EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Everyday finance
Location U6-26
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Hadas Weiss (The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email
  • Mateusz Halawa (Polish Academy of Sciences) email
  • Marek Mikuš (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Deborah James, Don Kalb

Short Abstract

Drawing on economic anthropology's legacy of examining work, consumption and saving, we observe how these practices change as a result of new financial pressures and incentives. Studies of everyday finance will serve us to chart a future for anthropology's understanding of global finance

Long Abstract

Economic anthropology has a rich legacy of interrogating and reconstructing the everyday logic of work, consumption and saving. While they remain important mainstays in the provisioning and management of resources among members of social groups and household units, as well as in the transmission of these resources along consecutive generations, they are also changing as a consequence of the growing dominance of finance in the wider economy and the novel pressures and incentives it represents.

Financialization presents economic anthropologists with a challenge for the future. It is no longer possible to think of work incomes absent pension investments, of consumption absent credit cards and installment plans, of housing absent complex mortgage instruments, or of saving absent risk-management. Anthropologists have recently taken on the world of global finance, but they have mostly looked at its commanding heights, delivering insights into the lifeworlds of financial experts and the social and cultural embedding of financial instruments.

Increasingly, however, ethnographic studies have been studying finance from the ground up by exercising the discipline's traditional strengths in penetrating household units and everyday practices. In this panel, we will draw on and extend these endeavors in order to illuminate anthropology's unique contribution to the study of global finance by observing such things as household agents and their exposures to risk, tensions between the temporalities of everyday life and those of global markets, political mobilizations surrounding finance, and moral understandings of what finance does.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Toward a historical anthropology of household debt in post-credit boom Croatia

Author: Marek Mikuš (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

Which theories and concepts can aid in developing a historical and global anthropological perspective on the recent household debt boom and bust in Croatia, and its place in wider webs of social relations and historical and spatial dynamics?

Long Abstract

Household debt in Croatia grew rapidly in the 2000s in the setting of a "peripheral financialisation" of Croatia's political economy. As elsewhere in postsocialist Europe, many took out loans, especially mortgages, indexed to foreign currencies. Since the economy slipped into a protracted crisis in 2008, big jumps in exchange rates, compounded by variable interest rates and alleged machinations of the banks, brought misery to many debtors and a surge in debt recovery and home repossessions. The social costs of debt became an important public issue addressed by civic associations, social movements, politicians, and legal and regulatory apparatuses. My project will study how experiences of indebtedness shape and reflect social relations, in particular class, in Zagreb credit-boom neighbourhoods, and how regulative frameworks and political practices of bankers, activists and others embed debt in contested moral economies at various scales, from the household to the nation-state to the EU. Here I discuss the relevance of the research programme of "social studies of finance", with considerable following in anthropology, for my focus. While useful for studying technologies and practices through which credit/debt is constructed and reproduced, its flat social ontology and ahistorical, apolitical perspective do not allow for a questioning of the nature of credit/debt and its place in wider webs of social relationships and historical and spatial dynamics. I consider how concepts of class, institution and moral economy, and insights of political economists and critical geographers, may help develop a historical and global anthropological perspective on Croatian household debt boom and bust.

From market socialism to post-war financialisation: debt and household consumer credit in Sarajevo

Author: Zaira Tiziana Lofranco (University of Bergamo)  email

Short Abstract

The paper analyzes the effects at a micro level of the Bosnia and Herzegovina post-war inclusion in the global financial system, ethnographically exploring the experience of Sarajevo households with consumer credits supplied by private, mainly foreign, commercial banks corporations.

Long Abstract

The paper analyzes the effects at a micro level of the Bosnia and Herzegovina post-war inclusion in the global financial system, ethnographically exploring the experience of Sarajevo households with consumer credits (nenamjenski krediti, gotovinski krediti) supplied by private, mainly foreign, commercial banks corporations.

Nonetheless, as data suggest, consumer credit demand can be traced back to market socialism and debt practices cannot be simply related to the post-socialist and post-war impoverishment that caught the Sarajevan households in a downward socio-economic mobility. This contribution will consider present and past (geo)political and socio-cultural transformations that made of "financialized debt" an inevitable prerequisite for consumption and a distinctive feature of Sarajevo post war everyday life. The paper will thus mainly explore households dealings with debt in a national market of money located at the margin of EU monetary space and marked by Central Bank little control over the local market of money.

In the conjuncture set by the last financial crisis (from 2007 onwards), this contribution will hihgligt shared practices of cyclic indebtedness and social relations generated by warranties and prerequisites asked by banks to access credit in a context very sensitive to the the fluctuation of financial global markets.

It will also highlight moral evaluations of the credit system banks in realtions to banks willingness to lend, fluctuations of interests rates and debt recollection procedures.

Ultimately thie paper will document Sarajevans' attempt to humanize the credit system from within.

Financialization meets flexibilization of work

Author: Dimitra Kofti (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores ethnographically how financial capitalism becomes tangible at the work place, affects relations in production and working lives and generates new inequalities and values. It is based on fieldwork in two work settings in Bulgaria.

Long Abstract

Financialization of capitalism and flexibilization of production over the last three decades had significant repercussions in everyday politics of work and managerial techniques. This paper looks at multiple financial forces that converge to the production site in exploring how to study their interrelation with flexible work. The ethnography is based on research in two privatized factories in Bulgaria which went through significant restructuring since the early 1990's and where the fear of capital flight and shifts in the stock market influence shifts in the organization of production. While profit accumulation is not merely based on production, financial risk and shareholder values play important role at the production space. Moreover, debt and changing pension schemes become central parts of workers' lives, affecting daily practices at work, the labour's bargaining power and household dynamics. In discussing ways to approach the intertwinement of financial forces with flexible work, the paper will take into account both large scale financial flows and workers' financial strategies.

How currencies make histories: Poland's Swiss franc decade (2005-2015)

Author: Mateusz Halawa (Polish Academy of Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the social life of multiple currencies in contemporary Poland, specifically the relationship between local currency, the złoty, the Swiss franc, and the Euro in the context of the proliferation of adjustable-rate mortgages indexed to or denominated to in Swiss francs.

Long Abstract

This paper is an analysis of the social and cultural effects of the proliferation of adjustable-rate mortgages indexed to or denominated to in Swiss francs in Poland. The boom in foreign currency mortgages in Central and Eastern Europe has afforded the Swiss currency an unexpectedly central place not only in the everyday life of young urban middle class mortgagors but also in the broader public discourse and social imaginary. The currency was domesticated and created in big Polish cities a historically novel form of households, which continue to be positioned by the mortgage contracts as sorts of carry traders in the global currency market, but with no significant shield from the currency rate risk. While such households account for less than 2% of the population, "franc people" (frankowicze) have become an extremely visible group nationwide in representations ranging from journalism through TV and theater to hip-hop. Based on 22 months of fieldwork among those indebted in francs and on archival research and discourse analysis, this paper focuses on the dynamically changing relationship between Polish currency, the złoty, the Swiss franc, and the Euro. What are the uses and effects of speculative relationships to multiple currencies, which were supposed to address the housing need in the context of an enduring shortage of living space? The analysis combines long-term ethnography (with fieldwork between 2012-2015) and historical analysis in order to track the shifting forms of productivity of the multiple currency dynamic through the years.

On being creditworthy: introducing credit scoring into Israeli households

Author: Hadas Weiss (The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

Is creditworthiness really as worthy as it is made out to be? I will address the allure of creditworthiness and its implications through an analysis of the debates surrounding the introduction of a consumer credit scoring system in Israel.

Long Abstract

A proposed bill to introduce a centralized consumer credit scoring system in Israel is now entering its final stages. If and when it passes, every individual in Israel will be assigned a formal credit score based on a variety of past financial transactions constituting his or her so-called credit history. As in similar systems elsewhere (like the USA or the UK), it will determine her ability to receive credit, as well as the price that this credit will cost her.

In this paper, I analyze the official report published by the committee charged with drafting this bill, as well as the public discourses and controversies surrounding it. Unpacking some of the goals and presuppositions of both its proponents and its opponents, I argue that despite and throughout their disagreements over how a credit scoring system will impact such challenges as social inequality, financial exclusion, privacy protection and the disciplinary affects of a so-called "audit culture", they share a common and pervasive susceptibility to the allure of being creditworthy. Making explicit some of the structural variables that creditworthiness is implicated in, I explain what makes it so self-evident, and question whether it really is as worthy as it is made out to be.

Micro credit and solidarity groups in an Armenian border village

Author: Tamar Khutsishvili (Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena)  email

Short Abstract

This paper, is based on one-year ethnographic research conducted in Armenia and examines the role of credit system in the fostering of solidarity groups.

Long Abstract

My paper address credits as a way of promoting gender group solidarity. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, an agricultural bank started to provide credits exclusively to women. Nowadays, some Armenian banks do the same with men. As nearly everyone in the village has a bank credit, women and men separately uniting in special communities take responsibility for each other. How are this groups constituted?what kind of connections do these people have? why is it forbidden to mix gender in the credit group circles? based on participant observation and interviews with the locals, I will provide an approach to this question based on the concepts of trust and distrust. Broadly speaking, I will scrutinize how these concepts influence the economic situation in the village.

"Money from below": social devices and "folk economics" in the making of a crypto currency market

Author: Ilan Talmud (University of Haifa)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores social devices and organized activities embedded in the market making of "virtual currency". I present research findings drawn from an ethnographic, multi-sited, study of the Israeli Bitcoin community and a netnographic study of the global Bitcoin community.

Long Abstract

The Bitcoin market is embedded in anonymous, decentralized, de-territorialized, online system, and may be perceived as a "pure money" arena, because it depersonalizes transactions from social identity. Trade in Bitcoin is risky, as it involves high degree of uncertainty regarding valuation, fluctuation, liquidity, and a lack of formal institutional regulation. A crucial market device is performed by constructing an imagined alternative monetary community, backed by online and offline relations. Another device is the assemblage of syncretic critical discourse, focusing mainly on the key role central and private banks play in generating endemic financial crises via "debt economy" and politically controlled economy. More important, local discourse is composed of hybrid, incoherent fragments of libertarian, socialist, and anarchistic notions, stimulated by ties to a heterogeneous assortment of protest movements' leaders and political actors. The practical materiality of Bitcoin is dependent on trust in virtuality, and acceptance of "Folk Theories" of economics, based on syncretic faith in the efficient operation of algorithmic economic regulation, and conspiracy theories of banking. An important social device is the construction "temporal fusion" between present investments and moralized and material future values. Market devices result in the framing of bifocal "fictional expectations" of utopian and material futures, which enable investors to perceive their investments as valuable, despite high levels of uncertainty, dramatic price and volume fluctuations, recurrent fraud cases, technical interruptions, institutional hostility, and public skepticism, Another important device is a recurrent confusion between Bitcoin- as- a- currency vs. Bitcoin- as- a- technology.

Finance as a passion: a case of retail investors

Author: Lukasz Pyfel (University of Lodz)  email

Short Abstract

Author propose to analyze amateur investing as passion. After explaining this concept, three areas connected to investing will be presented: earmarking of invested money, investing in the context of interaction with others and tackling with social labelling.

Long Abstract

Drawing on the set of in-depth interviews with Polish amateur retail investors and observations of events for them, the author propose to perceive retail investing not only as financial entrepreurial action but also as a passion. Proposed concept of investing as a passion cannot be reduced to the behavioural finance's thrill-seeking hypothesis nor to the sociological notion of edgework, although the latter is employed by author as part of retail investor's action explanation.

This presentation will focus on three aspects of investing - earmarking of invested money, investing in the context of interaction with others and tackling with social labelling. Money for investing are often earmarked as separate from the savings and labelled as private. These monies can be explicitly perceived as cost of their interest by investors. Investing as a passion is also a topic of daily conversations and can contribute to building social networks. Simultaneously investors tend to overstate their financial results and in case of severe loses investor finds it difficult to find support in their peer group. Some investors, especially those investing on markets with less legitimization, can tackle with the problem of being labelled as deviant by their family and friends. In this case they employ defensive strategies similar to the strategies of other passionate hobbyst in order to be perceived as 'normal'.

Nevertheless, it should be stated that amateur retail investing cannot be analyzed only as a passion, without the context of investor's financial results and expectations.

When Islamic financial model meets conventional bank services: the impact of religion in costumer's practices

Author: Milena Ivanova Leblanc (Plovdiv University Bulgaria)  email

Short Abstract

Most common practices of bank and credit services are operated today by non conventional financial institutions - Islamic banks. This recently described financial banking model empowers populations of confessional customers, particularly attached to the moral and ethic side of the service delivery.

Long Abstract

In a global consumption world, confessional individuals hardly can stay a part. Consuming power more often supposes to hold at least one bank account that will drive different financial products for individual use - credit and debit cards, insurances, etc. The Muslim customers all around the world stand no longer excluded from the global exchange system, they buy halal food online, subscribe for Muslim TV channels, order the Holy Sacrifice meat online for the Ramadan festivities; but also provide themselves some Occidental goods - from the latest Adidas sneakers, Chief's Pressure cookers, original Louis Vuitton hand bag... Payment operations are possible because financial institutions and banks spread the culture of the shopping with your credit card 24/7 accessible among this type of religious customers too.

And yet, one should ask if Islamic religious principles related to the ethics in the ordinary monetary transactions, influence the way the capital and funds are transformed. When comparing the services and the products of each one of the type of bank services, conventional and Islamic ones, both seem to raise identical products, shaped with a kind of certain type of neutral visual approach and category offers - individuals, private, and corporate customers, consumer loans, deposits, investments, insurances and pension plans. So why chose to hold an Islamic bank account or not?

Religious beliefs and discourse of promise of moral integrity beyond the marketing window seem to be one of the aspects for understanding such a trend.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.