Recent anthropological studies of Italy have presented vivid and compelling accounts of the anxieties about precarity and economic dependence that have emerged as both state protections of employment and social welfare provisions have weakened. This essay, in contrast, argues that for a substantial sector of the Italian populace, work relations have been governed less by a state‐regulated regime of labour than by kinship ideologies and relations. Since the beginning of industrial manufacturing in the mid‐19th century and continuing into the 21st century, family firms have been the dominant employer in Italy. By following the changes in the silk industry and its allied clothing manufacturing sector in the 25 years from 1985 to 2010, this essay shows how aspirations and ascriptions of economic independence and dependence among firm owners, their children and hired managers are shaped by kinship relations and class trajectories.
On false binaries in Hardt and Negri's trilogy
At the core of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's thesis that a new global form of sovereignty has replaced a previous imperialist geography is their claim that the capitalist mode of production has undergone a shift from a modern era in which “industrial labor“ was hegemonic to a postmodern era in which “immaterial labor“ has become hegemonic. In this article, I argue that capitalism in Europe (let alone other areas of the world) does not conform to this model. I draw on the history of Italian manufacturing and on my ethnographic research on the silk industry of northern Italy to question the analytic usefulness of their distinction between “industrial“ and “immaterial“ labor and to show that the latter has always been crucial to industrial production. I conclude that Hardt and Negri's attempt to expand the definition of productive labor to include the “multitude“ unwittingly parallels an emerging discourse that serves to legitimate transnational hierarchies of labor.
Keir Martin and Sylvia Yanagisako
Anxieties around the moral effects of states of ‘dependence’ remain central to political and social debate across the world. At a time when the association between wage‐labour and a particular valorised conception of adult male independence is increasingly hard to sustain, these contests can take on new forms and new levels of intensity. Anthropology has a potentially valuable contribution to make to these discussions, having long made descriptions of particular forms of ‘dependence’ central to many of its most distinctive analytic framings. Nonetheless, the concept of ‘dependence’ itself has rarely been explicitly theorised in anthropological theory, as opposed to other concepts with which it has often been theoretically entwined, such as ‘exchange’, ‘reciprocity’ or ‘debt’, which have been subjected to more concerted theoretical investigation. The papers in this collection provide a series of comparative ethnographic explorations of the role of dependence in shaping new forms of sociality across the globe, as a contribution to the development of an anthropological understanding of the continued evolution of the term’s meaning and effect in the 21st century.
Reconfiguring labor, kinship and relational obligation
Keir Martin, Ståle Wig, and Sylvia Yanagisako
Interdependence is a fundamental characteristic of human existence. The way in which certain dependencies are acknowledged as opposed to those that are hidden, or the ways in which some are validated while others are denigrated, is central to how social inequalities are reproduced and recreated. In this introduction we explore how particular dependencies are categorized, separated, and made visible or invisible as part of their performative effect. In particular, we explore the distinction between wage labor and kinship as two forms of relatedness that are often separated in terms of the (in)dependence that they are seen to embody. Even though they are practically entangled, their conceptual separation remains important. These conceptual separations are central to how gender difference is imagined and constituted globally.