Accepted Paper:

Mock-labour: clashing valuations of (un)productivity in a dilapidated Serbian factory  

Author:

Ivan Rajković (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

In conversation with the recent literature on evaluative dilemmas of contemporary work, this paper follows the conflicting valuations of labour in the production slowdown of a Serbian car factory, and the simultaneous affirmation and denigration of the market logic they create.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I explore the ambiguous inner (il)legitimation of work during production production in a Serbian factory Zastava Cars, after 1990. As in many firms in the country, the wars in former Yugoslavia led to a sudden, yet enduring decimation of production. However, in what was perceived as the politics of 'buying social peace', under-productive employment became increasingly financed by the state. In conversation with recent literature on evaluative dilemmas of contemporary work, I follow the ambiguous valuations of labour in such situation. On one hand, Zastava's slowdown has created new forms of activity at the work place, reintroducing physical labour and craft in what have previously been spaces of more automated production. Referring to such actions as 'skillful improvisation' and 'endurance for the firm', Zastava's workers valued their activities not in terms of their exchange value, but as self-organised commitment to 'gridding' (Jansen, 2015) - maintenance of an 'ordered system' of social reproduction in a time of crisis. At the same time, ethnography shows the limits of such social revalorization. Workers have gradually experienced their activities as disjointed from an ethos of mass productivity and rhythms they remembered from their previous working years. They started to depict themselves as only pretending to work for the state - what I call 'mock-labour' - and in the everyday boredom at the work place, experienced complex affective registers between righteousness and complicity, nonchalance and shame. Market logic kicks in as offering stable solutions for such value problems.

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