“Equal Pay for Equal Work”? Interpretive Knowledge of Merit, Labor Valuation, and Distribution in Cuba

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Nina JANY, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
The meritocratic principle of distribution “to each according to work, from each according to ability” may be one of the most tenacious societal beliefs (some authors go so far as to label it ideology) with respect to a fair distribution of income and social esteem. In capitalist societies, there has been a long tradition of analyzing and criticizing meritocracy from various angles, both theoretically and empirically. Previous research on societal perceptions on income inequality, merit, and performance in capitalist contexts has successfully shown that the valuation of labor is one of the most controversial and contradictory aspects of merit-based distributive regimes. Interestingly, those are not only a feature of capitalist, but also of socialist theory and practice – yet, little research on the topic has been realized in socialist contexts. The proposed paper focuses on the Republic of Cuba, where the above-named principle, along with the tenet “equal pay for equal work”, is very prominent in the official discourse and serves as a normative ideal for the redistribution system – while, at least at first sight, Cuban labor valuation practices do not appear to cope at all with this ideal. Against the backdrop of Axel Honneth's theory of recognition, and by means of interpretive knowledge generated from discourse analysis, as well as expert interviews with stakeholders in the educational and political system, the proposed paper aims to gain a better understanding of labor valuation practices in contemporary Cuba. In order to decode how – and by whom – “equal work” is defined (and, amongst other aspects, which role market valuations play in this context), the paper examines the underlying ideal (or the ideology?) of merit, and how it affects the assessment of worth, as well as the distribution of material and immaterial recognition in Cuban socialism.