Accepted paper:

'Honest and successful Serbia': reconfiguring moral economy at the time of neoliberal reform


Marek Mikuš (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

The moral rhetoric employed by politicians in present-day Serbia is analysed as a way of tapping into, and reconfiguring, the established moral economy in order to legitimate the emergent neoliberal state form and politico-economic model.

Paper long abstract:

Spatio-temporal fixes to crises of capitalism, including the one currently unfolding in the European periphery, necessitate transformations of the state and its relations with the market and society. Since 'state forms are always animated and legitimated by a particular moral ethos,' as Corrigan and Sayer have shown, this entails a remaking of moral economy - the popular conceptions of economic justice and acceptable forms of exploitation that underpin hegemonic politico-economic models. This paper unpacks moral rhetoric employed by politicians in present-day Serbia to legitimate neoliberal reforms as an example of such top-down reconfiguration of moral economy. Rather than 'de-moralising' the economy, as James Ferguson argued for structural adjustment in Africa, this market-populist rhetoric, and the governmental interventions and bureaucratic routines it justifies, are analysed as an instance of 're-moralising' the emergent neoliberal regime and styling it as both 'modern' and 'honest.' The politicians use popular moral metaphors of theft, looting or 'living on the hump of the nation' as a proven strategy of discrediting the state-centred accumulation strategies of hostile elites, but increasingly extend the stigma also to the 'parasitic' public sector that remains a crucial source of livelihood in the devastated economy. Virtuous private enterprise, 'flexible' labour regime, and sacrifice for the country and the future are to supersede the alleged lazy and state-dependent ways of the Serbs. In the process, the social purpose of the state is being redefined as facilitating neoliberal capitalist development - the one truly rational and moral source of subsistence and welfare.

panel P65
Linking the moral and the political economy in the European periphery