(P030)

The future of class

Location Hall 1
Date and Start Time 16 May, 2014 at 13:30

Convenors

Hadas Weiss (The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email
Katariina Mäkinen (University of Helsinki) email
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Short Abstract

We contend with questions of class and untangle class links and intersections from other contemporary phenomena. We foreground class-based social inequalities; unveil class-motivated exclusions; and construe the meanings of class-specific distinctions that permeate social practices and policies.

Long Abstract

The issue of social class has long dominated both national and global struggles and divisions. In recent decades, however, the opposition between labor and capital has moved backstage, substituted with identity politics and more gradient forms of stratification. Yet far from being defused, class conflict retains its significance. Indeed, all of the categories that anthropologists think with - whether race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or culture - are shot through with class tensions. Just as class is suppressed in discourse, it reasserts itself as a praxis that anticipates the policies and disciplines of the future. Our aim in this panel is to contend with questions of class and class formation directly, and untangle class links and intersections from other contemporary phenomena. We wish to foreground class-based social inequalities; unveil class-motivated exclusions; and construe the meanings of class-specific distinctions that permeate social practices and policies, such as prestige, security, and respectability. Our perspective is both conceptual and ethnographic, and considers local and transnational case-studies that include the working class, the middle class, and the underclass. We spotlight the class aspects of immigration, care-work, marginality, and financialization; and welcome papers that offer unique insights from a range of other ethnographic projects in which class is an active category.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Class in post-socialism: contradictions in (non)-use

Author: Michal Buchowski (Adam Mickiewicz University)  email

Short Abstract

Class as a notion has been practically abandoned in post-communist countries. Reasons for this intellectual trajectory are identified. Ethnographic examples from Poland show that the reigning interpretive culturalism is misleading and that the idea of class has actually been used in regulating social order.

Long Abstract

Class as a concept has practically disappeared from the works on post-socialist societies produced by native scholars. At least three major interrelated reasons for this state of affairs are discussed: 1) hostility towards the notion associated with (vulgar) Marxism; 2) post-1989 popularity of the post-modern interpretive culturalist paradigm; and 3) hegemony of neoliberal ideas about a classless consumer society. However, simultaneously and paradoxically, the notion of class has been used openly in attempts to create a 'middle class' - on the one hand, supposedly indispensable for building a democratic and market-oriented society; on the other hand, it has been used lately in both popular and scholarly neoliberal discourses, in which underprivileged groups 'lost in transition from communism to capitalism' were invented as social outcasts and remnants of the past order. Anthropological case studies will illustrate two important theses related to the 'status of class' in post-socialist neoliberal capitalism: that the notion of class retains its scientific explanatory power as it is embedded in actual social relations, and that although seemingly refuted, it indeed functions as a hidden ideological tool in the hands of dominant groups spontaneously creating social hierarchy.

The post-communist ghetto and underclass formations in Romania: (re)producing marginality and strategies of survival among Roma

Author: Sorin Gog (Babes-Bolyai University)  email

Short Abstract

My paper focuses on an anthropological investigation of the relationship between the post-communist Roma ghetto formation and the institutionalization of a neo-liberal logic and it analyzes the strategies of survival employed by the Roma to deal with increasing marginalization and exclusion.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on an anthropological investigation of the relationship between the post-communist Roma ghetto formation and the institutionalization of a neo-liberal logic in present-day Romania. The expansion of European Union towards East led not only to the establishment of a common European market required by the unfolding logic of trans-national capitalism but also to a new state regime that advanced a neo-liberal agenda concerned with deregulation of economy, extensive privatizations, budgetary discipline, austerity measurements, the replacement of welfare to work-fare, etc. The new capitalist order had a tremendous impact on Roma communities and it generated extensive forms of marginalization and precarization among them. My paper draws on an anthropological fieldwork done in a Roma ghetto from northern Romania and it looks at their life-trajectories marked by de-proletarization after the dissolution of mining industries and their strategies of survival within the ghetto. Constantly threatened with evictions and resettlement by the local authorities, moralized into becoming responsible citizens by the social workers that deal with them - the Roma are creating their own institutions within the ghetto that helps them cope with a society that fails in providing them with viable structures of opportunities. The analysis of the peripherialization of poverty and ghettoization of Roma in post-communist Romania can through a light on the developing of a neo-liberal order and social mechanisms at the periphery of European Union.

Classed landscapes of care and belonging: guardianships of unaccompanied minors

Author: Katrien De Graeve (Ghent University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic interviews with guardians of unaccompanied minor foreigners in Belgium, this paper investigates the classed and raced inequalities and the way middle-class values are played out in the care relations between guardians and unaccompanied minor foreigners.

Long Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic interviews with guardians of unaccompanied minor foreigners in the Western European country of Belgium, this paper investigates the classed and raced inequalities underlying the 'carescapes' in which unaccompanied minor foreigners get caught up when entering the country. It does so by analyzing the beliefs and practices of the often white, middle-class guardians of unaccompanied minors and examines how they negotiate policies and dominant discourses on the minors' presumed needs and rights in terms of care and protection. These policies and discourses seem to oscillate between middle class imageries of 'sacred' childhood and classed and raced representations of refugees/immigrants as undeserving consumers of public services and a threat to white, middle-class ways of life. The paper explores how this tension in middle class values is played out in these relationships. Doing so, it hopes to provide insights in the strengths and constraints of these relationships, and how they are shaped by regulations and ideologies. It aims to find out which elements are likely to foster the minors' empowerment and which may contribute to a reinforcement of processes of racialization, classed stratification and exclusion.

Respectability and value: questions of class in the anti-immigration debate

Author: Katariina Mäkinen (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

The aim of this paper is to advance critical perspectives on contemporary racism and nationalism by focusing explicitly on questions of class in the Finnish anti-immigration debate. In particular the paper looks at how conceptions fo respectable citizenship and economic value are combined within the debate.

Long Abstract

It is typical for the populist claims directed against immigrants to combine moral judgments (they are lazy! they are bad mothers!) and economic rationality (they are economically useless!) so that the moral and economic claims re-enforce each other and intertwine with racialized and gendered categories. Such claims are often repeated in the Finnish anti-immigration debate in which the aim is to control and manage immigration from a racist and nationalist standpoint.

Combining a particular kind of economic rationality with moral arguments is typical not only for the claims against immigration but also to formations of class. The working class and the "underclass" have long been described as useless "trash" or "excessive people" and have been the object of moral condemnation. The arguments in the anti-immigration debate are full of similar judgments, and what is common both to claims concerning class and to racializing claims is that they are and have historically been ways of excluding certain groups from respected and recognized citizenship. These are claims that are used to justify social injustice by constructing demonized and marginalized figures such as "scroungers" or "asylum shoppers".

It is from this perspective of continuities between the claims concerning immigrants and working class or "underclass" that I interpret further how questions of class, respectable citizenship and economic value are tangled within the dynamics of the anti-immigration debate.

Indigenous Australians and middle classness

Author: Julie Lahn (Australian National University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers Indigenous Australian debates concerning ‘middle classness’ within broader discussions concerning Aboriginal culture and identity and social mobility.

Long Abstract

This paper considers emerging ideas of a new Aboriginal 'middle class' in Australia. Engaging recent anthropological debates about 'middle classness' (Heiman et al 2012) and Aboriginal discussion of the term 'middle class', the paper reflects on diverging expressions of middle classness as a mode of self-description and/or ascription, and its implications within narratives of Aboriginal culture and identity. Attention to these debates and discussions is relevant to understanding experiences of social mobility and alternate futures as envisioned by Aboriginal people, encouraging a more complete picture of contemporary Indigenous life-worlds in Australia.

Financialization and the middle class

Author: Hadas Weiss (The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

Financialization, with its erosion of contractually-secured incomes, lays bare the ideological foundations of the middle class as eliciting investments that are excessive in terms of consumption.

Long Abstract

The middleness of the middle class denotes mobility in a social terrain marked by inequality, whereby both upward and downward mobility are associated with one's choices and strategies. Individuals who can afford to expend work, time and money beyond what they need to fulfil their consumption needs, are made to consider their unremunerated expenditures not as structurally imposed drains that impoverish them, but as voluntary investments that hold forth the promise of proportional future rewards in terms of security, status, or prosperity. With their investments people buy resources such as educational and cultural credentials, homes, savings, insurance policies, pension accounts, and tenured work contracts, which provide them with secured incomes. These resources must always be attained anew while the incomes they wield are provisional. This has never been more apparent than now, in the era of financialization, and its erosion of contractual incomes and the resources that wield them. Financialization thereby lays bare the ideological function of the middle class as enlisting households as active agents in an accumulation process that undermines their own goals and aspirations.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.