Current Institutional Affiliation
Anthropology, University of Michigan

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2017
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Michigan
Cutting Out the Middleman: A Hasidic Enclave in Economic Transition

At a historical moment of increasing austerity in Europe, Jewish middlemen in the global diamond supply-chain are being cut out as middlemen and reskilled as local entrepreneurs. After World War II, thousands of Jewish refugees fled Eastern Europe to Western Europe. Among these refugees were Hasidim, a pietistic sect of Judaism, which landed in the port-city of Antwerp. Over 80% of its workforce depended upon the global diamond supply-chain for their economic livelihoods. In recent years, however, through the rise of national and supranational forms of regulation and e-commerce, Hasidic Jews are being cut out as middlemen. The Hasidic community must now reskill its workforce and refashion them into local entrepreneurs. My dissertation research, grounded in ethnographic methods, asks: 1) How are Hasidic ideologies and attitudes toward work, value, and virtue becoming reshaped through both the circumstances of this economic transformation in the global diamond supply-chain and through austerity policies currently being implemented in Belgium? 2) How are modes of surveillance informing how transactions are both conducted within the "regulated" diamond industry and an emerging, local Hasidic economy of entrepreneurs? 3) What does this process of disintermediation reveal about the role of the middleman in the longue durée of global Capitalism and illuminate about a new phase of Capitalism where middlemen may no longer be needed? By intervening in literatures in legal and economic anthropology, my project emphasizes the economic middleman as the exemplary figure through which to understand the reorganization of modern political economies and the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion within these worlds.