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Conference: Narratives of informality: alternative ways to challenge structural inequality, Naples, Italy, 10-14 September 2012‏

Narratives and practices of informality: alternative ways to challenge structural inequality

Abel Polese (Tallin University) & Marcello Mollica (University of Pisa)

At the heart of this panel lays the use of informal practices that both generate (re)distribution of welfare in countries marked by structural inequality and help coping with a-symmetric socio-economic relations or changing demographic patterns in divided societies. Complex and comprehensive informal practices may create, or contribute to create, a more equitable system functioning parallel to state-driven welfare distribution. This may be the case when a substantial number of actors engage systematically with them. The alternative system generated may be seen as persistent and unofficially reshaping central policies, especially when not tailored for context and place, or distinct categories of citizens.

Most studies on socio-political discontent concentrate on its visible mobilization, such as street protests or electoral preferences, whilst neglecting actions that do not overtly challenge both the real and the symbolic order a state is based upon. Starting from Scott's (1984) conceptualisation of the art of silent and non-organised resistance this panel aims to add on two interpretative frameworks. One is that silent resistance is not necessarily a temporary solution for a citizen-led (re)negotiation policy, for it may be seen as modifying that very policy in the medium or long term. The other is that once a new political measure acquires a more persistent nature it may be seen as a solution to structural inequalities and national (socio-economic) threats.

This panel is primarily intended to show the persistent and/or systemic nature of the informal sector. It will bring together empirically based accounts of and on its specific capability to prompt redistribution of welfare not only in low income countries but also in better off ones (including EU member states). The main aim is to suggest that informal practices are not necessarily depending on economic (under)development. Contributions that draw on ethnographically based accounts of informal practices are welcome.

Entrepreneurial Culture, Corporate Responsibility and Urban Development
Naples, Italy, 10-14 September 2012
Convened by:
IUAES Commissions on Urban Anthropology and on Enterprise Anthropology
With the Collaboration of:
University of Naples Federico II; University of Naples 2; Media Group Il Denaro;
Brazilian Anthropological Association; Centro de Investigationes y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social, Mexico; China Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences; China Commission on Urban Anthropology; Colegio de Etnólogos y Antropologos Sociales, Mexico; Indian Anthropological Association; International Association of Southeast European Anthropology; IUAES Commission on Anthropology of Women.
General Outline
Over the last three decades, the crisis, and subsequent de-legitimization, of polarized political ideologies which had characterized international politics since the Second World War has apparently brought about the supremacy of economics over politics, and an acceleration of economic globalization. While it has became gradually clear that, cross-culturally, such supremacy and acceleration are not overarching phenomena and their predominance cannot be taken for granted, it has also become clear that in such a climate national policies struggle to take on board individual and corporate interests, demands from local communities and, most problematically, international regulations. To complicate matters further, all too often such international regulations prove to be inspired by concepts that are ambiguous, elusive, badly defined or impossible to apply, thus compounding on the perceived weak legitimacy of governance and the law in the broader society.
In today’s increasingly competitive global economic scenario, urban settings are a dominant form of associated life that encapsulate the socio-economic impact of increasingly significant international regulations and flows of capital and people. By and large, governance and the law have generally failed to meet constructively the challenge posed by the complexities and implications of this world-wide phenomenon, thus raising a critical problematic of both legitimacy and legitimation.
If our understanding of human beings in society is to share the responsibility of a complex view, we must take very seriously the interplay between personal morality and belief and civic responsibility, and between value and action. This requires, in the first place, an informed awareness of the vanity of the monist approach to the complex ways in which people merge social morality and personal choice into practices that observably recognize more than the self. We are invited to distinguish individual action that, motivated by selfish instrumentalism, has no civic value from individual action that fulfils personal interest on a practical and moral level. In this second case we must ask whether individual-oriented necessarily means individualistic. An astute answer to this question needs to steer well away from the cultural determinism of the conceptual opposition of the individual to society that forces the Hegelian concept of plurality — to be human is to be part of the human community, alone one is inexistent — into an ideological opposition between being in community (i.e., belonging to) and being cum community (i.e., being together with). This kind of strong perspectivism about morality and rational choice informs the dominant definition of membership of society and, classically, of non-membership, or indeed undeserving membership. It is based on a circular argument obnoxious to reason and observation — a begged question, in fact a succession of begged questions. Broadly recognizing that in today’s world individual action generally takes place in a context marked by imperfect competition, constraints and inequality, it would be difficult to argue that these conditions are pre-determined, through culture or formal location in terms of production and consumption; nor could they be described as fixed and self-perpetuating, may be with people’s unwitting complicity.
Anthropological analysis of diverse ethnographies has brought to light strong entrepreneurial cultures firmly rooted in the morality and ramifications, in practical life, of a strong continuous interaction between the material and the non material. A major task of this Conference will be to reflect on the significance, ramifications and impact, or potential impact, on the broader society of such an empirical sine qua non. The key role that the varied forms of individual and collective entrepreneurialism, and the attendant culture and social impact, have to play in such a scenario is much too often frustrated by the aforementioned perspectivism. Eschewing confusion between individuality and individualism, anthropologists have highlighted key aspects of entrepreneurialism that point to the naivety of the economic maximization view. They have demonstrated the moral and cultural complexity of individual action, bringing out the social value of entrepreneurialism. They have also demonstrated how misplaced or instrumentally selective moralities in policy and in the production and enforcement of the law both play a critical role in such a failure, encourage exclusion, and are key in the widening gap between governance and the governed across the world. It is critical, however, to move further.
Through empirically based analyses, this Conference will explore these complex issues widely, in Western and non-Western settings, in relation to five broad themes. They are:

Access to Credit, Entrepreneurialism and the Law: Problematic Issues for Enterprise;
Cross Cultural and Ethnic Business in Mixed Cities;
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Urban Development;
Entrepreneurialism, Neo-Liberalism and Socio-Economic Policy;
Women Entrepreneurs: Between Socio-Cultural Hindrance, Challenged Integration and Economic Success.