September 8, 2020 at 6:04 am

Musaraj’s New Book Examines Pyramid Schemes in Post-Socialist Albania

Dr. Smoki Musaraj smiling with arms crossed and brick building behind her

Dr. Smoki Musaraj

Dr. Smoki Musaraj‘s new book, Tales from Albarado: Pyramid Schemes and Ponzi Logic of Accumulation in Postsocialist Albania, is an ethnographic piece that tells the story of how the collapse of large Albanian pyramid firms resulted in anarchy and nearly a civil war.

Musaraj outlines how people from all walks of life became interested in these financial schemes and how they are impacted by the temporality of financial projections.

Musaraj, Director of the Center of Law, Justice & Culture and an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Ohio University, is a cultural anthropologist with a specialization in legal and economic anthropology. Her scholarship often emphasizes the analysis of theories behind money and value.

Book cover for Tales from Albarado: Pyramid Schemes and Ponzi Logic of Accumulation in Postsocialist AlbaniaTales from Albarado outlines the pathways of value transformation across local and transnational markets. In this ethnographic piece on Ponzi logics of accumulation, Musaraj uses oral reports from the former investors and brokers to firms to highlight how the pyramid schemes impacted individuals and the society as a whole.

When collecting her data, Musaraj needed to ask people who had been financially devastated by the widely prevalent pyramid firms. While she expected potential hesitation from her interviewees, she was often met with an unexpected enthusiasm because people wanted to share how their lives were changed.

“I was at first terrified to ask questions about the pyramid schemes to former investors. I expected that this would bring up bad memories and that people wouldn’t be willing to share personal financial information. But, to my surprise, many (though not all) were very comfortable and eager to talk about their experiences. As I also note in the book, many took pleasure in being part of these schemes because they were considered legitimate investment companies. And even those who were deeply disappointed and hurt taught me a lot about the entrepreneurial calculations and strategies that went into the schemes.”

Musaraj’s publication is aimed at contextualizing financial schemes as they are situated in society.

“My hope is that, by sharing these strategies and calculations, the book is not seeking to legitimate the pyramid schemes (which were speculative and fraudulent), but to illuminate economic realities and strategies of wealth accumulation by people located at the margins of different economic systems,” Dr. Musaraj writes.

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