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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 3.136

Hope for Normal Lives: Value, Care and Endurance in Poor Neighbourhood of a Shrinking City in Hungary


  • Dr. Cecília KOVAI

Primary authors

  • Dr. Cecília KOVAI (Institute for Regional Studies, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, (Hungarian Academy of Sciences))


  • Dr. Gergely PULAY (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Postdoctoral Researcher)


Ethnographies of marginality often remain limited to the issues of suffering or resistance, as the two analytic options that are offered by researchers to their subjects of inquiry. Our account adds another layer of meaning to the concepts of hope and resistance, one that rather translates to endurance or perseverance on behalf of people who exercise social navigation in fields that are also in motion. Based on our ongoing fieldwork in a territorially stigmatized former workers’ quarter of a onetime mining town in Hungary, the paper aims to contribute to the scholarship on value that persons enact while surviving and thriving – even in desperate circumstances – with the hope of meaningful lives. Many residents in town associate this neighbourhood with informal activities and exchange-relations at the street-level as opposites to the norms of formal wage labour or an overall ‘yearning for normal life’. However, only few of them actually manage to meet these ideals while an at least partial reliance on informal livelihood is widespread (akin to other peripheral or semi-peripheral settings). The circulation of workers between different forms of labour – such as their movement between the public work program, local industrial work and labour migration – depends on the interplay between personal life cycles and the periods of economic crisis or relative prosperity. Amidst the sudden twists and turns of opportunities to maintain one’s livelihood, the protagonists of our account resort to self-initiated forms of protection and care that are based on their notions of valuable life.