences, offers an important lens through which to understand contemporary realities within, as well as social and economic relations between, Europe and the rest of the world. Papers might consider: How are notions of flexibility valued in different contexts? How are ideologies of flexibility made meaningful through local places and histories? How does flexibility become an individual or group capacity? How is the dualism in flexibility theory between potentially positive flexibility (eg as dynamic, progressive, anti-essentialist) and a potentially negative one (eg as a product of capitalist economy, a trope through which new kinds of essentialisms are produced) negotiated in different contexts?
Chair: Dr Alexandra Bakalaki
Discussant: Prof Sarah Green
Ambivalent flexibilities: anthropological explorations and perspectives
This paper seeks to evaluate ideas about flexibility which emerge from current social theories from an anthropological perspective. It explores the key critiques of notions of flexibility, focusing particularly on feminist sociological critiques. Perhaps most crucially, these include the proposition that flexibility is hegemonic, and that it continually produces subjects who are unable to be flexible. In other words, the priviledged status of flexibility, along with reflexivity, mobility, and individualisation, in so much of contemporary life, masks the ways in which these processes generate a series of exclusions.
This paper proposes that anthropology, and in particular ethnographic exploration, is well placed to reveal the varied ways in which different elements of hegemonic flexibility emerge in people's daily lives. Through appropriating, and being appropriated by, particular locations and histories, ideas of flexibility work in articulation, and sometimes in competition, with each other. This paper will draw attention to the different values and contextual meanings ascribed to flexibility, thus making it possible for different modes of flexibility to be evoked in different contexts. The political effects of this ambivalence will be explored, including a consideration of how these conditions allow flexibility to be positive and affirming, as well as exploitative and exclusionary.
'The situation needs balance, balance': flexible cosmopolitans and the reconfiguration of morality and kinship in post-apartheid Namibia
Members of a youth elite in Namibia conceptualise the predicament of becoming a cosmopolitan and modern individual, whilst simultaneously striving to emerge as a moral being within the realm of their matri-kin with the term "Balance". This term borrowed from a popular Namibian tune, encapsulates the existential dimension of balancing their existences, as they say, between their cosmopolitans aspirations and their efforts to assist their kin and thus contribute to the making, re-making and un-making of a moral community whose influence stretches in a continuum across the rural and urban divide. Furthermore this term points to the emergence of a new and flexible subject in the context of wider socio-economic transformations in Namibia and Southern Africa. Following a recent academic debate on post-apartheid Namibian society, I argue, how the recent economic growth in Namibia, has seen the consolidation of new racial and social inequalities, alongside the old ones, and the reconfiguration of sociality through increasingly commoditised practices, which produces new regimes of exclusion, privilege and authority. These demand the emergence of a flexible subject capable to respond to these new socio-economic challenges, whilst at the same time maintaining morality as the core of ones existence. I will here present my argument through the ethnographic example of a youth elite wedding, and highlight the interplay between these new socio-economic transformation, the youthful cosmopolitan aspirations and the complex reconfiguration of morality and kinship in post-apartheid Namibia.
Kosovo Albanian migration: legal and illegal forms of flexibility
This paper investigates different forms of flexibility (and inflexibility) within the pattern of Kosovo Albanian migration since the end of the Kosovo conflict in 1999. There is a substantial Kosovo Albanian diaspora in northern Europe. This is partly a reflection of Kosovo's turbulent and violent recent history and partly a reflection of the poor economic situation in Kosovo. The Kosovo Albanian diaspora in the UK are heavily involved in remitting money to family in Kosovo. Furthermore, these 'migrant remittances' are shown to provide a vital source of income for the 'home' country, comprising approximately ¼ of total GDP. Recent changes in the asylum rules for people from Kosovo limit the flow of legal migration out of Kosovo. In the absence of new waves of migration, the size of the 'remittance active' Kosovo Albanian diaspora would fall over time, with severe implications for a Kosovo economy which has become highly dependent upon the inflow of remittances from the diaspora. This paper concludes that illegal migration between Kosovo and the UK is economically viable. Therefore the size of the remittance active diaspora in the UK can be maintained through illegal migration and the long term economic viability of Kosovo is assured. Finally, this paper proposes a dynamic model of economic migration between Kosovo and the countries of northern Europe, where the flow of migrants is a function of the economic conditions in Kosovo. Therefore, any reduction in the flow of remittances leads to a deterioration of Kosovo's economy, which it turn leads to a replenishing of the remittance active diaspora through further waves of migration.