Balkanizing Sahlins: stranger-capitalism as national salvation in a 'flawed' semi-periphery
Ivan Rajković (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
Paper short abstract:
Analysing Serbian problems with 'self-destructive' national sociality and yearnings for 'proper' Western privatisers, this presentation rethinks desires for submission from the point of view of local cosmo-economics, and the humiliation that core-periphery relations comparatively entail.
Paper long abstract:
By focusing on a Serbian town in which an iconic car plant has been privatized by FIAT, this paper reads Balkanist humiliations through Oceanic eyes, and vice versa. Recalling how the factory was managed in the past, town inhabitants appropriate its privatisation into a local theory of the problematic national 'we': one that threatens its own existence. Scorning Italian management as 'bigger conmen than we are', they weave stories of Western Europe as a place of social cohesion and economic longevity, what I call the 'genealogical West'. I argue that such desires for 'proper capitalists' develop not simply out of geoeconomic dependence and market hegemony, but as internal critical commentaries. They summon a Western privatiser as a strict, yet necessary external regulator of 'us' and 'our own' mishandling of the common good - in local terms, as more of a 'domaćin' (traditional pater familias) than 'us'. This reveals balkanism as a variation of what Sahlins called 'humiliation' moment in social change: a point at which people start to see their way of life as flawed, and actively debase it. Putting privatisations in continuity with cultural echoes of agricultural economy and Yugoslav self-managed socialism, humiliation ensures legitimacy of state-mediated foreign capital. A foreign proprietor becomes a Stranger-Domaćin, one who saves 'our own' property by becoming the definite owner of it. Such cosmo-economic reform, however, has its specificities in the semi-periphery: a space where boundaries between autochthony and alterity are relative, Stranger-Kings disappoint, and the cargo of market salvation is repeatedly deferred.
Moving between self and other: Navigating hierarchy and alterity in cosmopolitical encounters