Accepted Paper:

Politics, care and uncertainty in contemporary Cuba  


Heidi Härkönen (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

During the post-Soviet era, Cuba has endured an unparalleled political and economic crisis and rapid large-scale transformations. This calls for attention to the ways in which ordinary people negotiate the on-going political and economic uncertainties in their everyday lives.

Paper long abstract:

Losing its closest socialist ally, the Soviet Union, launched Cuba into a severe economic and political crisis that forced the state to make several concessions to its earlier ideals. State services and contributions to the population were severely cut, the country was opened to international tourism and day-to-day life became increasingly monetised, favouring some whilst marginalising others. The expectation was on the crisis to create widespread popular resistance to the state. In scholarly discussion, socialist state politics has often been approached via the concept of paternalism, whereby state power is conceptualised as oppressive in regards to citizens who reject such interference in their lives. Approached by such terms as late-socialism, recent research on Cuba has highlighted the forthcoming demise of the island's revolutionary rule.

Drawing on ethnographic evidence from amongst lower income, racially mixed Cubans, this paper explores how individuals relate to Cuba's contemporary state discourse in the context of on-going economic and political precarity. Instead of paternalism, the dynamics between large-scale developments and individuals' everyday lives are better approached via the notion of dialectics of care, which resonates with local understandings of the intertwining of material exchanges and social relations. This complicates and questions the idea of state involvement in individual lives as unambiguously rejected by Cubans, highlighting instead the multifaceted relationships that people maintain with state institutions in distinct situations, whilst simultaneously finding inventive ways to negotiate the continuing political and economic crisis.

Panel P012
Crisis as ongoing reality: perspectives from different anthropological locations (European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) and the Committee for World Anthropologies (CWA) panel)