Harriman Institute

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Ponzi Economics in Postcommunist Europe

This event was held virtually as a Zoom webinar and streamed via YouTube Live.

Please join East Central European Center at the Harriman Institute for a talk with Smoki Musaraj (Ohio University), author of Tales of Albarado: Ponzi Logics of Accumulation in Postsocialist Albania (Cornell University Press, 2020).

Tales from Albarado revisits times of excitement and loss in early 1990s Albania, in which about a dozen pyramid firms collapsed and caused the country to fall into anarchy and a near civil war. To gain a better understanding of how people from all walks of life came to invest in these financial schemes and how these schemes became intertwined with everyday transactions, dreams, and aspirations, Smoki Musaraj looks at the materiality, sociality, and temporality of financial speculations at the margins of global capital. She argues that the speculative financial practices of the schemes were enabled by official financial infrastructures (such as the postsocialist free-market reforms), by unofficial economies (such as transnational remittances), as well as by historically specific forms of entrepreneurship, transnational social networks, and desires for a European modernity. Overall, these granular stories of participation in the Albanian schemes help understand neoliberal capitalism as a heterogeneous economic formation that intertwines capitalist and noncapitalist forms of accumulation and investment.

Smoki Musaraj is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Law, Justice & Culture at Ohio University. Her research focusses on the anthropology of money and value, informal economies, speculative bubbles, anthropology of corruption, postcommunist transformations, and societies of Southeast Europe and the Mediterranean. Currently, she is working on two projects. One is an ethnography of the vetting process and judicial reform in Albania. The second is a revisiting of Fernand Braudel’s notion of the Mediterranean as a cultural unit of analysis; in her study, Dr. Musaraj revisits key themes in studies of Mediterranean culture and history—such as migration, geography religious conviviality, and urban development—exploring the continuities and discontinuities of these themes into the context of EU expansion, growing migration, and tourism boom in the region.

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