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Accepted Paper:

Wanting to stay but preparing to leave: How Bosnian supermarket employees negotiate precariousness in a post-industrial town  


Milana Cergic (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing from a one-year long fieldwork research, this paper analyses how supermarket employees in post-socialist Bosnia, who are constantly torn between staying and leaving the country for a better life, cope with precariousness in everyday life in a post-industrial and post-socialist town.

Paper long abstract:

In the north-eastern Bosnian town of Tuzla, "Bingo", a local supermarket chain, has replaced the former strong industry. Amidst the economic stagnation, this company represents the major employer in the town, while it maintains the employees in precarious situations through short term contracts, low wages, or the ban of unions. For many of my interlocutors, the main goal after the war was to obtain stable employment regardless of the working conditions. However, the opening of the German labour market for non-EU citizens has led to a change of consciousness among the employees. For many of them, migrating seems to be the only possibility to build a stable and rahat (carefree) life, while staying signifies various forms of hardship. While supermarket employees started to create "plan B's" to prepare to leave Bosnia by learning the German language or going to nursery classes, they are also trying to stay by developing strategies of dealing with everyday precariousness in a constellation Wendy Brown (2017) calls "sacrifial citizenship".

This shared predicament leads to the creation of strong solidarity bonds among employees in form of mutual assistance and exchange of knowledge, which often crosse hierarchical structures and the boundaries of the work space. In this paper, I will analyse the everyday practices of "those who stay" in order to deal with what for them is a double precariousness: working as a supermarket employee and living on the margins of Europe. I will also show that neoliberal transformations have not erased forms of solidarity which existed during Yugoslavia, but rather strengthened them further.

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