The changing perception of trade as "real" work: the unmaking of soviet workers at the vernissage in Armenia

  • This paper gives an account of the unmaking of Soviet workers at the Vernissage in Armenia. I argue that the unmaking of Soviet workers, first, is the irrelevance of Soviet workers as workers once they lost their jobs after the collapse of the Soviet Union and came to the Vernissage to trade. During the Soviet period, private trade was forbidden, and the Soviet government persecuted people who dared to engage in it. Consequently, many people grew up thinking of trade as a criminal activity that was non-productive and parasitic, as opposed to productive work that facilitated the modernization of the USSR. After the dissolution of the USSR, when trade was liberalized and many former Soviet workers were pushed into trade as they lost their jobs, it still retained its quality of not being “real” work, to borrow Roberman’s (2013) wording. Even 25 years after the dissolution of the USSR, former Soviet workers at the Vernissage still want to be identified with their former Soviet occupations and not with trade. However, now engaged in trade, former Soviet workers came up with a “new” way of establishing identity and hierarchy—through production. I describe this “new” way as “the identification game”; employing it, I demonstrate how former Soviet workers at the Vernissage identify and represent themselves as masters, whose work is productive and intellectual. In doing so, they single out resellers, people who resell the work of other masters, by implying that their work is parasitic and selfish. However, this “identification game” is reified only by the older generation of traders, former Soviet workers. The younger generation of traders at the Vernissage, which does not have any experience of being Soviet workers, is disengaged from it, thus undermining the Soviet view of trade as not “real” work and making it irrelevant in the postsocialist era. Thus, I contend that the unmaking of Soviet workers consists in, first, their irrelevance as workers in a postsocialist period, and second, the irrelevance of their ideas about trade as not “real” work. Furthermore, to support my depiction of a master who engages in “the identification game” and a younger-generation trader who is disengaged from it, I give two ethnographic portraits of traders at the Vernissage. I assert that the disengagement of a younger generation of traders at the Vernissage signals a change in the perception of trade as “real” work and runs parallel to the unmaking of Soviet workers.

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Author:Gulniza Taalaibekova
Parent Title (German):Working Paper Series on Informal Markets and Trade ; No. 8
Series (Serial Number):Working Paper Series on Informal Markets and Trade (8)
Document Type:Working Paper
Year of Completion:2018
Year of first Publication:2018
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2018/06/21
Page Number:22
Institutes:Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaften / Kulturwissenschaften
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 30 Sozialwissenschaften, Soziologie / 300 Sozialwissenschaften
3 Sozialwissenschaften / 38 Handel, Kommunikation, Verkehr / 380 Handel, Kommunikation, Verkehr
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht