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“Maybe Tomorrow I’ll Turn Capitalist”: Cuentapropismo in a Workers’ State

Emma Phillips

June 24, 2007

““Maybe Tomorrow I’ll Turn Capitalist”: Cuentapropismo in a Workers’ State”, Law & Society Review; Volume 41, Issue 2, pages 305–342, June 2007.

In 1993, the Cuban government significantly expanded the scope of legal self-employment on the island. The change has not been uncontroversial, and cuentapropistas have frequently been held up, both in Cuba and in the United States, as the symbol of Cuba’s transition to a free-market economy. In framing cuentapropistas as the vanguards of capitalism, observers have adopted a concept of “transition” which is both rigidly ideological and teleological.

The article argues that by employing a sociolegal approach toward cuentapropismo—examining close-up not only the Cuban government’s regulation of self-employment, but also how the operation of law is mediated through cuentapropistas’ own self-perceptions—we can develop a richer and more complex understanding of transitional periods. Rather than conceptualizing “transition” as a straight line from communism to capitalism, a sociolegal analysis draws attention to the complex relationship between law, identity, and work in the renegotiation of citizenship, and the constitutive role that evolving conceptions of citizenship may have for the shape and character of a transitional period.


Emma Phillips