Postsocialist Capitalisms

Course Description: 

It has been more than two decades that societies in Central and Eastern Europe started to disengage themselves from the state socialist path of modernization and to experiment with market based organization of society. It is debated if the results should be called ‘capitalism’ or ‘capitalisms’ or capitalism with adjectives or something else. These debates are influenced by inquiries that examine post-socialist changes in regard to different models of capitalism in regions outside or at the margins of the Western world.

The course reviews anthropological or anthropologically informed interpretations that explain the commonalities and the divergences in capitalist transformations across the post-socialist world. In the first part of the course, different ‘cultural accounts’ of economic systems, including Western and non-Western types of capitalism, will be reviewed. These accounts are produced, on the one hand, by classical and modern social theories, which consider economic categories as social products defined by conflicting and competing thoughts and values. On the other hand, these cultural accounts are produced by anthropological (and sociological) inquiries, which discuss economic practices, institutions, and systems as complex social and symbolic transactions and communications. In addition to contemplating on the shifting meanings of the market in modern Western and non-Western societies, cultural accounts examine the rise of modern capitalism, the move from modern to late modern capitalism, and the contemporary global transformation.

In the second (larger) part of the course, recent anthropological, ethnographic, and anthropologically informed qualitative inquiries will be discussed that either explicitly refer to cultural accounts reviewed in the first half of the course, or offer interpretations of post-socialist changes that resonate with those accounts. The selection of topics reflect upon the diversity of ways in which societies in Central and Eastern Europe transform, domesticate, and reinvent old and new forms of economic ideas and practices. The selection of the readings embraces interpretations that, in spite major differences in their ideological assumptions, share the conviction that large-scale structural changes, micro-scale interpretive practices, and subjective biographies all participate in negotiating models of capitalism in different localities of the post-socialist world. Readings include some of the key texts produced by either Western or Central and East European scholars in the last two decades as well as the most recent contributions to the literature. 

Learning Outcomes: