Accepted Paper:

Social bonds that make you stay: rethinking work in tobacco retail trade in Hungary  


Luca Szücs (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper Short Abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic experiences, this paper aims contributing to the better understanding of the question why some people stay by looking at how sociality and durable social relations continued to prevail and define labour in retail trade in postsocialist urban context.

Paper long abstract:

Retail trade in Western capitalist context is often depicted as alienated and impersonal in comparison to the embedded commercial relationships of pre-capitalist societies. By going beyond this stark conceptual separation and exploring the ways in which durable social relations continued to prevail and define labour in retail trade in postsocialist urban context, I will show that the endurance of sociality is crucial for understanding why some people stay. The paper draws on the rich anthropological literature on gift relations and follows those authors who argue that reciprocity and gift-giving prevails in all spheres of life, shaping all social interaction, including labour relations as well (see White 1994; Carrier 1995; Adloff 2006). Recently the popular concept of 'flexible capitalism' has been re-conceptualised in a similar vein, showing that prevailing work regimes are underpinned by proliferating sociality and social exchanges (Kjaerulff 2015). Since the nationalization of tobacco retail trade in 2012, tobacco products have been only sold in specialized, government franchised cigar stores, so-called "National Tobacco Shops" in Hungary. This resulted in the proliferation of small-sized - often family owned - tobacco shops. Drawing on my ethnographic research conducted in such retail shops in the city of Szeged (Hungary), I will show how practices of non-commodified social exchanges based on reciprocity and mutual obligations define both horizontal and vertical labour relations as well as the transactions between shopkeepers and customers in retail shops. By doing that, I will also argue that these shops function as social institutions in economically deprived urban neighbourhoods.

Panel P013
Urban economies which make you stay [Anthropology of Economy Network]