(P08)
Visions beyond precarity: envisaging and practicing alternatives to neo-liberal modernity
Location Chancellery Building, A1-018
Date and Start Time 05 Dec, 2018 at 11:15
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Justine Chambers (Australian National University) email
  • Simon Theobald (Australian National University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

This panel explores the multiple ways in which individuals, communities, and societies envisage their lives in ways that sit outside and in opposition to the paradigm of 'precarity'. We ask participants to examine how current anthropological debates on precarity might be reconsidered.

Long abstract

Since the publication of Judith Butler's (2009) Precarious Life, precarity has become one of the key interpretive metaphors of current anthropology. In conjunction with 'neo-liberalism', precarity is now recognised in countless diverse ethnographic locations, from Japan (Allison 2013), to France (Thorkelson 2016), to Iran (Khosravi 2017), a by-word for an age as much as an explanatory schema. Conceptually, in order for precarity to exist it must necessarily be compared against that which it is not - stability, and for the nearly half of the global population that is under 30 years of age, precarity describes not so much a state of exception, but the norm. This panel seeks broadly then to explore the ways in which individuals, communities, and societies come to envisage and attempt to practice alternatives to 'precarity'. What are the visionary landscapes and ideologies that communities create as they engage with and against precarity? What ethical value are deployed in attempts to overcome (or live with) precarity? How are these enacted at local, communal, and national levels? What variants do these forms take? Taking anthropology not just as a descriptive discipline but one that informs meaningful change, we ask, what do our informants show us about the possibility of other worlds? Probing these questions, this panel provides a forum through which to consider how current anthropological debates on precarity might be reconsidered in conversation with local idioms of being, and what new understanding of so-called precarious lives can emerge as a result.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Contingent belonging: the mundane vernaculars of making do in remote Australia

Author: Cameo Dalley (Deakin University) email
Mail All Authors

Short abstract

Non-Indigenous people are increasingly seen to occupy a precarious position in remote Australia, particularly where they are no longer able to sell their labour. A focus on what Ferguson has called the 'mundane vernaculars of making do', may provide a means through which to counter these discourses.

Long abstract

Non-Indigenous people are increasingly seen to occupy a precarious position in remote Australia. This is especially true in places where a downturn in local industries means that there is no longer a viable market in which to sell their unskilled or semi-skilled labour. Nevertheless, in this paper I focus on what Ferguson has called the 'mundane vernaculars of making do', here taken to mean the social and economic practices which root working-class people in place. I draw on ethnography from a small town in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia where I have conducted fieldwork since 2013.

Yuuyaraq, a Yup'ik ontology of permanence in Southwest Alaska: exploring the coordination of Indigenous-driven capitalist strategies, Native Corporations, and the "subsistence way of life"

Author: Jory Stariwat (Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation) email
Mail All Authors

Short abstract

The Yup'ik of Southwest Alaska use the past to guide their futures within the neoliberal economy through yuuyaraq, a way of being roughly translated to "the real way of life." It is through yuuyaraq that the Yup'ik confront precarity and sustain the "subsistence way of life."

Long abstract

In a landmark settlement finalising all Native Title claims throughout Alaska, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 led to the creation of powerful Native Corporations with multi-million dollar capital investments across the globe. The investments generate dividends and distribute monetary income to even the most remote and jobless regions of the state. By strategically engaging in the global economy as a unified federation, the Indigenous peoples of Alaska have generated a cash flow to partially support what they call the "subsistence way of life"— place-based hunting and fishing economies guided by enduring principles and ontological philosophies interconnecting people, land, water, and the animals upon which they depend. Yup'ik communities of Southwest Alaska have sustained a collective place in the world through yuuyaraq, an ontology or way of being roughly translated to the "real way of life," in which human, animal, and other spirits are continually cycling through physical forms in perpetuity, each spirit holding memories of the past that shape the future. In a time of upheaval, the Yup'ik face the material precarity of balancing engagement in the global economy with place-based livelihoods dependent on healthy ecologies, coupled with the very real threats of climate change, development, and environmental devastation. But through yuuyaraq, the Yup'ik communities of Southwest Alaska use the past to guide their futures within the neoliberal economy, and it is through yuuyaraq they ensure the permanence of the "subsistence way of life.".

"Iranian, buying foreign goods is treason!" Prestige and the struggle for a life beyond precarity in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Author: Simon Theobald (Australian National University) email
Mail All Authors

Short abstract

Drawing on fieldwork with the middle class in Mashhad, Iran's second largest city, this paper explores consumer practices as a response to institutional economic and social instability. I look to how consumption is justified as an act that restores stability in such a precarious environment.

Long abstract

This paper examines how middle class Iranians attempt to build a sense of personal and familial stability in contemporary Iran amidst a maelstrom of economic and social uncertainties. Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Iranian economy has been characterised by shifting experiments with nationalisation, state planning, and government interventionism on the one hand, and liberalising attempts at building a 'free market' on the other. Today, these ideologies compete with one another to provide a solution to Iran's economic woes that continue to eat into the quality of life of almost all sectors of society. On top of this is the vexed conflict between social reformists who want to bring Iranian society closer into conformity with international human rights regimes, and conservatives who continue to resist such calls as Western imperialism. Against this backdrop, middle class Iranians continue to hold out hope for a lifestyle comparable with wealthy Western nations, even as the reality of ongoing economic weakness, high unemployment, and political and social instability limits meaningful improvements. In this paper I look explicitly to how the middle class in Mashhad struggle to achieve some semblance of certainty through the purchase of consumer items, and the importance of brand names and social prestige in framing such acquisitions. I ask: what are the purchasing strategies that are deployed to create stability, why are they understood as stabilising, and how will the conflict between foreign imports and domestically produced goods impact on this effort?

"To be faithful is to be Karen": deconstructing narratives of the precarious Karen migrant in Thailand

Author: Justine Chambers (Australian National University) email
Mail All Authors

Short abstract

This paper considers how the pursuit of so-called precarious employment opportunities in Thailand offers Karen children from Myanmar the ability to keep '"faithful" and maintain cultural continuity.

Long abstract

Decades of civil conflict, economic crisis and the state's failure to invest in education means that Thailand has offered one of the only economic lifelines for many Karen families in southeastern Myanmar. What is known locally in Hpa-an as 'the age of Thailand' parent-child relations, gender roles and responsibilities have been reshaped significantly in the last three decades as a result of high rates of migration. Much of the literature that explores the lives of Plong Karen migrant communities in Thailand highlights their experiences of exploitation and marginalisation - the ultimate figures of neo-liberal modernity. By focusing on the way Plong Karen men and women view their own experience of migration as one of keeping 'faithful' ('thout kyar oh') to their families and community more broadly, this paper seeks to deconstruct narratives of the precarious Karen migrant. In drawing attention to contestation and friction between different regimes of value within Plong Karen people's lives, this paper considers how the pursuit of so-called precarious employment opportunities in Thailand offers Plong Karen children the ability to keep 'thout kyar oh' and maintain cultural continuity.

Traversing Serendip - anthropological considerations from the pilgrimage routes of Sri Lanka

Author: Ben Vecchiet (Deakin University) email
Mail All Authors

Short abstract

This paper explores the social and political transformational processes experienced by post conflict Sri Lankan devotees participating in their annual 650km pilgrimage to Katirkamam. Analysis of pilgrim rituals, symbols and social dramas that illustrate this process will be explored.

Long abstract

The Kataragama patha yaathirai is an annual foot pilgrimage that traverses the length of Sri Lanka's eastern seaboard. During the island's civil conflict (1983 - 2009) the pilgrimage was sporadically shortened in length or abandoned completely. With the ending of the conflict pilgrims are again free to participate in their 650km journey south along the traditional pilgrimage routes.

This paper will initially present the mode and nature of pilgrim austerities, symbolic interpretations of religious attire, and the ongoing rituals participated in by the pilgrims on route. These ritual and symbolic processes will be explored in a pilgrimage context in which the participants renounce their names and titles, ideas of caste and class and enter/exist in a (quasi) samnyasic or renouncer world. This analysis attempts to illustrate the significance of the transformational process experienced by the participants from lay devotees to pilgrim 'swamis'.

The paper explores the fundamentality of the pilgrimage as a valuable avenue for members of the Tamil Saiva (Hindu) community to practically explore central devotional and philosophical themes. Furthermore, as the pilgrims step away from their post-conflict village worlds through transitorily renouncing society they paradoxically step into a dynamic political and cultural relationship with a greater Tamil and Sri Lankan community. An aspect of this relationship will be surveyed through the political ideals intertwined in attempts to harness the spiritual potency embodied by the pilgrims to strengthen social and political endeavours of contested and periphery villages that remain deeply embedded in a precarious post-conflict struggle for existence.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.