Cultures of rejection
Specifically, the research focuses on the way economic and technological changes impact employees in logistics and sales, and in which way employees ascribe any particular meaning to these changes.
The researchers assess the situation along the 2015 migration route across Sweden, Germany, Austria, Croatia and Serbia, thoroughly examining work places, digital and socio-spatial environments. The socio-cultural research conducted will be complemented with elements of digital ethnography.
The study results should contribute to overcoming a series of major challenges Europe presently faces. The Center for Advanced Study Southeast Europe, as well as its parent institution, the University of Rijeka, cultivate a transdisciplinary approach to research, allowing for a flourishing of innovative methods and theories. The results will be presented as part of public events and international conferences in Rijeka and outside Croatia.
The initiator and coordinator of the project is the cultural theorist, Prof. Dr. Manuela Bojadžijev of Leuphana University in Lüneburg and Humboldt University in Berlin. The research project is funded by Volkswagen Stiftung with just under one million euros, from their program “Challenges for Europe,” which seeks answers to the important socio-political questions of further development in Europe. More information about the program is available at: Challenges for Europe
Workplaces in the retail and logistics sectors make up the primary research environment for our investigation of cultures of rejection. Workplaces constitute exceptionally lively sites for the expression of social attitudes and daily routines. CuRe focuses on workers in the retail and logistics sectors, given the profound transformations entailed by processes of digitalisation, precarization, and labour casualization in these sectors. We collaborate closely with representatives of trade unions and members of shop-floor organizations to identify relevant workplaces, gain access to sites, and recruit respondents (see Cooperation Strategy).
In each participating country we identified four research sites, where we conduct a minimum of five semi-structured, qualitative interviews (100 interviews in total). These interviews aim (a) to identify elements of cultures of rejection in individual, biographical narratives, and (b) to learn about experiences of reproduction, transformation, and crisis connected to economic, political, and socio-cultural spheres of “livelihood” (Narotzky 1997). Rather than unveiling any objective or “authentic” experience reflected in speech, we are interested in the ways people present, narrativize, frame, and articulate their experiences with, in, and/or against elements of cultures of rejection, thus “acknowledging the constructed, flexible and fictionalised nature of the process of accounting for the self” (Byrne 2003: 30). The CuRe researchers are interested in if and how workplace experiences, labor processes, and the social and cultural environments of workplaces more broadly affect the emergence, negotiation, and/or rejection of cultures of rejection.
We supplement these interviews with focus-group discussions, in which workers discuss issues previously identified as relevant to cultures of rejection in individual interviews. Focus groups allow us to capture a diversity of views and experiences, and to observe intersubjective processes of meaning-making related to cultures of rejection and the connections drawn to experiences of reproduction, transformation, and crisis. While interviews provide insight into and allow for analyses of individual narratives regarding cultures of rejection, focus-group discussions allow us to better understand how those narratives are negotiated and which interpretative patterns prevail.
Research in digital environments proceeds from the fact that ‘online’ and ‘offline’ aspects of the social world have become “intermeshed in interwoven human practices and social worlds” (Kozinets 2015: 69). The act of going online has been replaced by simply being online amidst an ecology of devices, software, and infrastructures. Everyday social interactions repeatedly cross the threshold between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ and blur traditional notions of space. Understanding contemporary cultures of rejection therefore demands analysis of digital spaces of communication and interaction.
Our research investigates the digital spaces that respondents in Research Environment 1 (The Workspace) identified as relevant to the emergence, negotiation, and contestation of cultures of rejection. Facebook groups make up a particularly promising field in this regard. Facebook’s user base is continually growing; as of 2017 at least a third of the population in all project countries are users. The platform’s qualities of referentiality, communality, and algorithmicity (Stalder 2018) are linked to the formation of so-called “filter bubbles” or “echo chambers,” which can amplify the dynamics and specific elements of cultures of rejection. To study these environments, the project draws on the methods of discourse-centered online ethnography. Drawing on mappings, log data, and structured observation of digital spaces accessible to researchers, the project aims to identify the affective frames (Ferree et al. 2002) that shape the differences and antagonisms articulated in cultures of rejection.
Experiences of transformation and crisis take place in everyday social relations outside the workplace and can affect patterns of consumption, mobility, care work, leisure activities, or voluntary work. Therefore, we also investigate the emergence, negotiation and contestation of cultures of rejection in larger socio-spatial environments. Following the method of mental mapping (Gieseking 2013), participants identify spaces and places relevant to their economic, political and socio-cultural reproduction by drawing a geographical map, and from there we identify two environments for study in each of the five countries involved in the research process. Using a mixed-method approach that includes participatory observations and field notes, informal conversations, and on-site interviews, as well as document analyses and expert interviews, we conduct ethnographic research during field visits of one month each. The goal is to achieve a “thick description” (Geertz 1973) of the dynamics of socio-spatial reproduction, transformation, and crisis that were identified as meaningful in the context of cultures of rejection by the participants themselves.
The research project aims towards a comprehensive understanding of in five European countries, investigating local and regional settings in order to better understand challenges and threats to European integration. Specifically, we address four interrelated questions:
- How do employees in retail and logistics industries reproduce, justify or contest cultures of rejection in their everyday lives? What collective and individual constructions of “self” and “others” constitute cultures of rejection?
- What online and offline environments are relevant to the reproduction, negotiation, and contestation of cultures of rejection?
- What experiences of routines, transformation, and crisis are meaningful to workers in reference to cultures of rejection? How do employees connect narratives of, for example, migration, economic development or European integration to cultures of rejection?
- What similarities and differences in the investigated environments can account for differences and similarities in the composition of cultures of rejection in different spaces and places? Can we detect observable resonances between the case studies?
Our theoretical framework is situated at the intersection of qualitative social science, anthropology, and cultural and migration studies. The empirical investigation operates at three levels of analysis, each one focusing on specific environments in which cultures of rejection are hypothesized to be produced, reproduced, negotiated, challenged, and/or rejected. Level 1 focuses on workplace environments; level 2 on digital environments; and level 3 on socio-spatial environments.
This approach allows us to go beyond a narrow focus on experiences related to paid labor, and to analyze multiple sites where economic, political, and socio-cultural reproduction occurs.
We study these environments with respect to three dimensions of the reproduction, transformation, and crisis of livelihoods: economic (i.e., debt, multiple jobs, household structures, solidarity structures, DIY-cultures), political (i.e., attitudes towards representation, political engagement), and socio-cultural (i.e., housing, health, consumption, education, friendships and romance, leisure activities, mobility). The aim is to understand the degree to which and in what ways respondents fear or feel ownership over their futures. In order to understand cultures of rejection in their complexity, we deploy an analytical matrix that investigates experiences of everyday routines (or “reproduction”), change (or “transformation”), and rupture (or “crisis”) in the spheres of economic, political, and socio-cultural life.
Our methodology includes surveys; semi-structured, qualitative interviews;, focus-group discussions; discourse-centered online ethnographies; and ethnographic field research (including participatory observation, field notes, informal conversations, and on-site interviews, as well as document analyses and expert interviews).
Our research strategy draws on qualitative social research and cultural analysis to better understand the ways in which people make sense of a changing world in terms of (elements of) cultures of rejection. Studying cultures of rejection thus amounts to the examination of sociocultural tactics, or what de Certeau called the “arts of doing” that people adopt in their “practice of everyday life”.
The research project brings together scholars from five distinguished academic institutions: The Institute of Sociology and Cultural Organisation (ICSO) at the Leuphana University Lüneburg; the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO) at Linköping University; the Center for Advanced Studies Southeast Europe (CAS SEE) at the University of Rijeka; the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory (IFDT) at the University of Belgrade; and the Department of Political Science at the University of Vienna. Under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Manuela Bojadžijev, Prof. Dr. Stefan Jonsson, Prof. Dr. Sanja Bojanić, Prof. Dr. Irena Fiket and Prof. Dr. Birgit Sauer, research is conducted by one Post-Doc Researcher, four PhD students, and five student assistants.
The teams in each country share and develop their research in constant cooperation through online and offline meetings and workshops. Complementing the five research teams, an international board of internationally distinguished experts based in Oxford and Paris assists in the discussion of our results and situating our findings in a wider European context. All CuRe research teams cooperate locally with trade unions, which allows them to gain knowledge about and access to workplace environments. Our cooperating partners include ver.di (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft – United Services Trade Union) in Germany; Handels (Handelsanställdas förbund, Union of Commercial Employees) in Sweden, the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (Savez samostalnih Sindikata Hrvatske), UGS Nezavisnost in Serbia, and both GPA-djp (Gewerkschaft´der Privatangestellten, Druck, Journalismus, Papier – Union of Private Employees, Print, Journalism,Paper) and Vida (Verkehrs- und Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft – Union for Transport and Services) in Austria.