Dr Robin Smith

ISRF Political Economy Fellow 2020

Dr Robin Smith

ISRF Political Economy Fellow 2020

ISRF Robin Smith

Robin Smith is an anthropologist of post-socialist Europe. She is interested in questions of rural debt and economic governance: How do rural businessmen make ends meet in times of protracted economic precarity, and how are post-socialist governments contributing to or mitigating the effects of joining the EU for their citizens? Her research integrates anthropology and political economy to shed light on the difficulties of maintaining rural livelihoods in the modern economy, focusing on a community of farmers in northwest Croatia to understand broader issues affecting southeastern Europeans today.

Her ISRF project explores the financial practices of agribusinesses, bringing together literatures on debt, informal economies, barter, and corruption to explain how corporations in post-socialist Europe manipulate markets. An outgrowth of researching the financial lives of rural businessmen, she is working to develop a network of anthropologists studying taxation in society, including a journal special issue and a co-edited book volume on the subject.

Robin additionally has a background in both political science and economics, and has worked and researched in Kosovo, the Republic of Moldova, and Bulgaria, but most extensively in Croatia. From 2017-19, Robin was a postdoctoral researcher at Leiden University on an ERC-funded project Food Citizens? investigating alternative urban European food systems and concerned with how communities create localized food procurement networks that sit outside the dominant vertically integrated food industrial complex.

She completed her doctorate at the University of Oxford, where she was a Clarendon Scholar and did research for a number of years on the wine industry of Croatia. She also earned degrees from the University of California, Santa Cruz and University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies and was a Peace Corps volunteer.

Barter in the EU: an ethnography of Balkan corporate financial practices

AgroKor is the major symbol of corruption in Croatia today. It is the largest conglomerate in the Balkans, valued at 7 billion euros, owning 26 agri-food and drink businesses and two supermarket chains in Croatia. Today, as the largest agri-food producer and largest buyer from small family farmers, AgroKor sets the wholesale prices of almost all agri-food products. 

However, in 2017, AgroKor began defaulting on loans after decades of rumors about its financial practices and political connections (Ivanković 2018). Since then, some implicated politicians have resigned, AgroKor’s owner has fled to London to avoid arrest, and in late 2018 Russian state banks took 47% of the corporation. Thus, my research proposal on its informal and predatory financial practices is timely, as its financial practices are finally coming into the light of public scrutiny.

As an independent scholar with political, economic, and anthropological backgrounds, as well as almost a decade of experience in post-socialist Europe, I propose to investigate some of AgroKor’s financial practices from the vantage point of its smallest family farmer and producer clients. Using my pre-existing network of informants in Istria, Croatia, I will take the wine industry as a lens through which to research how this corporation shapes local markets, and how it leverages its political position and business network to perpetuate its practices. As it owns wineries in Istria that outproduce all family wineries in this primarily winemaking region, it is a formidable competitor.

I will use ethnographic field methods to advance my expertise as a business anthropologist, and as an independent scholar will be hosted at a leading interdisciplinary and post-socialist studies institute in the UK with an economic anthropologist of post-socialism as a mentor. This will facilitate my professional development as an early career scholar undertaking cutting edge research that impacts EU food markets.

Contacting Fellows

If you would like to contact any of our Fellows to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at lars.cornelissen@isrf.org.