Research

I add links and short abstracts for research publications as they are published. Most of my academic research also appears: academia.edu [personal site of research papers] or here: researchgate.

An agenda for research on work and class in the postsocialist world

Jeremy Morris

Sociology Compass link

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Abstract
This article reviews the scholarly treatment of work and class in
postsocialist states. It traces how class discourses under socialism
led to a lack of meaningful working class studies in the postsocialist
academy. It offers as an agenda for future research three points of
departure: (a) greater confrontation of the one‐sided discourse on
class in these societies and the academy itself (class blindness of
research). (b) The value in studying postsocialist societies both
comparatively to global North and South, and as an intermediate
positioning for worker exploitation and responses in global
capitalism. (c) To achieve the first 2 agenda items, a more grounded
methodological approach proceeding from the lived experience of
class and work is proposed.
Current research on social networks, memory studies and
personhood, the informal economy, deindustrialization, and the
“domestication” of neoliberalism show that empirically grounded
work on postsocialist working classes can make important contributions
to wider social science debates. Studying the “losers” of
postcommunist transition can tell us much about populist politics,
the rise of the global working class outside the global North and
the nature of global capitalist exploitation more generally. In
addition, this agenda serves as an important point of departure from
the dominant middle class focus of research in postsocialism.

Citation:

Morris J. An agenda for research on work and class in the postsocialist world. Sociology Compass. 2017;11:e12476. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12476.


Looking at the ‘sharing’ economies concept through the prism of informality

Oxford Academic link

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Abstract

How do the ‘sharing economies’ relate to the long history of informal economic practices as understood in the social sciences? This article examines conceptions of the sharing economy in terms of its relation to scholarship on informality. By using two case studies of informal economic practices that originated in socialist-era societies and continue to the present day in modified forms, we critique the notion that sharing economies are significantly novel in form or logic, other than technologically. We draw attention to the variety of informal economy practices to discuss how they may be socially embedded or disembedded. The main focus on global technological leveraging of productivity and connectivity in sharing economy practices would suggest that many aspects are akin to disembedded forms of informality. Scholarship needs to address the ongoing disciplinary parallelism on prefixed ‘economies’—in doing so it would provide a better contextual and theoretical understanding of ‘sharing economies’.Keywords: sharing economy, informality, embeddedness, post-socialism

Citation:

Borbála Kovács, Jeremy Morris, Abel Polese, Drini Imami, 2017; Looking at the ‘sharing’ economies concept through the prism of informality. Cambridge J Regions Econ Soc 10(2): 365-378. rsw046. doi: 10.1093/cjres/rsw046


Not Soft Power, But Speaking Softly: ‘Everyday Diplomacy’ in Field Relations during the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Berghahn journals link 

The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology

Abstract

Based on long-term fieldwork in Russia, but focusing mainly on the aftermath of the 2014 Malaysian airliner downing in Ukraine, this article examines the individual ethnographer and informants alike as unwilling ‘diplomatic’ representatives in the field. Firstly, I discuss the authoritarian political context in Russia and how it affects the notion of ‘soft power’ and ‘public’ discourse. Then I relate the familiar ‘political testing’ experience of researchers by informants, and ‘neutrality’ in field relations (Ergun and Erdemir 2010). Next, I draw on the anthropology of indirect communication to characterize ‘everyday diplomacy’ after the event as a particular kind of civility. I go on to examine attendant affective states of ‘tension, disturbance, or jarring’ (Navaro-Yashin 2012) that both threaten civility and enable it. Finally, I argue that classic ethnographic rapport-building deserves further examination in the light of the porosity of politics, the social environment and the field.

Citation:

Morris, J. (2016). Not Soft Power, But Speaking Softly: ‘Everyday Diplomacy’ in Field Relations during the Russia-Ukraine Conflict, The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, 34(2).


Everyday Post-Socialism

Working-Class Communities in the Russian Margins

Palgrave (Springer) publisher link

 

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publisher blurb:

Offering a rich ethnographic account of blue-collar workers’ everyday life in a central Russian industrial town coping with simultaneous decline and the arrival of transnational corporations,Everyday Post-Socialism demonstrates how people manage to remain satisfied, despite the crisis and relative poverty they faced after the fall of socialist projects and the social trends associated with neoliberal transformation. Morris shows the ‘other life’ in today’s Russia which is not present in mainstream academic discourse or even in the media in Russia itself. This book offers co-presence and a direct understanding of how the local community lives a life which is not only bearable, but also preferable and attractive when framed in the categories of ‘habitability’, commitment and engagement, and seen in the light of alternative ideas of worth and specific values. Topics covered include working-class identity, informal economy, gender relations and transnational corporations.


Notes on the “Worthless Dowry” of Soviet Industrial Modernity: Making Working-Class Russia Habitable

Journal article online (open access)

Abstract: Despite a narrative of deindustrialization, monotowns and former industrial settlements are numerous in today’s Russia, and are significant not only in terms of the territory they occupy and the population they host but also because of the particular economic and cultural practices, logics of community building, and particular types of “connectedness” and horizontal networks that make these places special and habitable for their “dwellers.” This article offers an ethnographic account of the daily lives of blue-collar workers in a former industrial town in central Russia. Based on extensive fieldwork, the article demonstrates how people live their lives and manage to remain “satisfied” with what they have despite the crisis and relative poverty they faced after the fall of the socialist project, losing the town forming enterprise, and the social trends associated with neoliberal transformation. The article presents a case study that shows the “other life” in today’s Russia, which is not at all present in mainstream academic discourse. In English, extended summary in Russian.

Citation:

Morris, J. (2015). Notes on the “Worthless Dowry” of Soviet Industrial Modernity: Making Working-Class Russia Habitable. Laboratorium: Russian Review Of Social Research, 7(3), 25–48. Retrieved from http://www.soclabo.org/index.php/laboratorium/article/view/486


The Warm Home of Cacti and Other Soviet Memories: Russian Workers Reflect on the Socialist Period

Article Journal online

author’s copy of article

download

Citation:

Jeremy Morris . “The Warm Home of Cacti and Other Soviet Memories: Russian Workers Reflect on the Socialist Period.” Central Europe 2014; 12(1), 16-31. DOI: 10.1179/1479096314Z.00000000020

Keywords: working-class culture, memory, Soviet Union, Russia, ethnography, lay normativity

This article examines ‘lay’ memory and understandings of the Soviet Union within a working-class community in regional Russia. Based on ethnographi­c fieldwork and materials, it presents informants’ narratives on the past as seen through the division of lived experience into the present and the ‘time before’ 1991. Positive associations of the past refer to the benefits of the social wage under socialism, the loss of which is keenly felt even while paternalistic relations continue to be expected by workers from enterprises. Shared class-based memory is a resource articulating a ‘lay’ reasoning on the supposed superiority of the socialist social contract, rather than any articulation of political support for the Soviet system. What endures is a clearly articulated, morally normative understanding of social justice, mythical in the past and absent in the present.


Beyond coping? Alternatives to consumption within a social network of Russian workers

Journal article link

Author’s copy of article

etha_18_3.cover

Citation:

J Morris 2012 ‘Beyond Coping? Alternatives to Consumption within Russian Worker Networks’, Ethnography, (14)1, 85-103. DOI: 10.1177/1466138112448021.

Keywords: Russia, (post-)socialism, precarious workers, working-class communities, consumption

Research on the post-socialist lived experience of the working poor often focuses on reciprocity and economic survival. It is equally important to examine how social networks facilitate self-provisioning and mutual-aid practices for non-subsistence consumption (decorative, non-utility items) in the face of material want. The ethnography presented here of manufacturing workers in a Russian province shows how self-resourced homemaking and decorative practices, after MacIntyre (1981), constitute an ‘internal good’ – a social activity valued for itself as much as the domestic production it results in. This good is important for workers’ mutual recognition as providers and their status as sufficiently resourceful subjects suitable for inclusion within a social network – itself an important resource for the working poor. The network provides opportunities for alternatives to consumption outside the market economy. Worker identities at work cannot be detached from those at leisure and at home, and even the meaning of the workplace is problematized by its special place within the network.


Unruly Entrepreneurs: Russian Worker Responses to Insecure Formal Employment

Publisher link to article (no paywall)

Author’s copy of article

GL Logo new colour

Citation:

Morris, Jeremy (2012) “Unruly Entrepreneurs: Russian Worker Responses to Insecure FormalEmployment,” Global Labour Journal: Vol. 3: Iss. 2, p. 217-236.Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/globallabour/vol3/iss2/2

Keywords: governmentality; informal economy; precarity; Russia; shop-floor culture;

Abstract:

The article adds to research on in-work poverty, ‘precarious’ work and informal economic activity. It provides ethnographic data on mobility between formal and informal work in Russia; industrial ‘normative’ employment is seen as precarious due to on-the-job insecurity (Standing 2011). Insecurity is understood through the prism of low-wages, lack of control over work processes, but above all the imperative on workers to become flexible, self-regulating subjects of the reformed neoliberal Russia. The discourse of self-governmentality is contrasted by informants to interpretations of more benign production regimes under socialism (Burawoy 1992). Exit strategies from, and discourses of resistance to, the new strictures of waged employment are then examined. These are sustained by access to an embedded blue-collar identity, and the social networks that support and reinforce such ties.


Socially Embedded Workers at the Nexus of Diverse Work in Russia: An Ethnography of Blue-Collar Informalization

Publisher link to article

author’s copy

largecover

Citation:

J Morris 2011 ‘Socially Embedded Workers at the Nexus of Diverse Work in Russia: An Ethnography of Blue-Collar Informalization,’ International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 31(11-12): 619-631. DOI:10.1108/01443331111177832.

Keywords: RussiaBlue collar workersEthnographyInformal economyPost‐socialismDiverse economyPrecarity

Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore an important nexus of formal/informal economic activity in Russia: “normative” workers (in waged formal employment) by virtue of a strongly embedded work-related social identity and characterized by a significant number of weak social ties, move with little “effort” between formal and informal work.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper presents extensive ethnographic data from the Russian provinces on workers and diverse economic practices. It utilizes participant observation and semi-structured interviews from periods of fieldwork over the course of a year (2009-2010).

Findings – This study traces the theoretical debates on the informal economy from 1989 to 2008 and argues for a substantivist position on household reproduction that focuses on the interdependence of social networks, employment, class-identity and (informal) work. The findings demonstrate significant performative and spatial aspects of embedded worker identity, including the workspace itself as a contested domain, that facilitate movement between formal-informal work.

Originality/value – The originality of the paper resides in its ethnographic approach to informal economies under post-socialism and the substantivist evaluation of diverse economic practices in Russia as supported by formal work-based shared identities.


 

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