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Accepted Paper:

In search of dignified work within and against capitalism  

Author:

Jeremy Gunson (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the complex and contradictory nature of securing livelihoods and pursuing dignified work through a solidarity economy project in Mexico. I present a challenge to the normative conceptual dichotomy of capitalism and its other which has relevance beyond the regional context.

Paper long abstract:

The solidarity economy has been championed by activists, academics and policy makers as a new paradigm of economic behaviour, which describes alternative routes to securing livelihoods and wellbeing than those which prevail in capitalist economies. This paper explores the solidarity economy paradigm through findings from 18 months' fieldwork with members of a network called the Mercado Alternativo Túmin (MAT) in Mexico. In particular, I explore the case of Don Mateo - an elderly man who engages with the MAT both as a survival strategy and in his pursuit for meaningful and dignified work.

Combining life history and participant observation, I show how it is possible to understand and engage in a solidarity economy yet at the same time reproduce aspirations, actions and social relations more commonly identified with the capitalist economy. First, I suggest the MAT was a vehicle through which Don Mateo secured a livelihood and dignified work in otherwise abject socio-economic circumstances. This involved a process of creative self-reinvention, based on his past experience of "good working times." I then show how Don Mateo's position within the project led to the creation of credit and debt relations, paradoxically undermining the very solidarity network his job was meant to sustain.

This paper reveals the complex and contradictory nature of securing livelihoods and pursuing dignified work within and against contemporary capitalism in rural Mexico. The ethnography presents a challenge to the normative conceptual dichotomy of capitalism and its other in ways which have relevance beyond regional specificity.

Panel P100
Rethinking work, power and social reproduction in and beyond Europe [Anthropology of Labour Network]