The Dominican Republic has posted impressive economic growth rates over the past twenty-five to thirty years. Despite this, the generation of new, good jobs has been remarkably weak. How have ordinary and poor Dominicans worked and lived in the shadow of the country's conspicuous growth rates? This book considers this question through an ethnographic exploration of the popular economy in the Dominican capital. Throughout the book's analyses, Krohn-Hansen is concerned with a broader question: How should researchers tackle the challenges that the phenomena of jobless growth and "no labor" futures raise for anthropology and political-economic analysis? The first two sections sketch the author's most general research questions, analytical position, and methods.
The chapter explores the ways in which the Dominican state shapes relations between capital and labor, often in terms of disruptive and disordering interventions. The chapter follows how Dominican furniture makers constantly adapt to the changing dynamics of state/capital relations, and to the complex rhythms of capital circulations. Capitalism for these producers is not synonymous with speed. On the contrary, the nation's small workshops and firms experience constant delays. They find themselves made to wait, shut out from lucrative markets, and marginalized from arenas of national productivity, which are monopolized by those with effective (often family) links to state power. In the early 1990s, the Dominican economy was conspicuously liberalized, under IMF stabilization programs. Furniture makers now face increasingly tough competition from cheaper imports. The chapter argues that a focus on labor practices reveals the temporal discrepancies that people are required to navigate throughout their everyday working lives.
Today's Dominican society is, to a striking extent, a place without (decently paid) work. Chapter 2 investigates one form of wageless labor, or precarious livelihoods, among Santo Domingo's poor. It analyzes the strategies of single mothers who either operated a small food stall or bought and sold vegetables. The chapter seeks to answer four questions. First, how can we best understand the historical emergence and maintenance of this precarious type of livelihood (the mother trading food, or running a kitchen on the street) in today's Santo Domingo? Second, what characterizes these women's enterprises and everyday life? Third, what can these women's histories convey about the lived tension between caring for kin and the demands of economic precariousness? Fourth, just as these women continuously live in many different networks so, too, do they live and act in multiple heterogeneous temporalities. How do temporal concerns shape how they navigate their work?
Until recently, most Dominicans purchased food and groceries in colmados and in public markets. El colmado, the small barrio or street-corner store, continues to be the most widespread small business in the country. Chapter 3 discusses the major changes in the Dominican retail distribution sector over recent decades, and analyzes the present conditions and practices of the capital's colmados. The chapter argues that, although the economic climate for the colmados in Santo Domingo has become significantly tougher, they will nonetheless remain an important part of the Dominican capital in the years to come, for three reasons. First, the colmado has a proud national history—it has already shown itself to be resilient and flexible. Second, the colmado has been, and continues to be, a key site for the production and experience of lo criollo—what it means to be Dominican. Third, it still fills an economic niche.
Chapter 4 focuses on the country's cooperative movement. Over the last two decades, Dominican savings and credit cooperatives have become increasingly important. The chapter discusses how these business ventures are organized, and how they function economically and politically. It seeks particularly to show three things. First, the Dominican cooperativa, or cooperative, is a shifting entity—an open, elastic category. Second, Dominican cooperatives are regarded by the members as empresas, or business firms—but firms with a social, more human purpose. Put differently, today's Dominican cooperative is more an instrumentality of insertion into the interstices of capitalist time as a survival strategy. The glue of the cooperative is the will for shared help. Third, these enterprises represent a certain political—democratic—hope. Most of them seek to train their members in a more inclusive way of running affairs. At their best, cooperatives' practices challenge the nation's ingrained, authoritarian political patterns.
Formal-sector employment, with a decent wage and workers' rights, remains an unrealistic possibility for large parts of the world's poor masses. How do we best examine the popular economies in the many vast city landscapes that, throughout the last decades, have appeared in the global South? This chapter aims to answer this broad question that has emerged from the book's attempts to explore the economy in Santo Domingo. The first section of this chapter argues that we still need to have a strong interest in labor and the labor concept—in spite of the picture of the labor market, or the global lack of "proper jobs." The second section insists that we need empirical, grounded analyses of the articulations between labor and time, between particular labor activities and concrete, specific time landscapes. The third section emphasizes that it remains important to ask who accesses land and housing.