Publications 2017

Lammer, Christof. Reworking State Boundaries Through Care: ‘Peasant Friends’, ‘Greedy Entrepreneurs’ and ‘Corrupt Officials’ in an ‘Alternative’ Food Network in China.

= Vienna Working Papers in Ethnography no. 5

Agro-food studies has interpreted ‘alternative’ food movements in ‘the West’ as expressing a shift in governance from ‘state’ to ‘civil society’. Due to entanglements with ‘the state,’ food initiatives in China have been judged as ‘less alternative’ and ‘civil society’ as ‘weak.’ Instead of reproducing these dominant Western self-images, I join anthropological approaches to state and care. Building on ethnographic fieldwork in a self-declared ‘ecological village’ in Sichuan, the paper spotlights how actors are identified with—or try to distance themselves from—figures that appear in narratives about food safety: the ‘peasant friend’, the ‘greedy entrepreneur’ and the ‘corrupt official’. I thus show how state boundaries are reworked as urban middle-class consumers attempt to construct a suitable realm of care.

Christof Lammer

Concern for the State: ‘Normality’, State Effect and Distributional Claims in Serbia

Rajković, Ivan. Concern for the State: ‘Normality’, State Effect and Distributional Claims in Serbia.

Ethnographies of the post-Yugoslav region often focus on the production of the ‘state effect’ through narratives of statelessness, namely on the normative imagination evident in the yearnings for ‘normal life’. Drawing from fieldwork research in various after-sites of ‘Zastava’ industrial complex in Kragujevac – from car enthusiasts to the newly unemployed – I explore how such entrenched discursive tropes transform in a context of chronic superfluity in the job market and reliance on the state as the new interventionist hegemon. My interlocutors shared a belief that a significant positive change could only come from the ‘state’, while simultaneously agreeing that those who were excluded from that state were more morally fit to impersonate its key functions than the very statesmen and bureaucrats were. Turning moral superiority into a distributional claim, they described themselves not only as deserving, but as materially valuable for the state. This process elucidates a new hegemonic framework currently reshaping the Serbian welfare apparatus and social actors’ pragmatic adaptations to it.

Concern for the State (PDF)

Ivan Rajković

For an anthropology of the demoralized: state pay, mock-labour, and unfreedom in a Serbian firm

Rajković, Ivan. For an Anthropology of the Demoralized: State Pay, Mock-labour, and Unfreedom in a Serbian Firm.

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 24, 47-70.

Recently, the leitmotif of much anthropological writing became that of the virtue of precarity: the belief that people continue to exercise their ethical imagination in the most trying circumstances. While refreshingly non-deterministic, the Foucauldian approach to freedom that guides this vision neglects those situations in which people see their ability to be moral as irreparable, and structurally compromised. Such is the case of a Serbian firm selling spare car parts, where policies of financing unprofitable employment gradually involved workers in everyday, ritualized performances of productivity for the state – what I call mock-labour. Unable either to meaningfully fulfil or to renounce the ethos of work, workers remain in an affective blend of nonchalance and failure, experiencing mock-labour as both a source of material security and an abandonment of their creative capacities – a mocking of moral self. I call for a reconciliation of the anthropologies of ethics and precarity through the notion of demoralization, as a state in which the deficits of structural agency and the limits of reflective freedom overlap.

Ivan Rajković: For an anthropology of the demoralized (PDF)

Ivan Rajković

From Familial to Familiar – Corruption, Political Intimacy, and the Reshaping of Relatedness in Serbia

Rajković, Ivan. From Familial to Familiar – Corruption, Political Intimacy, and the Reshaping of Relatedness in Serbia.

In Reconnecting State and Kinship, edited by Tatjana Thelen and Erdmute Alber. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 130-152.

This paper chronicles how inhabitants of Kragujevac, Serbia present themselves as unrelated, yet similar to the corrupt politicians, inasmuch as they also have to care for their families, and therefore understandably, cheat and steal. I argue that, within the partial involution of social bonds that market economy creates, two aspects of local cultural intimacy get progressively divorced: familiality (the basis of collective identification) is denied, whereas familiarity (recognition of shared avoidance of state rules) is intensified. The key to this process is a massive shift to idioms of nuclear family, that underline not the sameness but equivalence of self-interests as the ultimate explanation of social life. Here, people are recognized as responsible for their families and engaged in interest-driven activities of all kinds to fulfil that responsibility. Establishing a homology between politicians and ‘ordinary people’, familiarisation of interest creates a space of coexistence and mutuality between the citizens and the bureaucrats, and a critical resource for making politics close and ‘sincere’ again. But, at the same time, it marks all claims of common identity to seem as false and exploitative. Everyone works for themselves and their own families, my interlocutors claimed, and this is what makes our interests comparable. But precisely because of that, they can never share the same interests. Harking back to Thatcher’s infamous saying that there is ‘no thing such as society: only individual men, women, and families’ – I suggest that familiarity is a relational modality in which resemblance is recognized, whereas identity is denied, instituting new forms of bonds that go beyond the collectivist ethos of nation states.

Ivan Rajković: Familial to familiar (PDF)

Ivan Rajković

Thelen, Tatjana, and Alber, Erdmute (eds.). Reconnecting State and Kinship.

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Within the social sciences, kinship and statehood are often seen as two distinct modes of social organization, sometimes conceived of as following each other in a temporal line and sometimes as operating on different scales. Kinship is traditionally associated with small-scale communities in stateless societies. The state, meanwhile, is viewed as a development away from kinship as political order toward rational, impersonal, and functional forms of rule. In recent decades, theoretical and empirical scholarship has challenged these notions, but the underlying presumption of a deep-rooted opposition between kinship and the (modern) state has remained surprisingly stable.

That this binary is so deeply engrained in Western self-understanding and knowledge production poses a considerable challenge to decoding their coproduction. Reconnecting State and Kinship seeks to trace the historical shifts and boundary work implied in the ongoing reproduction of these supposedly discrete or even opposing units of analysis. Contributors ask whether concepts associated with one sphere —including corruption, patronage, lineage, and incest—surface in the other. Policies and interventions modeled upon the assumed polarity can have lasting consequences for mechanisms of marginalization and exclusion, including decisions about life and death.

Reconnecting State and Kinship not only explores the boundary-related and classificatory practices that reinforce the kinship/statehood binary but also tracks the traveling of these concepts and their underlying norms through time and space ultimately demonstrating the ways that kinship and ‘the state’ are intertwined.

Tatjana Thelen

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