A specter haunted EASA2018—the specter of precarity. Like a “frightful hobgoblin” (that, one could argue, is a more suitable, if inaccurate, translation of Marx’s Gespenst), it appeared in some instances as an explicit, publicly acknowledged political program (on some panels and the ending plenary) and, at other times, stashed away in the interstitches of the conference program (on #HOWtalk and #PrecAnthro lunchtime discussions, or the myriad of corridor chats that could be overheard during the conference).
Something smells of bullshit. It has for a long time. Caught in the spectacular entanglements of the neoliberal university, academic work is being actively “bullshitized.” Audit cultures, the intensification of administrative duties, the politics of intellectual egos and academic “assholery,” hierarchical academic freedoms, an exploitative publishing industry, and an increase in zero-hour contracts means the precariat of academia are subject to the combination of some very particular horrors. So, something does indeed smell of bullshit. It will, no doubt, linger long in the gloaming of too many precarious academic careers. These inequalities and exploitative practices are the buttresses upon which some contemporary successful academic careers are built, at the expense of others, gadflies turned horses. The key to the ivory tower has been hidden away—with only academic “elites” and senior university management remaining inside—all others must wade knee-deep through work-practice bullshit, deprived of labor dignity, equality, and solidarity.
The 1970s increasingly move into the spotlight of contemporary history research. The decade is often portrayed as one of profound change, a radical rupture driven by watershed moments such as the oil crisis or the end of the Bretton Woods system of fixed currency exchange rates. This is not only the major take on the decade in recent publications by historians such as “Nach dem Boom” (Doering-Manteuffel and Raphael 2010) or “Age of Fraction” (Rodgers 2011), but also a well-established analytical approach across the social sciences and humanities (some of the most widely cited works in this regard are Harvey 1990, 2005). The international conference “Ruptures, Consolidations, Continuities: Reconsidering Global Economic Processes since 1945,” held at the Centre of Global Studies at the University of Bern, thus was a timely project to engage this paradigm. Over two-and-a-half days, researchers from the social sciences and the humanities came together to question the big “-isms” of 20th century-periodizations, such as Fordism, Post-Fordism, Keynesianism, and Neoliberalism.
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