From stocks to illnesses, financialization is at the core of contemporary life. But what is financialization? How can it be studied ethnographically? And how does it relate to the rise of global authoritarianism? This chapter introduces the book's main arguments and situates them within the debates surrounding financial expansion. Rather than a function of calculative devices or liquid capital, the chapter describes financialization as a multi-scalar political process and offers an example of how to interrogate ethnographically the different relationships that generate financial expansion.
Until 2015, Macedonia's authoritarian regime received international coverage largely in relation to the Skopje 2014 project and the hundreds of new buildings and statues that celebrated a fictional Hellenic and neo-baroque past. Chapter 1 describes how Skopje 2014 constituted a mask—obscuring shady businessmen who colluded with former secret agents, plotted to ruin former socialist companies, and invested in a wealth of real estate developments in Skopje. The chapter describes the financial networks that are at the core of Skopje's construction expansion, their connection to the socialist era's need for foreign currency, and their crucial role in supporting Gruevski's political ambitions. Following the trajectory of these networks through the postsocialist transition, the chapter shows how the built environment has become a magical device through which dirty money is made clean, and ambiguous power relations are recast as a national identity.
Postsocialist-transition Macedonia is a country with few natural resources, high unemployment, and few value-added industries. Where did the money for Skopje 2014 and other construction-related public investments come from? Chapter 2 details the international conditions that favored and structured the inflow of capital in Macedonia, focusing on two pillars of financial expansion at the periphery: foreign direct investment (FDI) and aid. It describes why international investors and agencies decided to provide funds to the Macedonian government despite the lack of credit that characterized the global economy. The chapter also follows the peregrinations of a group of Italian businessmen who tried to escape global illiquidity by intercepting international investments in Macedonia. Their stories portray the domestic, rent-seeking structures put in place by Gruevski's rule and illustrate how an increasingly unequal and subdivided European Union generates financial peripheries and supports authoritarian regimes.
How did international loans translate into domestic power for Gruevski's government? Chapter 3 explores the characteristics of Macedonia's domestic financialization, focusing on the reemergence of in-kind exchanges, known as kompenzacija, that followed the global financial crisis. Outlining kompenzacija's postsocialist trajectory and its relation to the Macedonian banking system, the chapter describes how politically disconnected companies receive payments in goods they don't want. These objects, such as apartments or eggs, lose value, thus obligating businesses either to absorb losses or offload these properties on subcontractors and workers. By describing the political coercion and financial dispossession that ensues, the chapter shows that kompenzacija constitutes a form of forced credit fully integrated into global financial flows. At the periphery of the European and global financial systems, the need to convert value across means of payments allows authoritarian regimes to increase their power by reaching deeply into people's social networks.
In a landscape punctuated by illiquidity, production is not constant but is rather subordinated to the rhythms of debt repayment. Chapter 4 focuses on the disruption of daily routines that takes place once illiquidity makes manual work almost irrelevant. Based on a fine-grained description of the actions, rituals, discussions, and pauses that characterize work under illiquidity, this chapter details the strategies used by workers to regain agency and meaning. The chapter narrates the poetic resilience of workers and their capacity to generate spaces for empathy in the interstices of financial uncertainty. Filled with potential for social transformation, the tempo of workers' acts, jokes, and conversations does not remain merely performative. Framed by financial precariousness, their tricky conversations slide toward opportunism and reduce their moral capacity to oppose the Gruevski regime.
Illiquidity affects not only workers' self-conception but also their collective identity. Chapter 5 shows how Macedonian illiquidity generates gendered paradoxes that dislodge earlier models of work-centered, hegemonic masculinity despite the regime's insistence on aggressive manhood as a fundamental component of Macedonian identity. The chapter follows a group of male Macedonian construction workers as they try to restore patriarchal authority within their company. Unable to provide for their families, challenged by economically ascendant ethnic Albanian males, and dislodged from the nurturing attentions of Macedonian female colleagues, their failures leave them exhausted. Scorn and mockery emerge as hierarchical ways to keep male solidarity alive, forcing workers to consume their energy in containing their microaggression and projecting the regime as their only anchor.
Illiquidity is without doubt a process intertwined with Macedonia's socialist and postsocialist history, intrinsically linked to its geopolitical marginality. And yet, it also enlightens some of the social dynamics that fuel authoritarian processes at the global level. This chapter expands on the insights derived from the Macedonian case, highlighting the importance of financial paradoxes and predatory relationships to map out how finance encounters (or emerges from) social life. Suspended between dreams and exploitation, financialization delineates a crucial domain of politics.