New Forms of Capitalism? House economy, ritual activities, and market practices in a Macedonian town

View towards the Tobacco company

My project focuses on the house as a social and economic unit, the so-called “market economy”, and on the ways ritual mediates between them. Ritual is that moment of ‘being together’ when people produce, share, and transmit meanings and values, but also social and material aspirations. Under what circumstances do these events appear as economic facts? Does economy itself produce rituality? I approach ritual as any activity or event (seasonal work, social events, and celebrations of life cycle calendar) whose performance displays relationships that secure the socio-economic reproduction of communities and groups.

From July to October, tobacco leaves are drying in the sun in every empty urban space.

My research takes place in a particular postsocialist context. The Republic of Macedonia is a state marked by the well-known Yugoslav experiment of ‘market socialism’, characterized by an agricultural sector based mainly on small private holdings and workers’ self-management in industries.
The ethnographic work will be pursued in a district of the town of Prilep, built up at the beginning of the 1950s, comprising private houses and socialist blocks inhabited by families originating from nearby villages of the region of Mariovo. In the context of growing socialist industry, mainly former peasants moved to Prilep and since then have combined factory work with tobacco growing.
The starting point of my inquiry is the house. I shall follow different individuals’ trajectories, tracing networks and connections to members of the household working as civil servants, factory workers, or on the family land as well as other kin, affines, neighbours, friends, and working communities. At the local level, I shall investigate in what ways celebrations of the Patron Saint of the house/apartment and the Patron Saint of the village (in both cases called Slava) contribute to maintain social ties not only between kin, friends, and neighbours but also between the urban group and its village of origins. In 2006, the municipality of Prilep declared Saint Nicola’s day (19 December) as an official patronal holiday of the town. Celebrations are hosted every year by different factories. I will investigate whether, and if so how, this new ritual, sponsored by the municipality, also represents a vehicle of economic and market practices.

Three generations stripping leaves in the garage

…then, place them out, hanging along the street.

The most important cash crop in Prilep is tobacco. Tobacco farming, activities of harvesting, selecting the leaves, and stripping them require the participation of the entire family, neighbourhood, friends, and hired workers. For all participants, this is also a time of the year when they enjoy being together, ‘doing muabet’ (chatting) and sharing gossip, coffee, and sweets with those who are away the rest of the year. It is a socially embedded activity when, for example during the stripping, family members from the capital go around the neighbourhood and tell their stories, while helping to strip leaves in every visited house.

In the town of Prilep, house economy reflects very complex labour configurations. Due to the general impoverishment of the population, individuals may accumulate several jobs with only very low intermittent wages, or without wages at all (as in the case of some sewing ateliers and bankrupt factories). In such cases, self-sufficiency compensates for low wages. The locals rely on family and acquaintances whom they mobilise to work in tobacco farming and in other agricultural activities. In a context where people generally denounce the state’s failure to impose rules, collecting narratives on capitalism and socialism as well as local categories of well-being and inequalities, both new and old, will shed light on new forms of capitalism.

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