Ambivalence and the Work of Hope: Anticipating Futures in a Serbian Industrial Town
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This study is based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in Bor, a copper-processing town in Eastern Serbia. From the perspectives of “ordinary” people, this dissertation explores the process of post-socialist transformation through ethnography of the interconnections between the town (characterised by mono-structural economy) and the industrial company. After a prosperous period during Yugoslav socialism there was an economic, social, and symbolic decline of the copper-processing company followed by decay of the town and industry during the 1990s. This thesis captures the moment of political promise that brought a new horizon of hope for a better life and the promise of economic growth through the revival of the rundown industry. It captures the experiences of people who have had different encounters with existing attempts to revitalise and transform everyday life, in the context of the mutual revival of the company and the town. In this thesis I analyse p...eople’s anticipations of their futures as well as the practices they invested in maintaining and realising their hopes (which I call the “work of hope”). I argue that ambivalence, which consisted of simultaneous coupling of hope with various other competing and conflicting sets of dispositions, such as risk, despair, entrapment, dismay, anxiety, frustration, and so on, was reflected in how people’s futures were imagined, conveyed, and lived towards. The first part of the dissertation focuses on how material objects, such as the renovated sites, the district heating, and pollution, appeared in my interlocutors’ work of hope and in their anticipations of futures. In parallel with this, the second part focuses on how the temporality of waiting and the work of hope played out in relation to gender, age, and generation among the people with whom I spent time. I argue that my interlocutors’ anticipations of futures and their work of hope resulted in reproduction of inequalities (in terms of gender, age, and class). I argue that in their encounter with the omnipresent industrial company that pervaded and constructed everyday lives, and through their work of hope, the state was encountered and reproduced and the social contract between the company, the town and the people was maintained. The analysis of how people in the industrial town of Bor played with and sought to reconcile ambivalence feeds into existing debates about how hope is read through, produced through, and articulated in relation to the material and social landscapes.