The REALEURASIA Blog is edited by the four senior members of the project (Chris Hann, Matthijs Krul, Sylvia Terpe and Lale Yalçın-Heckmann). It features research funded by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Programme, ERC Grant Agreement No. 340854 (REALEURASIA). The blog has the following functions:
To link the anthropological themes and historical vision of the project to current affairs (international relations, political economy etc.)
To document field research and disseminate research results in accessible form for a broad public
To chronicle project-related events (panels, workshops etc)
The works of Max Weber are an important part of the theoretical framework of the REALEURASIA project. Hence we were fortunate that Hans Joas accepted our invitation to give the keynote lecture at our conference in Wittenberg in early December 2017. In his new book, Die Macht des Heiligen, Joas critiques not only Weber’s concept of disenchantment, but also his ideas of rationalization, differentiation and modernization, all of them basic to sociology’s self-understanding. What does Hans Joas’ critique imply for the study of economy and economic action together with their moral dimensions, the primary concerns of the REALEURASIA project?
Photo: Hans Joas presents parts of his new book, Die Macht des Heiligen, in Wittenberg (Photo: Stefan Schwendtner)
Authors: Chris Hann and Lale Yalçın-Heckmann December 19, 2017
The project „Realising Eurasia“ completed its third year in summer 2017 and it is time to start outlining results. This post summarizes various conferences and lectures between September and December 2017, to which all team members contributed. These diverse events reflect our various concerns - historical and contemporary, economic, religious and moral. The micro-level detail of the individual ethnographic projects illuminates the big Eurasian and global picture.
Image: Wittenberg conference poster (The photograph shows the stone carving of a Buddha in Mandalay, Myanmar. Photo: Laura Hornig, 2015).
I have been making fieldwork visits to the province of Isparta over the last three years, mostly during the summer months when there is an interesting seasonal shift in the population. With its cooler summer temperatures, the region is favoured by many former locals who work in and have migrated to other cities and countries. Isparta residents welcome these returnees every summer, seeing the motivation of summer visitors as local patriotism for and loyalty (vefa) to their place of origin. Some of Isparta’s towns, such as the centres of administrative districts, which are almost empty in the winter become lively and reminiscent of many other urban holiday resorts of Turkey.
Photo: “Isparta Hatırası”: This box contains a prayer rug which smells of roses. Returnees often buy such souvenirs from Isparta to give them as gifts to friends and colleagues in other Turkish cities or abroad.
Before the collapse of socialism in 1989-1990 the Hungarian economy was one of the most open in the region. Yet international trade was still dominated by COMECON and links to countries outside the Soviet bloc were weak. The radical changes brought by market capitalism have included the pervasive movement of goods and people across the whole of the Eurasian landmass and beyond. The implications of current configurations are explored in this post with reference to a region of southern Hungary which the author has known since the 1970s.
The occasion of Jack Goody's recent passing was a major event not just within the confines of anthropology, but also for the field of comparative world history. He was, or is, probably as much known for the great intellectual efforts he spent during his career on combating the Eurocentric worldview in the study of world history in the longue durée as he is for his more anthropologically oriented studies of literacy and the LoDagaa in northern Ghana. Goody played an important part in the rise of a consciously anti-Eurocentric tradition in the former field. A number of his books, such as The East in the West (1996), Capitalism and Modernity: The Great Debate (2004), The Theft of History (2006), and The Eurasian Miracle (2010), were themselves major events in the development of this tradition.
Do owners of small and medium sized firms in Halle feel passionate about their work? Do they feel recognized by politicians and the society? Do they take care of their employees? Would they subordinate other aspects of life to work? First analysis of interviews and questionnaires shows an ambivalent picture: owners feel passionate about their work but hardly recognized.
Civil society and the public sphere emerge when individuals and groups begin to speak out against their rulers or demand a government response to social needs. To judge whether there is a civil society in the Western sense or a trend towards such a civil society, in China, one needs to identify this public sphere.
Photo: Storefronts of the accessories market on the old street.
On 1 July 2017 India embarked on sweeping reforms of its goods and services tax in what is the largest restructuring of its taxation system since independence. Businesses and consumers in this country with a population of 1.3 billion are preparing for the impact of the new system. However, in spite of much discussion and speculation in the previous months, nobody is yet sure precisely how it will affect the economy – particularly India’s substantial informal sector – once implemented.
Photo: A small scale Notebook manufacturing unit in action. Maharashtra, India.
The European University at St Petersburg is facing the threat of losing its license. This private university, which has been ranked among the top in Russia, is engaged in a fight with the bureaucratic machine to secure its survival. The distressing fate of the Russian graduate school is not unique in Eastern Europe (the Central European University in Budapest is dealing with similar issues); however, the story is interesting because it reflects some typical patterns and scenarios of state control in present-day Russia. During my field research, my informants – business owners of small firms in the provincial Russian town – also systematically encountered such situations.
Image: The logotype of the European University at St Petersburg; [Source: https://eu.spb.ru/]
‘Family values’ bear particular importance both for the present political course of Hungary and its dominant Catholic Church. All sociological studies of values and attitudes toward family and gender roles place Hungary amongst the most conservative countries, despite the fact that that marriage as an institution has lost its hegemony. Drawing on an example from my research, I show how the decision to become self-employed and rely on one’s family in livelihood strategies is reinforced by religious ideas and family sentiments.
How do entrepreneurs relate to welfare state regulations? Is the Scandinavian sentiment of fairness visible in the way they relate to taxes and employment? In this blog I will touch upon some of the attitudes and practices I discovered among the owners of small businesses in Denmark.
In Myanmar as in many other countries, the majority of the population has no access to any state support. Yet in the management of both everyday economic matters and financial emergencies, many strategies and patterns serve a social support function. In Pathein, Myanmar, a broad concept of social support illuminates a variety of community-level activities outside of the state sphere.
The Workshop “Geographies of Markets”, hosted over three days in mid-June 2017 by the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy at Concordia University, Montréal, gave scholars from a wide range of countries and disciplines an opportunity to assess the continued relevance of the Polanyian critique of “market society”. Even if this critique lacks the formal rigor of neoclassical economics, even if Polanyi’s concept of market exchange fails to capture the institutional intricacies of contemporary markets, and even if the man himself was very much a European intellectual of his age, his approach still appears to provide the best scientific foundation on which to build global political and normative alternatives to neoliberal hegemony. Today, however, his geographic binary between East and West, like his ideal types of redistribution and market exchange, all need careful reappraisal.
Photo: Panorama of downtown Montréal from Mont Royal (Mark Harvey, June 2017).
The finale of Thomas Hylland Eriksen’s “Overheating” project on 1st June 2017 coincided with the announcement in Washington that the US President was withdrawing his country from the Paris climate agreement, to which the previous US administration had signed up in 2015. The rest of the world looks on bewildered and appalled. The prompt joint reaffirmation of the accords by Brussels and Beijing is especially noteworthy; this axis contradicts the geopolitical common sense of recent generations, but it is consistent with the longue durée of Eurasian history.
Authors: Ceren Deniz and Lale Yalçın-Heckmann April 24, 2017
In a referendum on 16 April 2017, Turks voted by a small majority to adopt an executive presidency system radically different from the republican regime that had been in place since 1923. The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns were carried out under the state of emergency imposed since 15 July 2016 following an attempted coup. The results of the referendum show that the three largest metropoles (Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir) voted No, as did the more developed coastal regions, but also less developed provinces in south-east Anatolia populated mainly by Kurds. The provinces of Çorum and Isparta where Ceren Deniz and Lale Yalçın-Heckmann carry out their REALEURASIA projects belong to the ‘yes’ bloc.
Sixty this month, the European Union is almost as old as me. Should we, in March 2017, celebrate a beacon of liberal-democratic sanity between the populists of Washington and London to the West and those of Ankara and Moscow to the East? Or is it time to pension off the construction launched with the Treaty of Rome in 1957, since it has come to violate basic desiderata of economic efficiency and equity as well as democratic legitimacy?
In small cities like Shishi, urban and rural areas merge seamlessly. In city centre streets as in village lanes, family temples in typical Chinese architectural style catch the eye with their glazed tiles shimmering in the sunlight. Building and renovating family temples has become a craze throughout the Minnan region as the economy has prospered. Why do wealthy locals re-embrace traditional culture? How do they raise money for temple construction, how are temples managed, and what are their multiple functions in people’s daily lives?
What happens when a predominantly cash based economy scraps two of its most widely circulated notes overnight? In this short analysis of India’s recent demonetization I offer some insight into a topic which is likely to have a big effect on people’s morality and livelihoods - both immediately and in the long run.
Photo: The newly introduced ₹2000 note. (indiaexpress.com)
Who controls the shop? This question is crucial for work discipline. Granting employees a sphere of autonomy and encouraging them to identify with their boss’s interests fosters job satisfaction and ultimately enhances labour discipline.
Photo: A National Tobacco Shop in Szeged (Photo: Luca Szücs, July 2016).
In the course of my fieldwork in Smolensk I was often told that family enterprises were characteristic of other, non-Russian ethnic traditions. Yet the vast majority of my interlocutors among ethnically Russian small business owners regularly turn to their relatives for assistance. What are the moral sentiments that shape family capitalism in post-Soviet Russia?
What makes an ordinary guy work in a family business which he feels familiar with but cannot adapt to even after two years? I use the example of Osman to initiate a discussion about the social organization of the workplace and specifically the dynamics of employing family members.
The most important religious event in the childhood of most male Burmese is their novitation ceremony. While the child acts as a provider of religious merit for his parents, the ceremony at the same time constitutes an economic burden for many families. Through combining the effort with other members of the neighborhood this burden can be lessened and community ties can be strengthened.
The 115th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Minneapolis was overshadowed by the election in the previous week of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the USA. I was there to participate in a series of meetings to salute the work of Stephen Gudeman of the University of Minnesota, who has recently retired. Many presentations focused on the well-known Gudemanian oppositions between the house economy and the corporation, between the values of the base and those of the market, and, by analogy, between the Obama White House and Trump Tower. The ethnographic and theoretical work of Steve Gudeman has had a huge impact on economic anthropology and is highly pertinent to the choices facing humanity in the anthropocene.
In 1984, Norwegian anthropologist Marianne Gullestad published a theory of Scandinavian equality which sparked a debate resulting in decades of continuous publications by various contributors concerning the Scandinavian obsession with equality. Here, I will discuss these ideas of equality and sameness in the light of Danish family firms and the owners’ role as equal.
On 2nd October 2016 Hungarians were invited by their government to express an opinion about the European Union’s proposal to distribute migrants among its member states according to quotas. Following a propaganda campaign reminiscent of the 1950s, voters chose overwhelmingly to follow the advice of their Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. However, the majority of those eligible chose not to vote at all, thus rendering this referendum invalid. Viktor claimed victory but he was left with egg on his face. This Hungarian instance raises more general questions about referenda: when are they the wise and necessary instruments of a democratic civil society and when do they become tools for abuse, by office-holders and others?
Photo: Referendum posters in the village of Harkakötöny: “Did you know that almost a million immigrants want to come to Europe from Libya alone?” (by Chris Hann)
None of last year’s political developments in Turkey have disturbed the rhythm of regular work life. Ordinary life has kept its daily rhythm; the workday routine was not interrupted. It was only in the month of Ramadan in June that I realized some business owners were planning to make changes in the organization of the working day, according to what they think is more suitable to the fasting hours. In this short blog, I want to set aside the extraordinary political situation in Turkey and focus on irregular work arrangements and time apprehension specific to Ramadan every year.
A recent study on Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) by Euler Hermes shows that in 2016 firms in China have to wait on average 92 days to get paid. It is as much as 134 days in the machinery and equipment industry. This is the longest time worldwide. The Chinese media have picked up on this as a news item, but in my field site, Shishi, the habit of delaying payment stretches back decades.
As a PhD student of REALEURASIA project I am currently spending a period of one year doing fieldwork in Smolensk, Russia. In this blog post I introduce my early observations concerning family-based enterprises. To unpack the emic perceptions of family businesses I outline the range of moral sentiments as well as material conditions that shape the interplay of family and work in provincial Russia in 21st century.
Photo: Production workshop for signboards (by Daria Tereshina).
Family and business are often perceived as involving different set of values. Are family businesses the arena where these values contest and overlap? Tracing the history of a family owned firm, where partners are also family members, this blog post attempts to uncover the array of familial sentiments, morals and values that drive the long term evolution of firm and its strategies.
Photo: A rusty welcome to an industrial area in the town (by Sudeshna Chaki).
This is a commentary on the current crisis in Turkey by a social anthropologist who did field research on the Black Sea coast in the last century and who has retained his interest to the present day. Following the failed putsch on 15 July 2016, the great majority of Western commentaries have been quick to warn the authorities against an excessive backlash. President Erdoğan is condemned and ridiculed for his authoritarian inclinations. Some commentators draw the conclusion that Turkey has demonstrated definitively that it is “unfit for Europe”. This post argues for a very different stance towards this pivotal Eurasian state.
Photo: Statue of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) in Rize, Black Sea coast (by Chris Hann).
As part of REALEURASIA I am conducting a year of field research in Pathein, Myanmar. This blog post presents some early ethnographic findings. It addresses the struggles that small craft businesses face in the course of Myanmar’s recent economic developments and their strategies.
“What makes people work?” This ostensibly simple question was raised by Olivia Harris (2007) in her nuanced ethnography of the cooperative labour of Andean peasant communities. Going beyond materialist answers, she argues for a holistic approach to the comprehension of work, including the broader understanding of value under various historical, political and cultural circumstances. I kept the complexity of Harris’s question constantly in mind during my participant observation in two National Tobacco Shops.
Photo: Cigarettes for sale in a state monopoly shop, Szeged, Hungary (by Luca Szücs).
When our PhD-students in the REALEURASIA-project left Halle, the home location of our institute, in late summer 2015, I felt a small sting of envy. While they (as anthropologists) would go to distant places and feel the excitement of the new, I (as the sociologist in the project) would stay in Halle, a city in the middle of East Germany on the river Saale - which is at the same time my home town. However, doing fieldwork on one’s doorstep has its own fascination...
"Jack often reminded me that, until the 16th century, China was by far the most advanced in many domains before entering a decline that lasted until the 20th century, but that, from the standpoint of the overall history of Humankind, this in no way authorizes the conclusion that there might exist a definitive split between the East and the West. The history of the past twenty years has proved him right. Increasingly we are seeing societies, like China and India, declare their intention to continue to modernize but without becoming Westernized. In an effort to combat this Western self-deception, Jack was intent on showing what we share with the East since the Bronze Age, when we were all part of what he called Eurasia."
Maurice Godelier, June 2016
Left: Portrait of Sir Jack Goody by Maggi Hambling; reproduced with permission of St John's College, Cambridge
Ahead of the British referendum on continued EU membership (“Brexit”) on 23rd June, I am regularly asked how I intend to vote. The answer is not easy. Emotionally I identify primarily with the country where I was born and brought up, Wales. Intellectually, for many years I have questioned all constructions of Europe as a continent. I emphasize instead the long-term unity of the entire Eurasian landmass, and the need in contemporary politics to build on this heritage. Tensions between two intermediate levels of government therefore do not engage me deeply. Currently, neither set of power holders (London or Brussels) inspires much confidence in its integrity, let alone sympathy for a vision of the future. But there is always the principle of the lesser evil …
The time of the roses and rose harvest in the province of Isparta in Turkey is approaching. Since the last winter was rather mild, some villages have already started the harvest, I was recently told. Isparta, a province in south western Turkey has been known for its oil bearing rose ‘Rosa Damascena’ for over a century. This rose is cultivated primarily for its oil, which is used in cosmetic, perfume, food, medicine and health industries.
Photo: The monument for Ismail Efendi at Isparta’s central square (by Lale Yalçın-Heckmann)
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership proposes to solidify a boundary between Western Eurasia and the rest of the landmass and is already a major political issue of the last year of Barack Obama’s Presidency. TTIP is best understood as an attempt to sustain capitalism in its Western heartlands, where it has been in serious trouble for decades. Critics mostly point to its disregard for consumer standards and planetary environments. Here it is argued that the EU would do better to forge new partnerships with dynamic civilizations elsewhere in Eurasia. The problem of contemporary “Atlantic civilization” (Mauss) is fundamentally the same as that which instigated two World Wars in the last century, an “obsolete market mentality” (Polanyi). Critical inspiration for a comparison of Mauss and Polanyi is drawn from a new English translation of the former’s “The Gift”, and in particular from a launch event on 30th April 2016 at the University of London.
Well connected by railways to the famous metropolis of Bombay (population 18 million), Palghar is a small town lying close to the western coastline of India. The town is growing at an impressive pace yet its streets are dotted by petty traders, rickshaws and temples of varying significance. A burgeoning industrial area, new roads, overcrowded buses, an ethnically diverse population and intense heat – all characterise this snapshot of a quintessential Indian urban area. This post is a short presentation of what I have found so far.
Which place can represent China best: the metropolis Beijing or the poor rural areas in the West? This question may sound boring for students of Chinese Studies, because a part can hardly represent the whole. Yet this question addresses the important issue of how to avoid one-sided observations in face of China's huge urban-rural differences. Fortunately, to some extent my field site covers both sides.
Photo: The ancestral temple of the Cai Family in Shishi (by Lizhou Hao).
The city where I have been doing fieldwork for the last six months has a rich history as “a shield of Russia,” a phrase referring to its role in various wars (particularly the war against Napoleon in 1812 and the Second World War). Located in Russia’s Western borderlands, Smolensk has been influenced by different religious traditions. In the postsocialist decades the city's Orthodox heritage has been emphatically stressed. My research aims to uncover the influence of Orthodox Christian teachings on the economic behaviour of contemporary small businesses, the main focus of the REALEURASIA project.
Photo: The Dormition Cathedral at the Dnepr river (by Daria Tereshina).
Roman Catholicism is the dominant faith in the Hungarian city of Szeged, where the grandiose cathedral was constructed in the late Habsburg era following the Great Flood of 1879. However, as I am discovering in my field research, it is by no means clear what influence (if any) religious affiliation has on the economic strategies of small businesses in the postsocialist era.
The Scandinavian field site of the REALEURASIA project is a middle-sized city. This region of northern Europe has few big cities, and the one in which I have spent the past six months does not have such a feel, though in fact it is one of the country’s largest in terms of both population and geography. In this blog post, I will give a brief introduction to the early stages of fieldwork and some reflections on what a family firm is, based on six months of fieldwork in mainly one family firm.
Photo: Lutheran church in a working-class urban suburb (by Ildikó Bellér-Hann).
As part of the REALEURASIA project, my research aims to explore links between religion and economic ethics in small businesses in Myanmar. With its strong Buddhist tradition and the rapid changes in politics and economy that the country is going through currently, Myanmar is a particular exciting location for anthropological research. With the first months of field work behind me, I want to share some impressions and thoughts on this blog.
Regional elections in Germany have seldom if ever attracted as much attention as they did on Sunday 13th March, 2016. This was the first opportunity for the electorate to express its opinion about the “refugee policy” pursued by Chancellor Angela Merkel since early September 2015. Not only her own Christian Democratic Union but also the Social Democrats, her coalition partner in Berlin, lost votes to a new protest party, the Alternative for Germany. These “Rechtspopulisten” did especially well in Saxony-Anhalt, where I live. Rather than simply join the chorus of condemnation of this vile movement and celebrate the humanitarian altruism shown by the mainstream parties towards deserving foreigners, it behooves social scientists to analyze the deeper causes and consequences of both the voting and the migration patterns.
Cuba has been a Caribbean outpost of Eurasia in two quite different senses: the life of the Hispanic colony came to an end in 1898, but the Marxist-Leninist Revolution survives, at least for the time being. Ahead of President Obama’s visit (to be followed by the Rolling Stones and a crucial Congress of the ruling Party), locals as well as foreigners believe that the largest island of the region has reached a turning point. An academic workshop interrogating the concept of scale, co-hosted by a Havana Research Institute, together with observations and conversations outside the formal sessions, provided this first-time visitor with a wealth of materials to reflect not just on the current situation in Cuba but on the past and future of Eurasian socialism.
Photo: Havana skyline from across the harbour at Regla (by Chris Hann).
The death of Douglass North, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1993 for his work on developing the New Institutionalist Economic History (NIEH), will certainly be felt in all disciplines associated with economic research. Even if North failed ultimately to meet the challenge of Polanyi, it is striking to observe how over the course of his long career, his project of ‘successive endogenization’ forced him into a degree engagement with economic anthropological topics almost unheard of among economic historians. One may even observe a certain convergence with Polanyi’s own positions, in particular in the emphasis on historical specificity, nonmarket forms of allocation, and the economy as an instituted process.
To borrow a classic phrase from the Maoist tradition, our REALEurasia project ‘walks on two legs’. As part of our efforts to contribute to the unfinished project of comparative historical economic anthropology in Eurasia (Hann 2015), the doctoral students undertake detailed anthropological fieldwork across a number of civilisationally representative sites. However, we also consider the bigger picture and the longer term. As part of my postdoctoral work, and building on my interests in different conceptualisations of global history, I had the opportunity to organize a workshop on a larger historiographical question.
Two recent conference invitations (“European Narratives” in Cracow, 24-26 September, and “Where is the Border of the West?”, Przemyśl-Lviv, 2-4 October) led me to draw up an inventory of some of the east-west binaries I have known in my life – and to reflect on the ways in which borders are being imagined and implemented in western Eurasia in the summer of 2015. The current finger-wagging of western politicians and academics towards the Visegrad Group reinforces hackneyed stereotypes of eastern Europe but does not advance understanding or explanations of the deeper causes of the current “migrant crisis”.
I spent the last weeks of August and the first days of September in Hungary, close to the European Union’s border with Serbia. Never before had a routine field trip catapulted me into an engagement with issues dominating daily headlines, both in Hungary and elsewhere. What light can social anthropology throw on the current “migrant crisis”?
Photo: The transit zone at Budapest's Keleti Station (by Chris Hann). [more]
The Workshop to mark the end of the first year of our “Realising Eurasia” project was overshadowed by the passing of Jack Goody, one of the main sources of inspiration for this research, and for many other initiatives in the department “Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia”.
Bronislaw Malinowski (to his intimates Bronio), founder of the modern British School of social anthropology, is justly admired for the results of his fieldwork on the Trobriand Islands during the First World War. But the economic component of this ethnography has long been a puzzle, vitiated by polemics against “economic man” which are not substantiated in a coherent theoretical approach. Perhaps the inconsistencies can be traced back to his use of the concept of ekonomia in his doctoral dissertation in philosophy, submitted in 1906 at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. In June 2015, an invitation to lecture at this university gave me the opportunity to examine this possibility more closely.
(Photo Source: Bronislaw Malinowski, c1930; Author: Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science) [more]
I was encouraged by some members of the „Realising Eurasia“ project to write a blog commenting on the results of the general election in Britain earlier this month. But I thought it would be more instructive – and more fun – to wait for the 60th staging of the Eurovision Song Contest. [more]
Karl Polanyi (1886–1964), the seminal figure of economic anthropology, is nowadays a source of inspiration throughout the social sciences. For some years I have been trying to apply his critique of market society to the regions of Central Europe where he was raised, in particular Hungary. What follows is based on my contribution to an event organized on 23rd April 2015 by the recently established Karl Polanyi Research Center of Global Social Studies at the Corvinus University of Budapest.
These days Manchester may be better known for its Premier League clubs: United and City’s superstar players are among the most highly prized commodities in the neoliberal world of today’s global football industry.
Inaugurating the REALEURASIA pantheon No, not really, I am not Aristotle, and my French is not much better than my Greek. I have merely borrowed an idiom that became known world-wide following violent events in France in January 2015.
Shostakovich in Händel’s home town Halle has been my home town for the last 15 years. It is a small city close to Leipzig in the former German Democratic Republic. You are more likely to overhear conversations in Russian and Ukrainian in the trams hereabouts than in other parts of Germany.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in South Wales held 4–5 September 2014 was heavily mediatized in member countries as a “wake-up call” for this military alliance, for Europe, and even for Western civilization.