Sinking land, floating potash, moving people: the caste landscape of a state-capitalist Russian city
(National Research University Higher School of Economics)
Paper short abstract:
Exploring the intersections of state, corporate and grassroot labour politics through the experiences of people living in an industrial Russian town, I suggest revisiting the anthropological discussion on caste vs. class as a way to capture local specifics and common trends in global capitalism.
Paper long abstract:
My ethnography of a 140,000 strong industrial Russian city suggests that the time may have come to consider local social dynamics through a lens of caste - rather than class- formation and reproduction. The biggest influencers in the local dynamic of precarization, spatial segregation and class polarization, are the increasingly automated resource-mining companies that face simultaneously a surplus of underskilled workers and a lack of qualified labour. They react by individualizing contractual relations, but also by early pre-selection and training of future technical cadres. A guarded cottage suburb built by one of the plants for its elite employees, visibly divides the previously unified city into those who are gainfully - albeit precariously - employed, and whose employment, and future, remains in doubt. The social and residential politics of the state and municipal authorities further divide the city by separating the marginalized and fixing in place the potentially employable and biologically reproducible populations. Additionally, a slow-paced ecological disaster related to the long history of mining beneath the city itself, provides local powers with the rhetoric of emergency and cementing their dominance over grassroots opposition. To explore these processes in their mutual constitution, I will concentrate on three ethnographic sites: the companies' HR quarters and their labour politics; the schools where fears and aspirations of middle-class parents and their children can be observed; and the psychiatric clinic that monitors the process of (mal)adaptation on the part of the poor, the addicted and the mentally disturbed.
The new anthropology of class: relations of place, experience and (dis)possessions