From prefix capitalism to neoliberal economism: Russia as a laboratory in capitalist realism
Draft of Article for Sociology of Power/«Социология власти» 2021
This exploratory and review essay views Russia as a particular state-capital accommodation-assemblage characterized by neoliberal subjectivization of the population in a particularly stark manner. This argument is a departure from perspectives on Russia as a semi-periphery, instead proposing its thorough incorporation into the current moment of global capitalism. While ‘state capitalism’ has analytical purchase, ‘authoritarian neoliberalism’ is proposed as a more sharply focussed lens in examining Russia in the global context. This is important too in reorienting political economy to accommodate more grounded methodologies, including ethnography and other empirically subjective accounts. While beyond the scope of the essay, existing ethnographic accounts and empirical materials – particularly relating to Special Economic Zones in Russia are incorporated in the argument. In making its argument, the essay reviews the contribution of Foucauldian approaches to neoliberalism and neomarxian political economy. Then it reviews the varieties of capitalism approaches and their critics as well as the debates on state capitalism pertaining to Russia by Ilya Matveev, and as pertaining to state capitalism in general. Further the essay reviews recent work on Eastern Europe as examples of vanguard authoritarian neoliberal governance. Finally, this approach allows the essay to argue that Russia is not only a ‘normal country’, but that it anticipates contemporary developments towards more post-democratic capitalist futures, along with their counter-currents.
Russia, Neoliberalism, State capitalism, conjunctural analysis, everyday political economy
Working-Class Communities in the Russian Margins
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.
Russian Cultural Conservatism Critiqued: Translating the Tropes of ‘Gayropa’ and ‘Juvenile Justice’ in Everyday Life
Jeremy Morris and Masha Garibyan
Author copy link: CEAS_A_1887088_PROOF
City Archipelago: Mapping (post)lockdown Moscow through its heterogeneities
Galina Orlova and Jeremy Morris
Publisher link [open access]: https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ciso.12331
[in lieu of an] Abstract:
On June 8, Moscow’s Mayor announced the early cancellation of self-isolation. It had featured digital passes and “Moscow walks” by strict schedule according to address. Transport cards for the risk group 65+ were unblocked. Traffic jams, urban noise, and children’s voices returned. Taxi drivers no longer asked for QR codes from passengers. Hairdressers re-opened, benches and playgrounds were freed from striped tape, a visible materialization of the lockdown city-scape.
Russia’s Incoherent State
Publisher link: http://www.currenthistory.com/article-category.php?ID=6
Abstract (extract from text):
My argument is informed by the scholarly debate about the nature of the late Soviet system and its failings. The increasingly authoritarian turn of governance in Russia should not cause us to repeat the mistakes of Sovietology—overestimating the
robustness, flexibility, and managerial effectiveness of what only appears to be a comprehensively bureaucratic, Western-style state machine. In this mistaken view, while it is acknowledged that corruption renders Russia hardly a model of efficient governance, somehow the vertical hierarchy of decision making is assumed to result in effective transmission of orders from the center. This presumed efficiency is credited with enabling the completion of prestige projects like the building of a bridge over the Kerch Strait to Crimea after its annexation, or the successful hosting of the 2018
World Cup, despite the lack of transparent economic forces.However, even at the everyday level, ordinary people encounter an incoherent state at every turn.
J Morris (2019), ‘Russia’s Incoherent State’, Current History 118 (810), 251-257.
The Informal Economy and Post- Socialism: Imbricated Perspectives on Labor, the State, and Social Embeddedness
Abstract: This article argues for moving beyond existing conceptualizations of the “informal economy” that construe informality as a distinct phenomenon with more or less clearly defined borders. Instead, it proposes an “imbricated” perspective where informality and informal economic practices closely relate to other forms of informal organization within networks and political and civic structures. Specifically, the article addresses the issue of how to conceptualize and justify such broader understanding of informality. To do so, it develops three interrelated meanings of “imbrication”—relating
to labor and economic activities; the “deregulation” or fuzziness of state practices and bureaucratic rulemaking; and the complexity of economic and social reasonings by agents themselves—to explain action. In each case, I offer brief empirical examples from my field research in provincial Russia.
Morris, J. (2019). The Informal Economy and Post-Socialism: Imbricated Perspectives on Labor, the State, and Social Embeddedness. Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization27(1), 9-30. Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, The George Washington University. Retrieved March 4, 2019, from Project MUSE database.
Review of: Simon Kordonsky, Socio-Economic Foundations of the Russian Post-Soviet Regime. The Resource-Based Economy and Estate-Based Social Structure of Contemporary Russia, Europe-Asia Studies 70 (7), 1171-1172.
Author copy link:
Snippet: “Finally, the characterisation of Russia as in anti-phase with the rest of the global economy may also give pause for thought (p. 101). Kordonsky argues that this is due to Russia not having true internal markets; in other words, it cannot meaningfully interact with multinational corporations or global markets. On the contrary, he argues that for Russia, ‘markets’ are external and the state is one big corporation. On this point, rather than arguing for anti-phasality, one could provocatively respond that Russia, as an authoritarian, marginalised extractive economy, is precisely what the current phase of global capital finds useful—it has finally become a truly dependent periphery.”
Jeremy Morris(Associate Professor) (2018) Socio-Economic Foundations of the Russian Post-Soviet Regime. The Resource-Based Economy and Estate-Based Social Structure of Contemporary Russia, Europe-Asia Studies, 70:7, 1171-1172, DOI: 10.1080/09668136.2018.1503889
From ‘Avtoritet’ and Autonomy to Self-exploitation in the Russian Automotive Industry
J Morris and S Hinz
J Morris and S Hinz, ‘From ‘Avtoritet’ and Autonomy to Self-exploitation in the Russian Automotive Industry’, in Chris Hann and J. P. Parry (eds.) INDUSTRIAL LABOR ON THE MARGINS OF CAPITALISM: Precarity, Class, and the Neoliberal Subject, Berghahn.
Automobile Masculinities and Neoliberal Production Regimes Among Russian Blue-Collar Men
Based on long-term ethnography on working-class men, this chapter investigates how global changes in production and labour inflect working-class Russian masculinity. These changes include challenges to traditional Russian factory work by the informal economy and transnational corporations. Performative masculinity through consumption and do-it-yourself (car ownership, mechanical repair and tinkering) is subject to change. Automobility is emblematic of uneasy social mobility and engagement with neoliberal governmentality. It marks how masculinity intersects with both aspiration and stubborn retrenchments of more traditional working-class identities. The machinic assemblage (in Lazzarato’s terms) of male, worker and automobility is dynamic. It recombines new subjectivation in neoliberal work, as worker, as man, and in relation to that arch-symbol of the machine–human interface, the car.
Morris J. (2018) Automobile Masculinities and Neoliberal Production Regimes Among Russian Blue-Collar Men. In: Walker C., Roberts S. (eds) Masculinity, Labour, and Neoliberalism. Global Masculinities. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 171-193.
Free automotive unions, industrial work and precariousness in provincial Russia
Jeremy Morris and Sarah Hinz
This article draws on ethnographic work carried out since 2009 on workers and automotive unions in Kaluga, Russia. The contrast between secure and temporary contract workers in foreign-owned car plants is a focus of activism among emerging alternative trade unions in Kaluga. Workers in both the ‘new’ production-scape of high-tech foreign-owned automotive assembly, and the ‘old’ low-tech Soviet production contexts articulate similar interpretive understandings of what constitutes ‘precarious’ work: lack of autonomy and the lack of a ‘social wage’ generally in labour. We interrogate this through in-depth interviews with unionised and non-unionised workers in the auto sector and other industries locally. A divide emerges between workers who go to work for the car plants, and those who remain in Soviet-types firms and who reject the labour relations model that it offers and which they understand to contrast with a traditional ‘paternalistic’ Russian model.
An agenda for research on work and class in the postsocialist world
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.
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
Author version link: Looking at the ‘sharing’ economies concept through the prism of informality
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
Trade Unions in Transnational Automotive Companies in Russia and Slovakia: Prospects for Working class power
This article compares industrial relations in production sites in Slovakia and Russia owned by a single transnational automotive firm, Volkswagen. We analyse the empirical data using a working-class power approach. In Slovakia, associational and institutional power is well developed and influenced by the model of German work councils, but structural power is weakly exercised and unions rely on non-conflictual engagement with management. In Russia, structural working-class power remains strong, but the opportunities for transforming this into lasting associational, let alone institutional power, remain limited; thus, new unions make use of unconventional methods of protest to promote worker interests.
J Morris and S Hinz 2017 ‘Trade Unions in Transnational Automotive Companies in Russia and Slovakia: Prospects for Working class power’, European Journal of Industrial Relations, 23(1): 97-112. ISSN: 09596801.
Not Soft Power, But Speaking Softly: ‘Everyday Diplomacy’ in Field Relations during the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
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.
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).
Imagining young adults’ citizenship in Russia: from fatalism to affective ideas of belonging
Yana Krupets, Jeremy Morris, Nadya Nartova, Elena Omelchenko & Guzel
This article contributes to a comparative analysis of the meaning of
citizenship for youth. Young people, traditionally seen as
‘incomplete’ citizens in the process of transition to adulthood,
possess their own everyday understanding of what it means to be
a citizen in the contemporary world. Based on empirical
qualitative material collected in two Russian cities, it is argued
that there is a disjunction among young Russians between the
ideal-typical perception of citizenship and the practical realisation
of it. Particular emphasis is put on the ‘emotional’ understanding
of citizenship by Russian youth involving the experience of
particular feelings towards fellow citizens and the country.
Yana Krupets, Jeremy Morris, Nadya Nartova, Elena Omelchenko & Guzel
Sabirova (2016): Imagining young adults’ citizenship in Russia: from fatalism to affective ideas of belonging, Journal of Youth Studies, DOI: 10.1080/13676261.2016.1206862
Notes on the “Worthless Dowry” of Soviet Industrial Modernity: Making Working-Class Russia Habitable
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.
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
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
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
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.
Actually Existing Internet Use in the Russian Margins: Net Utopianism in the Shadow of the “Silent Majorities”
Morris, J. (2013). Actually Existing Internet Use in the Russian Margins: Net Utopianism in the Shadow of the “Silent Majorities”. Region, 2(2), 181-200. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43737622
The article presents empirical data on Internet and social media use in a Russian regional and urban space. Ethnographic methods provide a picture of ordinary users and their online habits. Data was gathered “online” and using traditional participant observation of informants, constituting a “connective ethnography.” The empirical findings highlight a degree of “circumspection” by ordinary users in terms of the social networking potential of VKontakte, the main social networking site (SNS) popular in Russia. The SNS use is characterized by limited acknowledgement of social others in contrast to extended communication typical of Facebook. In addition, the article discusses at length the problems with scholarship that seeks to highlight the civic potential of new media in less democratic societies, such as Russia. The complexity of imputing civic or politicized use of the SNS is highlighted by informants’ observed use.
Unruly Entrepreneurs: Russian Worker Responses to Insecure Formal Employment
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;
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
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.
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.
Drinking to the Nation: Russian Television Advertising and Cultural Differentiation
Author version link: Drinking to the nation Russian television
J Morris. 2007. Drinking to the Nation: Russian Television Advertising and Cultural Differentiation, Europe-Asia Studies, 59: 8, December, 2007, 1387-1403. ISSN 0966-8136.
This article explores the utilisation of cultural nostalgia for the past (Soviet and pre-revolutionary) and the concern with Russian cultural values in television advertisements for beer in post-Soviet Russia. In these adverts the effect of the foregrounding of these values is more significant than their effectiveness in selling products. Advertising, as a pervasive element of popular culture, is as contested as any other, such as film or television serials, in terms of refracting cultural discourses. Such adverts are termed
‘culturally differentiated’ to contrast them to global and glocalised adverts (where a few concessions are made to local cultural factors).
The Empire Strikes Back: Projections of National Identity in Contemporary Russian Advertising
Author version link: TheEmpireStrikesBack_JeremyMorris
J Morris. 2005. The Empire Strikes Back: Projections of National Identity in Contemporary Russian Advertising, Russian Review, 64, 642-660. ISSN: 00360341.
This article sets out to examine how assumptions about national identity are projected in contemporary Russian advertising. While some reference is made the television advertising of other goods such as beer, the focus is on tobacco, as many ads in this industry utilize the idea of nation. A number of ads are analysed, covering a period from the early post-Soviet period to the present; in particular the development of the Yava brand from the early post-war period to the present is covered in detail.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union a concerted effort has been made by all producers to Russianize their products. This article argues that this branding strategy, emphasised in advertising has been largely successful. The different ways advertisers attempt to evoke both ironic and utopian nostalgia for a mythical Soviet or pre-revolutionary past are explored in detail. Theories of cultural difference (Hostede and De Mooij) are utilized to support the view that generic marketing associated with globalization is particularly ineffective in the Russian context. It is concluded that the rapid replacement of images and slogans and the reliance on the ‘obshche-rossiiskaia ideia’ [the national Russian idea] in advertising is symptomatic of an ongoing sense of psycho-cultural lack in relation to Russian national identity.