Diplomat, Landlord, Con-artist, Thief

Housing Brokers and the Mediation of Risk in Migrant Moscow

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology

This article explores the role of brokers in the market for accommodation in contemporary Moscow. Drawing on fieldwork with Kyrgyz migrant workers and the variety of intermediaries [posredniki] on whom they depend, it introduces two interventions into a growing anthropological re-engagement with brokerage. First, it highlights the importance of spatial and social proximity for understanding brokerage relations. Second, it attends ethnographically to the kinds of skills that are understood to distinguish ‘successful’ from ‘unsuccessful’ intermediaries. Drawing together recent literature on ‘everyday diplomacy’ with emic identifications of the posrednik’s work as a diplomatic craft, it examines brokerage as a skilled practice for encountering and mediating difference in contexts of political and administrative indeterminacy. The posrednik becomes an important figure in the migrant economy to the extent that economic life is suffused with uncertainty. This has implications for comparative anthropological concern with processes of social navigation in contexts of precarity.