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Title: Struggles for moral ground : problems with work and legitimacy in a Serbian industrial town
Author: Rajković, Ivan
ISNI:       0000 0004 7655 3525
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2015
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This study is based on 17 months' fieldwork in one of the largest and most symbolic towns of ex-Yugoslavia, Kragujevac, among the middle-aged, (un)employed and politically unorganised former employees of the former Zastava Cars auto-industry. Through participant observation in firms and labour activation programmes, with the addition of life stories and limited archival research, I follow my interlocutors' struggles to fashion a deserving position in a context where they cannot make a 'pure' moral stand to criticise their social disaffiliation. This happens in relation to the long-term transformations of employment, which disaffiliated, but also partially incorporated Zastava Cars' employees, resulting in a sense of complicity with the state and ethical compromise. Specifically, I focus on the rising under-productivity that Serbian industry has faced since the Yugoslav wars and Milošević's rule, in firms which continued to be increasingly state-funded under the market reforms of the 2000s, popularly understood as 'buying social peace'. Seen as the biggest 'victims' of privatisations but at the same time the most 'privileged' by the state programmes, Zastava Cars' workers have been gradually involved in ritualised simulations of productivity for the state, which I call 'mock-work'. While establishing partial security for many employees, I argue, the state politics of under-productive employment gradually became divorced from an inherited ethos of productivity, in which work (as both a profitable and life-fulfilling activity) was understood as a basis of fair rewards and a cornerstone of reciprocity. Waiting for the end of the work day with little or no activity to be done, or protesting for equal access to employment whilst knowing that those who do have jobs don't do the 'real' work either, created intensive affective registers between righteousness and complicity, nonchalance and shame. In this context, yearnings for 'proper' labour and 'proper' capitalism emerged as offering a clear arbiter of social worth and legitimacy, and hence, structural conditions for moral absolution. I argue that the market logic is here appropriated as something that absolves 'internal' problems in preserving unproductive employment, akin to the process Sahlins (1990) calls the 'humiliation' stage in cultural change. The study thus seeks to historicise, qualify and contextualize the dominant portrayals of 'precarity' and market hegemony in Serbia. It argues that market reforms, coupled with enduring institutional embeddedness of the labour market and industrial underproductivity in the region, ultimately created not just existential, but moral struggles. These struggles are crucial for rekindling strong calls for work ethics that state neoliberal reforms end up utilising, and new political subjectivities in creation.
Supervisor: Jansen, Stefaan ; Reeves, Madeleine Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available