Accepted Paper:

Work and survival strategies in the Serbian waste economy: an analysis from the perspective of "poverty management"  


Eva Schwab (Central European University)

Paper short abstract:

I analyze new forms of policing informal waste work through interventions from the repertoire of 'poverty management' as multiplying forms of 'atypical labor' and thus suggest a perspective that seeks to overcome the epistemological divide between survival strategies and work

Paper long abstract:

Today, in Belgrade and other Serbian towns a growing interest in extracting value from communal waste goes hand-in-hand with new forms of policing increasingly illegalized economic activity of scavenging through interventions from the repertoire of "poverty management". These interventions include the introduction of micro-finance and subjecting informal waste pickers to "activation measures" for the unemployed. Sanyal (2007) explains such 'rehabilitating' interventions directed at informal labor as a "modern politics of exclusion", which secures the legitimacy of the accumulation economy by managing the space of those permanently excluded from it. In contradistinction to Sanyal, I suggest that the idea of economic activities outside the accumulation economy relies on problematic understandings of un/productive work. I will argue, instead, that measures of 'poverty management' directed at waste pickers establish a disciplinary regime that redraws the very distinction between productive and unproductive work. In that I seek to contribute to an anthropology of unemployment, which seeks to overcome the bifurcation of studies of poverty/survival strategies on the one hand and work/labor relations on the other (Perelman 2007). I will show how a perspective on 'poverty management' as a labor regime gives new insights into the processes that contribute to multiplying forms of 'atypical labor'. Here I refer especially to the production of 'quasi-entrepreneurial' or as Denning (2010) says, 'disguised wage-labor'. This does not only challenge the distinction between work and survival strategy, but also blurs the line between of formal and informal economic activities.

Panel P080
New trends in the anthropology of unemployment after the economic crisis of 2008-9 [Anthropology of Economy Network]