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Senior Research Seminar: Dr Ivan Rajković (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

When May 03, 2019
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Edmund Leach Room, Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge
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Dr Ivan Rajković (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Balkanizing Sahlins: national humiliation and stranger capitalism in a semi-periphery

Focusing on a Serbian car plant that has been privatized by FIAT, this talk examines Balkan humiliations through Oceanic eyes, and vice versa. When they recall how the factory was managed in the past, local inhabitants appropriate the privatisation into an ethno-theory of a self-destructive nation: one that threatens its own existence. Scorning Italian management as ‘bigger conmen than we are’, they tell stories of Western Europe as a place of social cohesion and economic longevity, what I call the ‘genealogical West’. I argue that such desires for ‘proper’ capitalists develop not simply out of geoeconomic hegemony, but as immanent critique. They summon a Western privatiser as a strict, yet necessary external regulator of ‘our own’ mishandling of the commons - as a bigger ‘domaćin’ (household holder) than ‘we are’. This reveals balkanism as a variation of what Sahlins called cultural humiliation: a point at which people start to see their way of life as flawed, and actively debase it. Humiliation legitimises foreign capital by putting into continuity with afterlives of peasant economy and worker-managed socialism. Foreign capitalist becomes a Stranger Domaćin, one who saves 'our own' by becoming the definite owner of it, and labour exploitation is celebrated as an act of building a lasting state. Such cosmoeconomic reform, however, has some specificities in the semi-periphery: a space where boundaries between autochthony and alterity are relative, Stranger-Kings disappoint, and the cargo of market salvation is repeatedly deferred. Here, both power and the sense of working hierarchy are seen as coming from afar.

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