Navigating stagnation: values as a force of capitalist continuity
(Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
Paper short abstract:
Questioning the routine assumption that associate stillness or immobility as being involuntary, as well as the formalist view of economy that assumes individual's self-interest to dictate their economic action, the paper explore motivations behind voluntarily staying put in stagnant endeavors.
Paper long abstract:
Mobility is often associated with progress and continuity, as opposed to staying still, which is seen as a state individuals are compelled to dwell in. Mobility, as studies reaffirm (Frello, 2008; Greenblatt, 2009; Salazar & Smart, 2011), goes beyond mere movement and is fraught with meaning. But so is the absence of mobility. The decision to remain in a particular place or activity often goes beyond just an inability to be mobile and entails a moral dimension.
In this paper I discuss case studies on small (family) firms collected through fieldwork in Maharashtra, India that are experiencing stagnation as a result of structural changes brought about by waves of economic liberalization in India. These owners, however, have voluntarily remained stuck in their stagnant businesses, opting out of other economically rational choices at their disposal. While their stillness has enabled the mobility of their next generation to pursue careers overseas, subsequently it has endangered the traditional mode of continuity of the firms. Against this backdrop while exploring their motivation to stay put in stagnation I uncover the role values and morality play in the continuity of such capitalist enterprises. The analysis highlights the 'embeddedness' (Polanyi, 1944) of economy in the social matrix and questions the routine assumption that associates stillness or immobility as being involuntary, as well as the formalist view of economy that assumes economic behaviour to be dictated by a self-interest to maximize material benefit.
Stuck in a mobile world: the agentive potential of immobility