Accepted Papers:

"It's like a house of witches": Poverty, relations, and reputations among Havana's streetcleaners  

Author:

Luisa Steur (University of Amsterdam)

Paper Short Abstract:

Surrounded by the quest for social mobility, the street cleaners of Centro Havana's, in fact, struggle to survive. Their strategies are remarkably individualistic, focused on the cultivation of good relations to management and the negotiation of individual favors, not seldom at the expense of peers.

Paper long abstract:

The signs of social change are increasingly visible in the neighborhood of Centro Havana as remittance flows and transnational marriages finance the renovation of houses into casas particulares. The quest for social mobility through the tourist industry or migration is ubiquitous and yet there are also those whose household does not include remittance flows and who need to survive at the bottom of the socialist labor market, with minimal chance of attracting income from foreigners. The garbage collectors and street cleaners of Centro Havana are a typical such collection of workers whose desire for "social mobility" in practice is often little more than a desire to survive. Their strategies of doing so are remarkably individualistic, focused on the cultivation of good relations to management and the negotiation of individual favors (what Sarah Ashwin termed "alienated collectivism"), not seldom at the expense of other workers. Under these conditions, solidarity - though held in high esteem - is very fragile and the "lack of respect" (falta de respeto) that workers feel from society at large, just as easily becomes a source of conflict amongst workers themselves. Envy, moreover, most often gets directed towards peers than upwards, threatening to turn the workplace into a "house of witches".

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