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Realising Eurasia: Civilisation and Moral Economy in the 21st Century

Final Report Summary - REALEURASIA (Realising Eurasia: Civilisation and Moral Economy in the 21st Century)

The project “Realising Eurasia: civilisation and moral economy in the 21st century” (REALEURASIA) is rooted in economic anthropology, but also draws on historical sociology and adjacent fields. Relying primarily on ethnographic methods, it investigates economic attitudes and activities at the level of small businesses, paying particular attention to the moral dimension of the economy and the ways in which this is shaped by distinctive “civilizational” traditions. Conceptually, the project takes off from classical work by Max Weber positing a distinctive “economic ethic” in Protestantism. Weber’s Eurocentric limitations are demonstrated through comparative investigations of the other major “world religions”. The project contributes to various sub-fields of anthropology, and to long-running debates about modernity and global history.
Our investigations of contemporary economic behaviour reveal common dilemmas, rather than any clear divide between the European settings and the countries investigated in Asia. This suggests we do better to follow Jack Goody and approach “Christian Europe” as an important macro-region of the Eurasian landmass, rather than a distinct continent. Europe continues to share many features with the other civilizations of this landmass, which have common origins in the Bronze Age.
The eleven researchers (all but two funded by the ERC) have worked together successfully to achieve the project’s objectives. Following theoretical and methodological training in Halle, doctoral students carried out a full year of fieldwork in six countries (Denmark, Hungary, Turkey, Russian Federation, India, China, Myanmar). Two senior researchers and the PI have also undertaken fieldwork (in Germany, Turkey and Hungary respectively). PI Chris Hann has published signature papers on the concepts of Eurasia (2016 Current Anthropology), civilization (2017 Zeitschrift für Ethnologie) and moral economy (2018 Archives Européennes de Sociologie). Senior researchers Matthijs Krul, Sylvia Terpe and Lale Yalçın-Heckmann have published foundational papers dealing with institutionalist economic history, Weber’s notions of value spheres and life orders, and the creation of value in economic transactions respectively. All researchers have used the project blog to chronicle their research and to disseminate knowledge (these short contributions include original scholarly insights and ethnographic materials pertaining to field sites). In addition, the PI has used this medium in innovative ways to demonstrate the relevance of his Eurasian perspective to current geopolitical and economic affairs.
The doctoral students observed and participated in the everyday lives of urban households and small firms, while implementing a survey to gather comparable data. Each devoted one chapter to the moral-religious background (crucial in shaping attitudes and subjectivation) and another to political economy. The two are brought together in the ethnographic analyses. Results have been disseminated in numerous international conferences. Individual project results have been written up in five completed PhD dissertations. Anne-Erita Berta’s thesis probes egalitarian individualism in high-tax Denmark. Laura Hornig illuminates why self-employment is considered better than working for others in Myanmar. Sudeshna Chaki found religion to be almost invisible in the workplace she studied in India. This was also true in the postsocialist settings (Russia, studied by – Daria Tereshina–, eastern Germany – Sylvia Terpe– and Hungary – Luca Szücs). However, in the factories investigated by Ceren Deniz in Turkey, Islam strongly shaped the rhythms of labour. In Myanmar and China (Lizhou Hao), popular religion was prominent in shaping the moral background. While similar dilemmas of succession arose in all locations, many business owners preferred their children to pursue careers in fields offering greater prestige and/or security. Overall, the investigations confirmed the fruitfulness of a substantivist perspective (following Karl Polanyi): all human economies are “embedded” (Hann 2018 Environment and Planning A). Links between moral dimensions and different political economic regimes are the subject of a forthcoming volume ‘Moral Economy at Work’ edited by Project Coordinator Yalçın-Heckmann.