Given that nowadays most people live in societies organized according to capitalist principles and given that few oppose those principles fundamentally, capitalists may well constitute the world’s largest ideology-based formation. Most anthropologists have undoubtedly had encounters with capitalists, who occupy positions in all social strata. Yet, apart from the “usual suspects” such as CEOs, elites, leading politicians, and other members of the transnational capitalist class, our discipline pays little, and certainly not enough, explicit attention to the many who equally support and/or benefit from capitalist principles—be they ordinary employees in governments and in the private sector, subalterns with native title claims, or even social welfare claimants (for the varying scope and scale of anthropological research so far, see Friedman 1999; Kalb 1997; Neveling 2015; Rose 2015; Salverda 2015). Continue reading
This post is part of a feature on anthropologists on the EU at 60, moderated and edited by Don Kalb (Central European University and University of Bergen).
The EU commemorates its 60th birthday today (25 March 2017), at a time when the institution is more contested than ever. The 1957 Treaty of Rome was an indisputable step toward undergirding the Western part of the continent of Europe with a set of international institutions that would help to secure peace, prosperity, and shared social citizenship—the sort of internationalism that had been urged by the likes of Keynes and Monnet long before the war. This happened against a historical background of half a century of deep, recurrent crisis, escalating class conflict, rivalry, and revenge that had unleashed industrialized destruction on an unprecedented scale. Without any irony, therefore, two loud cheers, please, for the Treaty of Rome and what it sought to secure. This is the basis of what majorities on the continent still like to imagine, defend, and wish to become part of, as their common and cherished symbolic home.
Unsettled by Donald Trump’s bigotry and xenophobia, liberal pundits have struggled to understand his improbable anointment as the nominee of the Republican party. Many have sought answers in the experience and behavior of the white-working class, the bedrock of Trump support. Why, asks the New Yorker’s James Surolecki, would any working class person support Trump. Surolecki believes that part of the answer lies in the appeal of Trump’s nativist rhetoric. For William Galston, writing in Newsweek, working class whites vote for Trump because they “seek protection against all the forces that they perceive as hostile to their way of life—foreign people, foreign goods, foreign ideas.” And wary of Trump backers and their potential for violence if the Republicans lose the presidency, Salon’s Michael Bourne locates white working class anger in “1960s-era legislation for promoting the interests of immigrants and minorities over their own, just as they blame free-trade policies of both parties for sending their jobs offshore.” According to Bourne, they are either the hapless “victims of American progress or a bunch of over privileged bigots.”
Bulgarians on their way to the “West”
EU immigration was the primary source of contention in the debates surrounding the recent referendum about the United Kingdom’s EU membership. The “leave” campaign continuously bombarded the public with warnings about “uncontrollable hordes” of EU benefit seekers (for a discussion on the construction of migrant categories, see Apostolova 2016) planning to permanently settle for the “easy” life in the UK and take away the jobs of the locals. Likewise, the “remain” campaign promised to crack down on the number of immigrants and further restrict the rights of newcomers. In this way, both camps reinforced the perception that immigration from the EU, and in particular from eastern Europe, is a problem. Furthermore, in their effort to make the case for a “remain” scenario, academic voices tirelessly demonstrated the economic, cultural, and demographic benefits of EU migration. Such efforts, however well intended, still feed into an instrumentalist policy perspective that constructs migrants’ lives as only important in terms of their added value for the local economy.
A number of liberal scholars of India, ranging from Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze to James Manor, all broadly view democracy as the solution to a variety of social evils including poverty, inequality, corruption, crime, and even violent conflict. They all acknowledge that Indian democracy is at times a messy affair, but they share a common faith in its self-correcting potential. As they see it, democracy has fostered a more assertive citizenry that no longer accepts traditional hierarchies and that is less tolerant of abuses of power.
On 11 February 2011 I stood in Tahrir Square surrounded by millions celebrating the toppling of Mubarak following eighteen solid days of battle. Around me were people from all walks of life: Saʿidis (“Southerners”) who came all the way from villages in the south, street children turned rebels, family members of martyrs who were killed during the eighteen days, leftist feminist women, members from the Muslim Brotherhood—you name it. In between the shoving of the crowd and the incipient boredom with the monotony of the celebrations and the exuberating vibes, the chants were pretty standard: “down down with Mubarak,” “the people have toppled the regime,” and, from the more religious, “God has toppled the regime.”
“The glass will overflow”
Written at the entrance of a factory shop floor in Pernik, an industrial Bulgarian town close to the capital, this slogan predicted an uprising. According to workers’ testimonies, the slogan had been written before the February 2013 Bulgarian protests. Nevertheless, the glass did not overflow in the plant during 2013, as it did not overflow in the early 2000s, when the privatization process brought mass layoffs and pay cuts. Since 2013, in different parts of the country, workers went on strike because they were long-term unpaid. However, workers in Sofia and Pernik, who were low-paid but regularly, and with whom I conducted fieldwork in different periods since 20071, did not participate in the urban protests in 2013 and 2014 that contributed to the fall of two successive governments (February 2013 and July 2014) and happened during a period of economic destabilization, with the near collapse of a bank. In this presentation, I explore reasons and mechanisms of workers’ nonparticipation of the ongoing Bulgarian protests. There is a methodological trap here: an ethnography that searches for the lack of an action already presupposes that the ethnographer would anticipate an action. Nevertheless, Bulgarian workers also comment on the lack of their political participation and give various reasons for this. I take their concerns seriously, and I am attempting to think with them and through their daily talks as well as through their practices at work and at home.
The June 2013 revolution that shook Brazil last year took everybody by surprise. It started in Sao Paulo as a small gathering against a looming rise in the cost of public transport, and in two weeks it spread to 400 cities and towns, bringing millions of people (6 percent of the national population) to the streets and forcing President Dilma Rousseff to start a process of constitutional reform. For many political observers, this “movement of movements” was a labor movement, which brought together diverse forces of labor—the kind of Latin American “bricolage” socialist movements described by Göran Therborn (2012).1 But, are these bricolaged, working-class formations—to use the expression of Van der Linden—“atypical”? Atypical in relation to what? Are they not part of the same tradition of working-class “communing” described by Susser (2013) and Kalb (2014) for the United States and Europe? Contemporary urban struggles are complex and complicate traditional, factory-based, approaches to class. Below, I describe and analyze the struggles that took place in Rio de Janeiro in the summer 2013 and offer some ideas on how anthropology, geography, and political economy can be put in dialogue for a contemporary class analysis.2
The ontological question of social movements—what are social movements?—is particularly important given that one of the fundamental aspects of the scientific approach consists in defining its object of study, elucidating its nature, finding its essential properties in order to better understand it.