EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(P056)
Beyond precarity: the politics of hope, care, and solidarity under conditions of unsettling (im)mobility [Anthropology of Labour Network]
Location SO-E397
Date and Start Time 16 Aug, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Mariya Ivancheva (University of Liverpool) email
  • Dan Hirslund (University of Copenhagen) email

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Short abstract

The panel invites empirical case studies that explore if and how precarious living and working situations, inside and outside paid labour, can mobilise solidarity, hope or care under the conditions of unsettling (im)mobility in advanced capitalist societies.

Long abstract

Precarity designates existential and structural uncertainty (Butler 2009). Under neoliberal capitalism the professional middle class and organized workers in the Global North - protected within the post-war pact between labour and capital - have become subject to precarious working and living conditions previously "privy" to women, marginalized groups, and people in the developing world (Neilson and Rossiter 2008). Instead of lowering workloads, automation cuts jobs, polarising the labour force between a huge mass of un(der)employed temporary workers and a tiny "elite" of more secure but hypermobile, overworked 'professionals'. A settled risk-free life-long 'career' (Sennett 1998) becomes an ideal to those subject to perpetual setbacks and geographic displacement.

Instead of presenting (yet another) dissection on precarity, the panel invites empirical case studies that look for avenues of social organisation transcending the polar opposition between precarity and stability. We explore if and how precarious living and working situations, both outside paid labour and inside it, can be a mobilising force for relational autonomy (Millar 2014), solidarity (Santer, Hirslund, Benjamin 2017), hope (Narotzky & Besnier), or care (Lynch and Ivancheva 2015).

We invite papers that address this potential for transgressing the politics of precarity through empirical case studies on topics such as, but not limited to:

# Precarity and care within anthropological fieldwork;

# Distinctions between economic and political precarity;

Intersections between precarity, mobility, gender, sex, class, race, disability;

# Everyday coping strategies; desires and new forms of sociality and intimacy; alternative subjectivities or collectivities within precarious communities;

# Automation, precarity, and the future of work.

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This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Time, Care and Relatedness in Turkey's precarious mining industry

Author: Zeynel Gul (Johns Hopkins University) email
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Short abstract

This paper examines how precarious everyday within and outside the mines in Turkey is held together through the collective care of the miners, families, friends and others, especially by mundane utterances and practices.

Long abstract

In Turkish we say "Geçmiş olsun" when one is ill, meaning "Get better sooner". The statement is also used as an expression of gladness after one makes through troublesome situations like an accident, a final exam, book project and so on. In 2014, I learned another usage of the term when we visited Soma mining district in western Turkey after the deadly mine accident that claimed 301 lives there. The miners were uttering the phrase to each other, not after an exceptional situation of illness, but after the end of each daily shift meaning "I am glad you are safe." Tracing the working conditions, everyday lives and the artistic productions of a theatre company led by workers in Soma mining district, this paper examines how precarious everyday within and outside the mines is held together through the collective care of the miners, families, friends and others, especially by mundane utterances and practices. Besides acknowledging the multiplicity and singularity of temporalities at the work place (Marx 1976, Munn 1992, Bear 2014), the paper also invites to rethink our anthropological reflections on time and life that are mostly acknowledged as given, coherent and continuous (Pinto 2014; Das 2010; Lambek 2013). In the face of the work-induced threats of injury and death, the mutual imbrication of discontinuous and continuous temporalities not only complicates the assumed boundaries of work and life, but also generates peculiar modalities of care with words and ordinary practices that knit the texture of lives together (Laugier 2016).

Channels of Precariousness: Integration and Care amongst Berlin Migrant Women

Author: Maayan Ashkenazi (LSHTM) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores the role of precarity in the construction of various care imaginaries. Using two case studies of unemployed migrant women organisations in Berlin, it explores the role of 'integration' as it pits neoliberal labour market logics against migrant histories.

Long abstract

Unemployed migrant women occupy what is normally considered a highly unstable and precarious position. Within the context of a neoliberal urban European setting, the intersecting conditions of exclusion and vulnerability upon which this category depends, hangs on a range of narratives which include aspects of care, integration and professionalisation. This paper compares two organisations' attempts to challenge unemployed migrant women's perceived precarity and vulnerability, as it is seen to depend on their migrant histories, through projects designed to prepare them for the labour market in the city of Berlin. In both contexts the professionalisation of women's relations of care to each other, which were often already practiced without formal recognition, came to be instrumentalised within a neoliberal logic of labour market preparedness. In addition, at the organisational level, the extent to which such projects were able to compete successfully for local governmental funding depended on a conception of 'integration' that tied their own particular form of care for these women with economic independence. Precarity in this context emerges as a generative force of various care imaginaries, which are inherently tied to particular conceptions of 'integration' and 'care' marshalled by a range of actors as they compete to position themselves as able intermediaries between women's instabilities and a wider labour market.

Paradoxes of Precarity: Hopes and Aspirations of Central Asian Migrant Domestic and Care Workers in Istanbul

Author: Marhabo Saparova (Northeastern University) email
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Short abstract

This ethnographic case study problematizes the conventional understanding of precarity/precariousness and examines everyday negotiations of Central Asian domestic and care workers within the informal labor market and different systems of inequalities in Istanbul.

Long abstract

The fall of the Soviet Union has brought immense social, cultural, political and economic transformations in Central Asia since the 1990s. The reorganization of the economy and labor market, the construction of a new gender order and the rise of the ethno-nationalist tendencies have forced many Central Asian women out of labor market into the domestic domain. However, the post-socialist survival of the private household in the times of mass unemployment and stagnant economy has relied on active participation of women in informal economy and their social networks to access goods and services. Labor migration of young and middle-aged Central Asian women to Turkey has become one of the most common survival practices due to language proximity and nationalist rhetoric of presumed common past. Overstaying their visas, the majority of Central Asian women get employed without legal documents in the middle-class households in Turkey as live-in nannies and maids. The informal employment and undocumentedness, on the one hand, provide an opportunity for social, economoic and spatial mobility for Central Asian women, and on the other, generate disposability and immobility of migrant domestic workers (in the host country). Moving beyond the conventional understanding of precarity, the case of Central Asian domestic workers in Istanbul points to the complexities of the global processes and local livelihoods. In this paper, I examine the everyday experiences of Central Asian domestic and care workers in Istanbul and their daily negotiations and navigations within fluctuating labor market and different systems of inequalities.

'I will never let you down': informality and the mechanisms of support within the private firm in provincial Russia

Author: Daria Tereshina (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology) email
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Short abstract

The paper reflects on the subjective experience of informal labor within the private sector in Russia. It shows how reliance on personal connections and ties of mutual dependencies enable laboring poor to navigate uncertainties of the market economy and effectively engage in social reproduction.

Long abstract

Having emerged as a result of market transformations in the 1990s, the new private sector in Russia has been largely characterized by its ubiquitous informal arrangements. In face of plummeting wages, massive layoffs and a crumbling system of civil entitlements, Russian workers have been increasingly forced to abandon the traditional forms of employment in state or formerly state-owned enterprises and pushed into the expanding private sector of the nascent Russian liberal economy.

This paper takes inspiration from the growing anthropological literature that problematizes the normative status of formal stable employment and calls to an investigation of locally specific forms of capitalism. Drawing upon ethnography of a small-scale firm, I argue that informal arrangements of Russian private sector enable workers to navigate uncertainties of the Russian market economy and effectively undertake social reproduction due to possibilities to negotiate flexible work schedules or payment schemes. As in many other post-Soviet contexts where the state withdrew from the social protection, informal mechanisms of support as a form of 'bottom-up welfare provision' (Polese et al. 2014) came to compensate for the crumbling system of statist welfare. This is not to deny the power effects and abuses of informal arrangements that favor exploitation of flexible labor but to stress that informal negotiations within the firm may also secure positions of those actors who find themselves on the margins of survival. Simultaneously, everyday informal exchanges at work reveal different logics of value that shape workers identities and inform social action inside and outside workplace.

Between catholic and meritocratic Argentina: facing precarity, assessing inequality through university aid volunteer programs

Author: Sebastian Fuentes (FLACSO/CONICET) email
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Short abstract

The exchange relations dispossessed people built with wealthier students help both of them to dream of a better society, so their bonds produce a political imagination, and foster the awareness of social inequality.

Long abstract

The Global humanitarian trends and regional shifts in social policies and economies have triggered new ways, motivations and places to "discover" precarity, like aid volunteer practices. Class inequality is found by university and privileged students in their weekly movements to poor urban and marginalized communities. By moving (temporally) to the slums in urban peripheries, precarity is tackled as an unfair present and future. Based on an ethnographic research among university students from middle and upper-middle class families, I recall to understand precarity as a relational experience built also by people from privileged sectors. The exchange relations dispossessed people built with wealthier students help both of them to dream of a better society, so their bonds produce a political imagination. Their friendship, framed by a political, educational and/or religious commitment, allows people from the "up" (Nader, 1969) to cope with a social inequality otherwise they wouldn´t know or care about. Student mobility is not only geographical/urban, but also moral, since the encounters with people facing unstable living conditions produces a shock and awareness about social inequality and the self-need to help (Malkki, 2015). Although there is an strong sense of individual worthiness in the helpers explanations of their practices, catholic ideologies and meritocratism in Argentinian society generate a context of meaning where inequality is assessed while facing "others" precarity.

Catholicism recreates a community that makes possible the gather of rich and poor people, since it radial spread all through Latin-American slums and private elite oriented universities.

Case study of the Barcelona's union of street traders: Organising migrant street vendors rights behind the blanket.

Author: Anna Gine March (University of the Basque Country) email
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Short abstract

Barcelona's Union of Street Traders (Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes de Barcelona), is a migrant street vendors organisation, a collective of workers and activists that helps irregular and undocumented migrant street vendors to fight for their right to work.

Long abstract

Barcelona's Union of Street Traders (Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes de Barcelona), is a migrant street vendors organisation, a collective of workers and activists that helps migrant street vendors to fight for their right to work. Most of its members are irregular and undocumented migrants who do not have the legal right to live or work in Spain. Excluded from the mainstream labour force, the locally known as "manteros" organise themselves seeking to make visible their vulnerable situation and show that "surviving is not a crime". This paper aims to present an in-depth understanding of this organization, developed through a case study and socio-anthropological fieldwork.

'Because I'm Romanian': Desires for recognition and haz de necaz amongst Romanian migrants in Danish agriculture

Author: Astrid Lovelady (University of St Andrews) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores how Romanian migrants in Danish agriculture cope with the feeling of not being recognised as equal human beings, when they are poorly treated. They create a shared sense of suffering with other Romanian migrants and in this way gain recognition through their ethnic belonging.

Long abstract

This paper explores how Romanian migrants working in Danish agricultural desire and gain recognition as human beings. Every year many Romanian people travel to Denmark to work in agriculture, due to corruption and the risk of poverty in Romania. In Denmark, many of the migrants experience labour exploitation and feel that they are treated poorly - with low salaries, substandard living conditions, lack of security and lack of possibilities to find other employment - because they are Romanian. As such, they do not feel recognised as equal human beings when working in Denmark.

Through a focus on lack of recognition (Lacan 1966), I explore how my Romanian interlocutors create a sense of shared suffering, and how they try to cope with this lack of recognition in their everyday lives. The Romanian expression haz de necaz refers to ways of dealing with frustrating and distressful situations by making fun of the situations and creating enjoyable moments. My Romanian interlocutors nicknamed the farmers (e.g. 'boyar' and 'Santa Claus'), made fun of pig insemination practices, and socialised frequently in their spare time. This relieved them from everyday life at the farms and provided them with recognition as human beings, instead of being "migrant farm labourers". This means that they feel recognised as human beings through their ethnic belonging.

The research is based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork amongst Romanian farm labourers in the Danish countryside. I spoke (in the Romanian language), worked and socialised with the migrants and travelled to Romania.

Zero cycle of solidarity - Latvian path through economic crisis

Author: Aivita Putnina (University of Latvia) email
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Short abstract

The paper offers an anthropological perspective on economy in Latvia. Looking at household ethnography, it traces mechanisms of social solidarity ensuring stability and security for household members. It makes Latvian society prone to crisis but hinders the economic development of the country.

Long abstract

Ex-prime-minster of Latvia has published a book on Latvian path through the recent economic crisis, introducing strict austerity measures as European success. The paper offers an anthropological perspective on economic behaviour of population in originating from 3 year-long fieldwork in Latvian households, conducted in collaboration with anthropology students. It allows arguing that social solidarity at family, community and national level rather than governmental policy allowed the population to pass the crisis. Informal economy linking households and generations plays more important role in providing social security than formal safety mechanisms offered by government or municipalities. So, the low governmental funding of healthcare and education is compensated by households, providing for a range of services starting from inter-generational support for education or health care to nation-wide donations to people whose healthcare has been denied by the public health authority. Household economies are based on two zero cycles adjusting spending to income- a monthly cycle and lifetime cycle, the later expressing solidarity among generations. In this system keeping income (and work) is much more important than improving work conditions and amount of salary. Household economy thus is tuned towards its survival and can easily adjust to crisis. Lack of bank savings, wide-spread tax avoidance are side-affects which influence the whole formal economy and in a long run costs the country economic growth.

A little help from my friends - the momentary solidarities of precarious living

Author: Dora-Olivia Vicol (Queen Mary University of London) email
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Short abstract

This paper challenges narratives of neoliberal anomie by showing how precarity may open spaces of casual help, where interest blends with affect, and self-centred action with momentary solidarities.

Long abstract

This paper proposes a theory of casual help. Drawing on my doctoral fieldwork with Romanian migrants in London, whom I observed navigating the city's gig economy and informal housing market by mobilising their networks of conationals, I show here how precarity can act as a force of mutual assistance. Casting a critical look at social theories which posited an age of neoliberal anomie, I argue that we can hardly view the waning of post-war solidarities as a complete waning of care. Rather than ushering in a "death of the we", as Richard Sennett and Zygmunt Bauman both fatalistically posit, I show how from subletting from a friend, in order to bypass arresting rents, to finding clients through family, when working on self-employed status, precarity can create a myriad spaces of need, and of thus of help.

To draw attention to these moments of casual help is not to romanticise the weapons of the weak, or to discount the risks of devolving social security from state to personal connections. What I propose, rather, is an inquiry into the sociality of precarity which takes seriously the unstable solidarities it generates. An inquiry which does not discount expressions of care for their momentariness, but takes seriously the mixing of interest and affect. It is by focusing on these expressions of casual help that, I conclude, we may gauge the potential for resistance, and mount new critiques against the political economic conditions which have turned precarity into the order of the day.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.