Accepted Paper:

Milk for money: work, value, and moral appreciation in rural Serbia  

Author:

Andre Thiemann (Riga Stradiņš University)

Paper short abstract:

How did Serbian villagers negotiate contradictory value systems? Sharing moral economic notions of working the land and maintaining the house, the decreasing market value of milk–a household staple and valued substance of kinning–produced double binds of disengaging vs. intensifying production.

Paper long abstract:

The post-socialist food production landscape in central Serbia has been riveted with friction, debate, and occasional mobilizations around shifting scales of values, social (in)equalities, and market relations. In the hill village where I do fieldwork since 2009, deindustrialization led to a return by laid-off workers since the 1980s. Many had co-produced their social security through agriculture before, but now they reinvigorated the 'house' and the 'village' around pre-socialist ideals of the "good householder" or socialist ideas about the making-do-"land-worker". Be it for economic or moral economic reasons they increased the land's productivity, revived communal work and reciprocal exchanges, and renovated underused 'spatial fixes' (production facilities). What from a gender-perspective approached re-traditionalisation, from a political-economic perspective reversed the "moral depreciation" of capital and labour (Marx), thereby "morally (re)appreciating" the village.

Since 2005 the producers were confronted with an oligopolising dairy market and deflated milk prices. If reducing their milk production, the women, customarily charged with milking and dairy-processing, risked losing a valuable resource of economic 'in-dependence' and for nurturing kin-ties. Some households completely disinvested, others maintained cows 'as a hobby', or processed their cheese, yoghurt, and cream with milk obtained from neighbours. Meanwhile, intensification took three forms: (a) cottage production for customers, (b) establishment of brands, and (c) articulation with vertical milk distribution chains. In the latter cases, the female workload increased disproportionally to milk's economic/kin value. Nonetheless neighbours supported these households being concerned about "ethical consumption", about the "farmer's welfare", or thankful for their upholding of the living village.

Panel P051
Works that matter (not): valuing productivity through and against the market