'I will never let you down': informality and the mechanisms of support within the private firm in provincial Russia
(Higher School of Economics)
Paper short abstract:
The paper reflects on the subjective experience of informal labor within the private sector in Russia. It shows how reliance on personal connections and ties of mutual dependencies enable laboring poor to navigate uncertainties of the market economy and effectively engage in social reproduction.
Paper long abstract:
Having emerged as a result of market transformations in the 1990s, the new private sector in Russia has been largely characterized by its ubiquitous informal arrangements. In face of plummeting wages, massive layoffs and a crumbling system of civil entitlements, Russian workers have been increasingly forced to abandon the traditional forms of employment in state or formerly state-owned enterprises and pushed into the expanding private sector of the nascent Russian liberal economy. This paper takes inspiration from the growing anthropological literature that problematizes the normative status of formal stable employment and calls to an investigation of locally specific forms of capitalism. Drawing upon ethnography of a small-scale firm, I argue that informal arrangements of Russian private sector enable workers to navigate uncertainties of the Russian market economy and effectively undertake social reproduction due to possibilities to negotiate flexible work schedules or payment schemes. As in many other post-Soviet contexts where the state withdrew from the social protection, informal mechanisms of support as a form of 'bottom-up welfare provision' (Polese et al. 2014) came to compensate for the crumbling system of statist welfare. This is not to deny the power effects and abuses of informal arrangements that favor exploitation of flexible labor but to stress that informal negotiations within the firm may also secure positions of those actors who find themselves on the margins of survival. Simultaneously, everyday informal exchanges at work reveal different logics of value that shape workers identities and inform social action inside and outside workplace.
Beyond precarity: the politics of hope, care, and solidarity under conditions of unsettling (im)mobility [Anthropology of Labour Network]