EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(Plenary B)
Contemporary capitalism and unequal society: obscene exchange, complicity and grassroots responses
Location Aula Magna
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 0

Convenors

  • Silvia Vignato (Università Milano-Bicocca) email
  • Alice Bellagamba (University of Milan-Bicocca) email
  • Simone Ghezzi (Università di Milano-Bicocca) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

What constitutes contemporary capitalism for anthropology? Noam Yuran, Deborah James, and Susana Narotzky will confront on this question by discussing historical transformations, grassroots responses to neoliberal policies as well as the participants’ engagement in the financialisation of the economy. Within such a context emerging contradictions will be analysed.

Long Abstract

In discussing what constitutes contemporary capitalism Noam Yuran reviews the historical peculiarity of capitalism, often described as an economy where everything is up for sales. The full meaning of this commonplace is that things that are formally outside the market are suspected as hiding an obscene exchange. To explore this idea the paper will revisit Werner Sombart's Luxury and Capitalism, which traces the origin of capitalism to the rise of illicit love and the luxury industry it propelled. He also examines why in contemporary cultural imagination prostitution is associated with finance. Through the analysis of ethnographies of Southern Europe, Susana Narotzky addresses major tensions within the political economy of capitalism. While mainstream neoliberal policy discourse points at enhancing competition, mostly through reducing regulation, the practices of large firms point to various privileged deals supported by political elites. The grassroots responses to this situation focus on recuperating regulatory practices, a return to an economic nationalism, or quasi-autarkic projects of an alternative community economy. This view does not preclude a general belief in the need to gain a competitive market edge. Deborah James deals with the South African context where sharp rises in indebtedness have accompanied the rapid financialization of the economy over the past two decades, debt factors in other socially important relationships and meanings in the everyday life of the family and household. Different obligations and imperatives balanced against, or converted into, one another are examined. She challenges the overly deterministic assumption that these sets of relationships, and the conversions between them, embody a monolithic framework, imposed from above by financial institutions which intrudes into people’s intimate relations and commitments. She suggests exploring the complicity of participants’ engagement with the ‘financialisation of daily life’ rather than seeing it as imposed on unwilling victims.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Competition and equality or monopoly and privilege: two faces of capitalist accumulation, the case of Southern Europe

Author: Susana Narotzky (Universitat de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

Competition and monopoly are at tension within capitalism. Neoliberal discourse stresses enhancing competition by reducing regulation, while large firms seek privilege deals from regulators. Grassroots responses focus on recuperating regulatory practices, a return to economic nationalism, or projects of an alternative community economy.

Long Abstract

Through the analysis of various ethnographies located in Southern Europe, this presentation will address a major tension within the political economy of capitalism. It will approach the seeming contradictions between a model based on competition and supply side economy, and the practices based on producing privilege positions in the market through political maneuvering.

While mainstream neoliberal policy discourse points at enhancing competition, mostly through reducing regulation, actual practice of large firms points to various privilege deals supported by political elites (often branded as corruption). The grassroots responses to this situation focus on recuperating regulatory practices (protection of labor and public services), on a return to an economic nationalism of sorts (protecting the local economy) or on quasi-autarkic projects of an alternative community economy. But this view does not preclude a general belief in the need to push overall productivity (mostly through knowledge and quality enhancement) and thus gain a competitive edge in the market.

The presentation will explore these contradictions.

Life and debt in South Africa

Author: Deborah James (LSE)  email

Short Abstract

In the global south, and South Africa in particular, debt factors into other relationships and meanings in the life of the family. But accounts which imply a top-down intrusion by the market are too stark. The paper explores the factors which encourage participant complicity.

Long Abstract

This paper seeks to explore how, in the South African context where sharp rises in indebtedness have accompanied the rapid financialization of the economy over the past two decades, debt factors into other socially important relationships and meanings in the everyday life of the family and household. How are different obligations and imperatives balanced against, or converted into, one another? How might they cancel one another out? How do people either convert between cash-based or short term imperatives and moral or longer-term ones, or erect barriers between these separate spheres thus making them incommensurable (Parry and Bloch 1989)? The paper challenges the overly deterministic assumption that these sets of relationships, and the conversions between them, embody a monolithic framework, imposed from above by financial institutions (with state backing) which intrudes into peopleÆs intimate relations, commitments and aspirations (see Han 2012). By exploring some accounts of householding (Gregory 2009, Guyer 1981, Polanyi 1944), it shows how we need to explore the complicity of participantsÆ engagement with the financialisation of daily life (Langley 2008; Martin 2002) rather than seeing it as imposed on unwilling victims.

Love, Marriage and Prostitution: the Libidinal Economy of Capitalism

Author: Noam Yuran (Tel Aviv University)  email

Short Abstract

Capitalism is an economy where everything is up for sale, yet it is in capitalism that gender relations must be distinguished from exchange. This historical peculiarity is the key to the libidinal economy of capitalism, where things outside the market are suspected as involving an obscene exchange.

Long Abstract

Capitalism is often described as an economy where everything is up for sale, yet it is in capitalism that the conception of gender relations in terms of exchange is considered most obscene. The paper presents this historical peculiarity as the key to the libidinal economy of capitalism, that is, to the way gender relations and identities, desire and erotic are encoded and articulated in the sphere of goods and money. Critical perspectives on capitalism are often informed by the idea that money homogenizes: that it flattens social and cultural differences in processes of extensive commodification. They are guided, in other words, by a literal reading of the commonplace that in capitalism everything is up for sale. The full meaning of this commonplace is that capitalism is characterized by a specific topology, were things that are formally outside the market are suspected as hiding an obscene exchange. To explore this idea the paper will revisit Werner Sombart's Luxury and Capitalism, which traces the origin of capitalism to the rise of illicit love and the luxury industry it propelled. In light of Sombart's thesis, we will examine how in early economic thought the image of prostitution marks a unique economy, where money is inherently obscene and upsets equivalences. We will examine further why in contemporary cultural imagination prostitution is associated with finance.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.