EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Entanglements of coping and resistance: precarious living in (re-)peripheralizing regions
Location U6-21
Date and Start Time 21 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Luisa Steur (University of Amsterdam) email
  • Elisabeth Schober (University of Oslo) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Dimitra Kofti
Discussant George Baca, Monique Nuijten

Short Abstract

This panel reflects on the ways coping and resistance become intertwined in people's everyday engagements with precarization and crisis in (re)peripheralizing regions affected by "overheated" globalization.

Long Abstract

Global "overheating" (Eriksen) has led to a re-peripheralization of regions that earlier seemed to be attaining a prosperous, stable position in the world system. From Southern Europe to the US Deep South and other "internal peripheries", austerity, neoliberal place-making, and the precarization of labor have become hegemonic political answers to systemic change (Friedman). This panel engages with instances of people resisting against, as well as coping with, the ways their lives become restructured as a consequence. Of particular interest are how local strategies of coping and resistance in these regions are dialectically intertwined: everyday strategies of coping can make people turn away from political engagement; the capitalist logic of competition looming over any livelihood enterprise can threaten to undermine political solidarity - yet at another point in time, the only way of coping in daily life becomes resistance and the only way to sustain political solidarity is through building economic alternatives. What determines when alternative work arrangements (cooperatives, ecological farming) lead to political mobilization challenging the wider system, or, on the contrary, become caught in securing a continued daily life under the new conditions? How can we explain the paradox in various (re)peripheralizing regions where a proud regional history of political resistance is claimed while people simultaneously articulate a strong sense of hopelessness regarding the possibility of directing social change? And what kind of "silencing" of relational histories (Sider and Smith) - concerning political struggle, political economy, or both - occurs in favour of either coping or resistance?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Destabilizing the European austerity debate: lessons from labour in post-crisis South Korea

Author: Elisabeth Schober (University of Oslo)  email

Short Abstract

Austerity, in the way it is commonly understood, is made out to be a quintessentially Western tale. By looking at the impact of the 1997 crisis on South Korean labour, I suggest a conceptual framework that allows us to think of European austerity as yet another instance of a wider global trend.

Long Abstract

Austerity, in the way it is commonly understood nowadays, is made out to be a quintessentially Western tale, with the Euro-crisis in particular coming to mind. But the understandings packed into this term have a longer historical trajectory, and over the course of the 20th century have come to interact with significantly larger geographical areas than we now often envision. In this paper, I shall use the "Hope Bus Movement" that erupted in South Korea in 2011 to investigate the longer-term impact of the 1997 financial crisis on Korean labour. Similarly to Southern Europeans, who were recently subjected to moralizing claims about their putative laziness, affected Asian populations were during the wake of that earlier crisis told that the downturn was essentially of their own making. Curiously enough, in the most recent round of austerity affecting Europe, South Korea would also come to play a role in public debates, with the image of obedient Koreans who "took the bullet" of austerity in the 1990s being dragged in to discipline European workers who were seemingly in need of reprimand. In contrast to such a usage of the 1997-crisis as a tool to teach Europeans how austerity is to be done, the East Asian way, I suggest a conceptual framework that allows us to think of both European and Korean austerity as instances of one wider global trend. This, I believe, also enables us to draw lessons from the way South Korean labour activists have actually sought to resist structural adjustment.

"All hail the hustle": conundrums of solidarity in the entrepreneurial city

Author: Tilde Siglev (Central European University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores attempts at localised forms of empowerment and the challenges of forming alliances of solidarity amongst residents and small NGOs in post-Katrina New Orleans where entrepreneurialism has become hegemonic as both growth strategy and managerial instrument.

Long Abstract

After hurricane Katrina, entrepreneurialism as a growth strategy and urban managerial instrument has become the hegemonic, political answer to industrial decline in New Orleans, which since the mid '80s has left the city to rely mainly on its tourism and service industry. Ten years after the storm, efforts to rebuild and 'reposition the city's brand' as the entrepreneurial hub of the US South by boosting small tech start-ups and offering generous tax exemptions for the movie industry, have dubbed New Orleans both 'the silicon bayou' and 'the Hollywood of the South' in various media outlets. Meanwhile, the past decade of urban restructuring and neoliberalization has elucidated the contradictions of 'entrepreneurialism as governance' as the acceleration of processes of gentrification and public disinvestment has further dispossessed already marginalised neighbourhoods and residents.

Drawing on research amongst small NGOs in the Lower Ninth Ward, this paper inquires into attempts at localised forms of empowerment and rebuilding complicated by internal competition for funding capital and volunteer labour as residents and actors working towards securing basic amenities for the public in the neighbourhood are required to act as enterprises within a reconfigured regional economy of competitive entrepreneurialism. Furthermore, I discuss the challenges of forming alliances of solidarity based on 'the community', which as the predominant claim, is continually contested amidst rapid demographic and spatial change.

Comparing rural livelihood transitions in the Catalan and Sardinian regions of Europe and the Appalachian region of the United States

Authors: Ann Kingsolver (University of Kentucky)  email
Ismael Vaccaro (McGill University)  email
Domenica Farinella (University of Cagliari)  email

Short Abstract

A comparison based on long-term ethnography of rural economic transitions in Sardinia, Italy, the Catalan/Pyrenees region of Spain, and Appalachian USA describes collective strategies, including agricultural and heritage tourism, to mediate precarity.

Long Abstract

The collaborators are engaged in comparative research on economic transition discussions in rural regions in Spain, Italy, and the U.S. The very different roles of the state, and the effects of those differences, are among the factors compared in this discussion of regional rural livelihood transitions from waning dominant industries in three contexts. The Catalan/Pyrenees region of Spain, Sardinia in Italy, and the Appalachian region of the U.S. (particularly Appalachian Kentucky) will be introduced briefly through the lens of fifty years of modernist development policies and neoliberal restructuring leaving a postindustrial landscape in which residents of each region have been engaged recently in transition strategies for sustainable livelihoods. In some of the cases being presented, regional development initiatives have been quite strong and supported by the state; in others, rural residents have been doing this work largely without the engagement of the state. Examples of attempts to connect communities through regional strategies to support livelihoods and identities will be compared between the three contexts, and the potential for sharing strategies across rural regions in different national contexts will be discussed. Economic precarity of individual rural households is mediated by collective economic development strategies, particularly through agricultural and heritage tourism, with varying success across these three regions.

“Adjusting to the adjustment”: labor pre-carity, private sector, and coping in Havana, 2010-2015

Authors: Dachely Valdes Moreno (University of Havana)  email
Hope Bastian Martinez (Colegio San Geronimo de la Habana)  email

Short Abstract

Despite Cuba’s Revolutionary past, labor pre-cariety in the neoliberal present forces households to leave the state sector & engage with the previously stigmatized private sector in search of living wages. Generational perspectives of justice condition household coping strategies and work decisions.

Long Abstract

Since its 1959 Revolution Cuba has been known for its long

history of political resistance and radical social policy. The collapse of the

Soviet Union left the island untethered and reeling from the effects of the US

embargo. During the economic and social crisis that ensued, the Cuban state

enacted neoliberal reforms with some positive economic effects, but by 2008

the recovery had ended. In April 2011 the Cuban Communist Party approved a

new package of measures, known as “the Adjustment,” which signaled a

radical change in paradigm. Since the 1990s the contradiction between the

state’s political discourse and its limited ability to deliver has alienated large

parts of the population. In the early 2010s the state began to align its promises

to the population with its pragmatic ability to deliver.

New policies aimed to reduce state expenditures. In October 2010 the labor

federation announced that half a million state workers would be laid off in six

months. Low salaries in the state sector, where the majority of Cubans work,

have pushed families to develop survival strategies that combine the labor of

multiple members of a household across multiple economic spaces. I explore

how individuals and households feel about moving into the previously

stigmatized private sector as political discourses shift. What are the

advantages and disadvantages of working for the state or self-employment

and how does generation influence the meaning people give to their insertion

in the labor market?

"Entrepreneurialism" ideology and declining politics: the cases of the Vale do Ave (Portugal) and Veneto (Italy)

Authors: Carmen Leidereiter (Universitat de Barcelona)  email
Giacomo Loperfido (Universitat de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

This paper ethnographically explores the space of “the political” as a strategy of resistance/redemption and the emergent economic coping strategies attendant to declining entrepreneurialism.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on two regions of Southern Europe: the Vale do Ave, Portugal, and Veneto, Italy. In these sites, current sociality appears as the historical product of both a short but intense integration into global markets, and a recent, rapid re-peripheralization, compounded by troika-mandated austerity. We examine the peculiar articulation between historically embedded forms of state intervention, entrepreneurialism, and the surprising absence of political reactions to the crisis. We question how, by harnessing historically instituted notions of self-reliability, an ideology of "entrepreneurialism" might produce both political disengagement and economic competition simultaneously. Within this frame, identity-making appears to be increasingly encompassed by the symbolic repertoires of individual production, consumption and economic competition, while the domain of "the public" is relegated to a marginal role. Focusing on institutionally promoted entrepreneurialism projects allows for investigating 1) the processes of state withdrawal from social reproduction responsibilities, and 2), what entrepreneurialism does in terms of effectively dismantling the possibility for class-based solidarity and collective bargaining. As the state ceases to be the entity to which claims are addressed, individual economic action becomes invested with the moral value of hard, self-reliable work. But what happens when persistent decline as currently witnessed renders such aspirations factually unachievable? An institutionally sustained moral infrastructure seems to underpin entrepreneurialism's aspirational momentum, despite its apparent decreasing ability to provide the upward mobility conventionally expected of it. This paper ethnographically explores the space of "the political" as a strategy of resistance/redemption and the emergent economic coping strategies attendant to declining entrepreneurialism.

Between self-sufficiency and survival: the commodification of "volunteer" labour on organic farms in rural Portugal

Author: Sharan Kaur  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how leftist and environmentalist activists from the north of Europe attempt to build alternative livelihoods through organic farms in rural Portugal, but must exploit the new conditions of precarious labour which they themselves sought to escape in order to survive.

Long Abstract

In both hegemonic and counterhegemonic arenas, voluntaristic and cooperative workplace relations are currently promoted as a salve to the spiralling costs of living and decreasing job opportunities in the declining West. This paper problematises the assumption that the growing popularity of online casual labour agencies linking 'volunteers' and 'interns' with small enterprise owners around the world - such as WWOOF, WorkAway, and HelpX - inherently contributes to reformist or radical leftist visions of alternative, solidarity, social, or human economies. Instead I consider how the centralisation of "voluntary" labour to a primary form of social organisation in three organic and sustainable livelihood projects in rural Portugal comes to constitute a survival strategy for disenfranchised northern Europeans attempting to secure a meaningful existence under the new conditions. Specifically I explore how social relations between owners and 'volunteers' are marked by the "productivity, competition, and profitability demands of the hegemonic system" (Narotzky 2012: 247) whilst constantly seeking to exceed those constraints in efforts to prove that another world is possible. I argue that the owners' experiments with commodification of 'voluntary' labour relations reveals a common tension between social ideals in the green scene and the economic realities of life in the margins. In doing so I underscore the need for further historically and politically situating notions of solidarity, voluntarism, and cooperation within the wider hegemonic context of flexible and affective modes of late capitalism.

Contested cooperatives: intersections of State, family, and collective labor in rural Greece

Author: Valentini Sampethai (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at fishing cooperatives in rural Greece as part of a triptych made up of collective labor, the state, and the institution of the family, and explores the shifting dynamics of resistance and adaptation between these elements in the context of the current crisis.

Long Abstract

This paper draws from fieldwork with fishing cooperatives in rural Greece. It looks at cooperativism as a contested notion, examining the cooperatives in their entanglement with the institutions of the state and the family, rather than as an alternative work arrangement. Cooperatives emerge as the object of political technologies where state power is effected; struggles for access to resources are a key point where different relations between the state and the producers were molded, from clientelism to competitive auctions pitting cooperatives against each other and trapping them into indebtedness.

Second, it is shown that the alliance between households and cooperatives constitutes a strategy for the social reproduction of both the former and the latter. Cooperatives offer opportunities for family members to work and make a small income, also providing products for self-consumption. In turn, the family constitutes an important source of labor power, enabling the mobilization of its members in tasks around the co-op through lines of authority based on gender and age. These dynamics are approached in their historicity, but also in their added importance as a coping mechanism that partly protects people from the precariousness of the current economic crisis.

Overall, the paper assesses the role of cooperative labour in people's efforts to secure control over work and escape the insecurity, alienation, and bad working conditions they encounter elsewhere; in this, dependency towards the state and the banks and internal relations of authority based on familial gender and age divisions have substantial effects.

Silencing crisis: young people's way of engaging the Greek crisis in their everyday life

Author: Marie Emilie Sørensen  email

Short Abstract

Based on resent fieldwork in Greece, this paper discusses how young people engage with crisis by silencing it, thereby allowing themselves to continue daily life as normal as possible, but at the same time preventing themselves from resisting effectively.

Long Abstract

This paper addresses a tendency among young Greeks to disengage from politics in the face of crisis. Even though there is profound anger and young people are especially impacted by austerity policies and structural adjustments, this does not lead to political resistance.

Based on fieldwork among young people in a working class neighbourhood in Athens in spring 2014, this paper discusses how young people tended to engage with crisis and austerity policies by withdrawing from politics and denying crisis.

With their working conditions getting still more precarious, I was surprised to see how little room the crises seemed to take up in their lives; they referred to crisis with ironic comments doubting its reality and kept telling each other how normal things were. According to them life continued as always with people shopping and filling the cafes. Crisis was felt, but they tended to ignore it, accentuating aspects of normality, and in the paper I analyse this as a practise of silencing the crisis.

Young people were fare from contend, and anger against the political system was widespread, but any action was considered futile and instead they withdrew. This paper therefore argues that silencing crisis is a way of coping with a situation considered impossible to change. It allows young people to continue their daily life as normal as possible, but it does nothing to alter the condition of material insecurity or resist the policies of crisis.

Rurality, 'survival ability' and social change: resisting and coping precarization in a peripheralizing region

Author: Anja Decker (LMU Munich)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on data from fieldwork in Western Czechia the paper elaborates how in a peripheralizing CEE region, concepts of rurality are linked to ideas of 'survival ability', creating an interpretational frame for coping and resisting the precarization of the regional living conditions.

Long Abstract

In Central Eastern Europe the globalized capitalism produces new and increases existing peripheries. Building on material from several months of fieldwork in a region of the Czech Republic that is experiencing an increasing precarization of labour, this paper elaborates how residents of several rural communities experience, cope and resist these developments. A close look to their narrations and practices of their everyday-arrangements reveals, how coping strategies such as food-self-provisioning, self-mobilization and subsistence production are based on distinct, milieu-bound ideas of rurality and on conflicting social norms of the decent rural resident. By linking their self-ascribed 'survival ability' to these concepts of rurality and by contrasting it to their perceptions of urban coping possibilities, they create interpretative frames to negotiate their social positions within the current capitalist world-order. Concerning political change the linkage of rurality and 'survival ability' is ambivalent: On the one hand it opens space to come to terms with status losses and migration pressure while staying within the logics of competition. On the other hand, it is applied to demand and to test models for solidary alternatives to the neoliberal market hegemony. Furthermore, bringing together rurality and 'survival ability' enables symbolic resistance, subversion and self-efficacy, challenging the stigma of a rural population passively exposed to peripheralization. But within and across rural communities it is also a field of symbolic conflicts over the interpretive dominance of the good rural life, historical reference points and the claims to power over regional development.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.