EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P012)
Visions of futures from industrial workplaces: shop-floor reflexivities on work, political agency and social reproduction
Location U6-1A
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Tommaso Trevisani (Università degli studi di Napoli “L'Orientale”) email
  • Eeva Keskula (Tallinn University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair James Carrier (Max Planck Institute)

Short Abstract

When social reproduction is under constant threat because of uncertainty and crisis, what are workers' tools to envision a future, a good life? What are the possibilities of political agency and collective action? Which legacies, shared values and imagined futures are they based on?

Long Abstract

Hypermobility of capital means that deindustrialisation is not a process only affecting the Western world. As industrial workplaces are downsized or their stability undermined, a state of constant uncertainty and continuous crisis takes over. This applies to old working class communities, where the same lifestyle has continued for generations, but also to newly enrolled drafts of casual and migrant labourers, and others to whom the promise of decent work carries an implicit vision of a common future. We are interested in workers' visions of the future in relation to their work and production process, as well as the opportunities for breaking with, or reproducing, the way of living and cultural world that workers are accustomed to. Drawing on Narotzky and Besiner, we focus on global capital flows and on understanding the economy around social reproduction, around the "objective and subjective possibilities to project life into the future ("hope")". With the collapse of the socialist systems and welfare regimes in Europe, and as socialist /Marxist models lose out to ideas on neoliberalism, we ask what would help workers to build new models for their visions of future? What kind of new ideas of agency, autonomy and political imagination emerge from working people's condition of uncertainty and crisis? And what are the prerequisites for hope for a better future? When ideas of 'hard work' and class no longer offer the basis to legitimate political claims, how and where do the alternatives emerge?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Loss and hope: the meaning of place and work in times of global deindustrialization.

Authors: Victoria Goddard (Goldsmiths College, University of London)  email
Frances Pine (Goldsmiths College, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper we use a feminist perspective to take a comparative and long-term view of the effects of capital mobility on entangled processes of deindustrialization and place loss to consider strategies used by different generations to counter the these effects and envisage possible futures.

 

Long Abstract

In this paper we use a feminist perspective to take a comparative and long-term view of the effects of deindustrialization and downsizing by drawing on ethnographies of industrial work and life in South America and Central and Eastern Europe. The paper explores the effects of hypermobile capital on the world of work, which we understand to be closely entangled with processes of "place loss" (Filipucci 2010) and the erosion of attachments, identities and relationships. A corollary to the decline of secure employment as a consequence to changes in capitalist accumulation, we consider the important effects of these processes on people's sense of worth and the social and political recognition gained historically through individual and collective struggle. As the very experience of work changes, and individuals and communities contemplate the possibility of becoming 'disposable people' (Giroux 2009), we ask how and to what extent 'generational discourse' (Foster 2013) might provide a lens through which to understand the vicissitudes of history and so reconnect to the struggles of the past, and whether this might either hinder or encourage people's ability to define new aims and hopes and devise new forms of solidarity and struggle.  Where relations in the sphere of production are shattered by the breakdown of work places, how  might the affective social relations of reproduction sustained through kinship, household and generational relationships be fostered, maintained or re-invented ?

 

Class and race in post-socialist factory workplace

Authors: Petra Burzova (Charles University)  email
Ladislav Toušek (University of West Bohemia)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents our participant observation among low-waged workers and discusses the findings in the light of recent anthropological theory on labor and working class.

Long Abstract

In the proposed paper we present our study of the uneasy relationship between race and class in the context of flexible production. Based on fieldwork among low-waged workers in spaces of production and spaces of class reproduction we discuss the concept of "surplus population", the reproduction of class hierarchies as well as urban relegation of racially stigmatized groups and the ways how workers respond to the structural processes which rend their lives, pasts and futures disposable.

Our study is based on participant observation and narrative interviews we conducted in post-socialist factory workplaces and beyond located in the region of West Bohemia. Concentrating on the factory as well as spaces beyond the factory (such as cheap lodging houses and low quality municipal houses) as social spaces we study the ways how workers envision their futures as alternative - both adapting and resisting - to the structurally imposed futures of dispossession.

Work integration of refugees - new visions of social development, collective action and individual life planning

Author: Julia Bartl (Educational Institute of the Bavarian Economy)  email

Short Abstract

Following thousands of asylum seekers arriving at Munich's train station in 2015, the bavarian initiative "integration through vocational training and work" was launched. Which new visions of work evolve in the context of crisis and uncertainty?

Long Abstract

As a result of the critical number of 1 Mio. asylum seekers arriving in Germany in 2015, many economic programmes have been launched to facilitate labour integration. While before, the megatrend of deindustrialization was ostensible, the economy now has two megatrends: de-industrialization and labour integration of refugees. This presentation looks at constraints and opportunities of the political and economic initiative "integration through vocational training and work" which has been launched by the bavarian economy, the state government and the public job agency. As an anthropologist I look at the interplay of asylum seekers' expectations and visions in entering work and education in Germany, the employers' realities and the political as well as the public context. Addressing these tensions, I explore the different scales of value in economic life - from top-down to bottom-up - which are under constant negotiation in this situation of uncertainty and instability regarding social development, collective action and individual life planning.

Precarious Infrapolitics: Work and Autonomy of Contract Labor in a Modern Industrial Food-Processing Factory in Post-Conflict, Western Nepal

Author: Mike Hoffmann (University of Cologne)  email

Short Abstract

This article discusses the politics of a group of marginalized casual workforce in a modern food-processing factory in western Nepal.

Long Abstract

This article contributes to understandings of contemporary contract labor in South Asian industries by offering an ethnographic perspective on a region that has been largely neglected thus far in scholarly literature on the subject: Nepal. It describes how formerly bonded laborers and their descendants have begun working as contract workers in a modern industrial food-processing factory with the help of their (kin-related) contractors. One of the main features of their new life as contract laborers is its chronic precariousness. However, as I further show, despite their precarious condition, contract laborers display a strong assertiveness in face of managerial authority. Such assertive gestures point towards a space of politics that I call a 'precarious infra-politics' a concept derived from James Scott's outline of 'infra-politics'. I illustrate how such 'precarious infra-politics' is rooted in a new sense of autonomous consciousness that has developed among the ethnitized contract labour force in the post-conflict context. I further argue that this newfound sense of autonomy among contract labour is the result of a combination of an avoidance of dangerous and difficult work, the historical exploitation of low-caste Tharus by upper-caste employers, and a disillusionment with the political class per se—including the two major Maoist parties—in the post-conflict context. My article thus contributes to the literature on the transition from agriculture to industrial work, precarity and ethnicity in Nepal.

Street Protest, Tent Encampment, Factory Occupation, Hunger Strike: Worker Mobilization and the Crisis of Social Reproduction in a Bosnian City

Author: Andrew Gilbert (McMaster University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines forms of worker mobilization in response to a crisis of social reproduction in the de-industrialized city of Tuzla in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and asks how can the experience and representations of a socialist life-world provide the grounds for forms of social membership built upon its absence?

Long Abstract

This paper examines diverse forms of social and political mobilization in response to what is articulated as a general crisis of social reproduction, centered on the loss of mass regularized employment in the post-socialist, de-industrialized city of Tuzla in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina. I look at the ways in which the workers of privatized and bankrupted industries have represented this crisis to incite particular kinds of responses (pity, solidarity, shame, obligation, rage) from a range of actors, including fellow workers, union officials, government representatives and fellow citizens. In particular I focus on the role played by the factory in these mobilizations: as metaphor, mediated image, staging ground, object of care, and site of struggle for, among other things, social inclusion. I ask, in what ways can the experience and representations of a socialist life-world provide the grounds for forms of social worth or social membership built upon its absence? In doing so I seek to reveal a nascent new mapping of "the social" that is, the conceptualization of society that provides the basis for thinking about problems and solutions, for how people organize themselves in their aim to sustain life and possibly produce a good life.

Young industrial workers and visions of futures in a copper-processing industrial complex in Serbia

Author: Deana Jovanovic  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on young adults who obtained employment at the copper-processing company in Bor (Serbia). It questions anthropological/political engagement when social inequalities become reproduced by the workers’ practices, and when their agency was allocated in successful “muddling through”.

Long Abstract

The paper explores the moment of the rise of copper price on the stock market which became an incentive for the Serbian government to promise economic growth through the revival of the rundown copper-processing industry in the mono-industrial town of Bor. In the context of a political propaganda of the mutual revival of the town and the company, the company (ran by the politicians) offered unusually high salaries compared to the national average and employed young workers who represented a category onto which hopes were mapped in the public discourse.

The paper focuses on young adults in Bor who obtained employment at the industrial company through the "work" of kinship and political ties. It explores the practices they invested in maintaining and realising their hopes to get and maintain the job at the company, particularly attracted to it as it comprised little work for tremendously good money. The analysis focuses on the ambivalence which consisted of the interplay of derisiveness and scoffing coupled with hope as dispositions with regard to their futures as industrial workers at the company. The article deals with a question of anthropological (and political) engagement when gender, age and class inequalities were reproduced by informants' practices illustrated in this paper, and when the workers' agency became allocated in the their successful "muddling through" and "tricking" the "system" in spite of a possible impeding sense of collapse.

Countering Dispossession with Worker-Ownership: The Case of ITAS in Neoliberal Croatia

Author: Ognjen Kojanic (University of Pittsburgh)  email

Short Abstract

I examine the way emphasis on ownership can play a role in undermining neoliberal transformation. I focus on the success of a worker-owned company in Croatia to reveal the tools that workers have at their disposal to fight dispossession and the erosion of the basis for working class politics.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I ethnographically examine the way emphasis on ownership can play a role in undermining neoliberal transformation. In 2007, the workers of ITAS Prvomajska managed to take over the company from its private owners who had been downsizing it and selling its real estate. ITAS has been developing a viable economic model since then as the only company in Croatia owned and run exclusively by its workers. The case of ITAS poses the question of whether grassroots working-class politics based on worker-ownership has the potential for transformative action that would challenge neoliberalism. Croatian workers usually confronted their dispossession with traditional working-class responses such as protests, strikes, and workplace occupations. ITAS workers did the same, but they also embraced distinctly capitalist behavior such as performing a debt to equity swap to convert their unpaid salaries into ownership or using the bankruptcy process to avoid liquidation and restart production. The economic success of the ITAS model of worker-ownership has allowed the expansion of workers' access to resources and their inclusion in decision-making structures. ITAS workers now foster political alliances with other workers and activists in Croatia and abroad to bolster their struggle against dispossession and pass on their model to other settings, countering the exclusion of the working class from the political-economic sphere in post-socialist neoliberalism. Focusing on the success of ITAS can reveal the tools that workers have at their disposal to fight dispossession and the erosion of the basis for working class politics that it brings.

Longing for the "ideal" khozyain (owner): Visions of good management and leadership in a steel and coal company in Kazakhstan

Authors: Tommaso Trevisani (Università degli studi di Napoli “L'Orientale”)  email
Eeva Keskula (Tallinn University)  email

Short Abstract

Despite their Soviet background workers of a Kazakhstani steel and coal company differ in how they envision effective leadership and virtuous ownership for their company. Rooted in their different history and labour traditions, their diverging visions answer to a common condition of uncertainty and crisis.

Long Abstract

This paper compares the workplace moralities, politics and visions of the future of the Russian-speaking working class in two heavy industries in contemporary Kazakhstan. Situated in the Karaganda region, these are a steel plant and coal mines, both flagships of Soviet Central Asia, both acquired in the mid-1990s by the same Indian company from the government of Kazakhstan. Despite their common political-economic framework, physical proximity and similar restructuring processes that put pressure on their workplaces, steel and coal workers nevertheless differ in their attitudes toward past and future. This comparative project will answer the question: "why are the visions of the future of workers in steel and coal so different?" We are especially interested in comparing different underlying notions of what a "good" khozyain (company owner) should be. Rooted in common Soviet imaginaries of the paternalist provider (Ashwin 1999), after privatization steel and coal workers have come to envision their ideal of strong leader and good owner in different ways. In order to explain this, we look at differences in labour processes, historical class trajectories, global commodity chains, demographics, as well as the symbolic value of labour and past worker politics between the two groups. We argue that looking at visions of an ideal owner might be a way to understand different visions of the future in circumstances where great ideologies and political ideals no longer work.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.