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Expanding war, expanding capital: production, labour, and contradictions of contemporary capitalism in the Kurdistan region of Iraq

Kuruüzüm, Umut (2018) Expanding war, expanding capital: production, labour, and contradictions of contemporary capitalism in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.zmvla20simwh

Abstract

This thesis explores a heterogeneous migrant labour force, particularly Kurdish workers from the south-east of Turkey, working in a private steel mill outside Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The wider context is one of war, population displacement, political disintegration, and economic fluctuation. The dissertation builds on ethnographic fieldwork conducted over a period of 16 months between November 2014 and February 2016 in the south-west of Erbil, ten miles away from the town of Gwer, the ISIS–Iraqi Kurdistan war front. It demonstrates how political and economic fragmentation created a zone for the appropriation and super-exploitation of cheap material and human resources and facilitated an expansion of unregulated capitalism. In this process, capitalist production became freed from the cost and constraint of a moral economy of labour, as political disintegration and Kurdish nationalism created consent and coercion for the corporate control of local resources. Industrial production constituted a field of experimentation in labour relations for both management and labourers, in a manner exemplary of contemporary capitalism. The dissertation opens with a discussion of relational and holistic approaches to the expansion of capitalism and inequality; it then moves to examine the Hiwa neighbourhood as a frontier landscape between the relative stability and security of Iraqi Kurdistan and the insecurity and uncertainty of the war zones of Iraq, Syria and Eastern Turkey. Chapters 1 and 2 describe how production and destruction, formal and informal economies, and deregulation and criminalization are interconnected and integral to the recycling of war scrap on which the expansion of the steel mill depends. Chapters 3 and 4 turn from the environment to labour, and examine the heterogeneous work force composed of migrant men from India, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and the rest of Iraq. Their labour has been made cheap through distinct formal and informal work practices within the wider dynamics of war, displacement, and informalization in the region. Complementary to this structural analysis, Chapters 5 and 6 turn to individual life stories of migrant labourers, focusing on how they experience incertitude, from gruelling everyday uncertainties concerning unstable work to life-threatening disease. In so doing, the thesis aims to document the moral and material consequences of contemporary capitalism in Iraqi Kurdistan for migrant labour at a more intimate level.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Umut Kuruüzüm
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Mundy, Martha and Pelkmans, Mathijs
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/3799

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