Accepted Papers:

Housing and the Search for a Good Life in Contemporary Havana  


Heidi Härkönen (University of Helsinki)

Paper Short Abstract:

People's projects of social mobility may both adopt and resist neoliberalist understandings in complex ways. Through a focus on housing, this paper explores how neoliberalism shapes low-income Havana residents' ideas and experiences of social mobility and a good life in the midst of Cuba's changes.

Paper long abstract:

A desire to obtain social mobility is often central to people's aspirations for a good life. Neoliberalism importantly shapes such pursuits by introducing individuals to new ideas, practices and imaginings of desirable lives. However, in practice, the possibilities for people to obtain better lives is highly inequitable and constrained by multiple factors, many of which emerge from neoliberalist policies.

Contemporary Cuba provides a fascinating place to examine how neoliberalism shapes people's ideas, practices and possibilities for social mobility because its socialist egalitarianism is currently transformed by neoliberalist economic policies and inequalities. These structural developments create new possibilities, desires and restrictions for social mobility for Cubans that enter into a complex interaction with older, socialist ideas and practices. Drawing on ethnographic research amongst low-income Cubans, this paper examines people's desires, experiences and imaginings of "getting ahead" in contemporary Havana. However, while Cuba's structural developments have brought new opportunities to some, in practice many Habaneros feel that their search for a good life is stagnated by powers beyond their control. Focusing on my Cuban friends' quest for social mobility, I will show that their endeavours centre on their homes, but in ways that differ from home ownership as a neoliberalist investment. These individual aspirations are complexly restricted and enabled by state policies that have shifted from socialist control towards neoliberalist competition. The paper argues that people's experiences and imaginings of social mobility are entangled with their ideas of the good life and may both embrace and reject neoliberalism.

Panel P132
Social mobility in the neoliberal age: practices, relations, expectations, and desires