Paper short abstract:
Among Polish farmers activities such as counting and calculating can become an equivalent of acting. It is not just recalling the prices and not only a narrative strategy: it shows a way of thinking, a special view of the surrounding world and economic attitudes. It can also replace economic acting.
Paper long abstract:
Conducting fieldwork in Polish countryside for 7 years now, on several topics (from ethnopolitology to peasants' moaning, and recently on cultural dimensions of economic changes) I could not miss the phenomenon of counting. Numbers, counting, calculating, numerals, rules of arithmetic are inseparable elements of almost all conversations in the countryside. It shows again and again, in all contexts and subjects (whether it is church policy, the current situation of agriculture, grandchildren's future plans, new plants used in a garden, or neighbours' life stories).
It is not just recalling the prices, and not only a narrative strategy: it shows a way of thinking and a special view of the surrounding world, economic attitudes. Sometimes counting is just a short mention, an example or illustration of a story. Often, however, it is a long sequence linking together different elements of reality.
One of the roles of counting which I identified, I called "erzatz". The surrounding reality seems often incomprehensible, unclear and strange. Counting, calculating, comparing and other similar activities give the illusion of power, of domination over different facts and links between them. It can also replace economic acting.
Another dimension of the phenomenon is rhetoric. People which I met during my fieldworks used numbers for their own rhetoric purposes in a perfect way, in their speeches numbers became the arguments that couldn't be rejected. This tendency is also visible in the public life, especially in politics (a good example here is the populist Andrzej Lepper). In a way it is a kind of creation of a new economic reality.
In my paper I would like to develop this subject, to consider different meanings of counting, to look at the roles and contexts of this phenomenon. In the case of many Polish farmers speaking is an equivalent of acting, whenever they are not able to be fully actors of the economic reality. I believe that this mathematic-counting sphere of life, shown on a language level, is a significant part of informal economy.
Formal and informal economies in a global world