ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

Engagement and disengagement in crisis: anthropology as a mutualist concern
Location Room 3
Date and Start Time 15 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 3


  • Antónia Pedroso de Lima ( ISCTE-IUL / CRIA ) email
  • Joao Pina-Cabral (University of Kent) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Dimitrios Theodossopolous (University of Kent)

Short Abstract

Economic crisis is spreading throughout Europe. Whilst old institutional frameworks of social support continue to guarantee daily survival, new configurations of mutuality are emerging. The panel will debate the results of the "crisis" and the ways it makes itself known to those who suffer it.

Long Abstract

Economic crisis is spreading throughout Europe, carrying with it the stagnation of public health, of educational, and of cultural services. As an increasingly part of the population is faced with a threat to its daily survival, the old institutional frameworks of social support continue to thrive and new configurations of mutuality are emerging. But silencing, systemic disengagement and denial of mutuality are equally prevalent. This process of "crisis" constitutes a fertile terrain for reflecting upon more general questions: the conditions of sociality, the meaning of labour and citizenship, the nature of social responsibility, the relation between national politics and the global economic system. Ironically, the effects of the "austerity" that produces the crisis become a central terrain for anthropological research just as they become central factors in the life cycle of the younger generations who are faced with increased job insecurity and economic instability.

Ethnography rend visible the frameworks of interpersonal and institutional relations that make possible both social support and social de-responsabilization. It analyses the ways in which the crisis affects people and their livelihoods, transforming them, their social networks, and their experienced viewpoints; constituting a critical perspective that overcomes the simplistic dichotomy between particular livelihoods and contemporary capitalism. This panel, we welcome papers dealing with any of the above topics, especially the way in which researcher and researched are deeply intertwined in mutual engagement and disengagement. We want to study the results of the "crisis" and the way it crisis makes itself known to those who suffer it.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Dancing la guerre: personal constitution and structural determination

Author: Joao Pina-Cabral (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

This paper takes a long term view of the way in which a century of recurrent 'crises' has affected family histories in Portugal. It is inspired in the idea that such crises are crises of fraternity and they come to assume a form of agency causing people to move in synchrony.

Long Abstract

Broad scale events - such as wars, epidemics, revolutions, economic recessions - affect people's lives in systemic ways. Personal ontogenesis comes to be deeply marked by the circumstances that open up or close desired possibilities. Constitutive mutuality is affected in determined ways, thus affecting the nature of the household, the family, the village, the nation, the EU.This paper takes a long term view of the way in which a century of recurrent 'crises' has affected family histories in Portugal. It is inspired in the concept proposed by the poet e.e.cummings that such crises are crises of fraternity and they come to assume a form of agency causing people to move in synchrony.

Style in crisis: "dancing away" the economic crisis in goth clubs

Author: Panas Karampampas (EHESS)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the economic crisis and its affects in the Athenian goth scene focusing on the ways of negotiation of clubbers and club owners to make their lifestyle viable through 'these difficult times'.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses the economic crisis making parallels with the Athenian and European goth scene. Ethnographic material is used from my research that was conducted in three different locations, Greece, England and Germany as well as in the cyberspace.

Saturday night is considered an opportunity to meet friends, flirt and "dance away" the weekly tension of work, school or university and the economic frugality. However, under the new economic terms, the institution of "Saturday night out" is being reconsidered by clubbers and club owners so that it survives as part of goth life style rather than to be turned into luxury. I argue that, even though the current economic crisis has been affecting both goth scene and its fans in different ways that will be analysed here, goth fans have been trying to find ways to negotiate this situation to keep the scene active and continue performing their goth identity as they used to do.

Which crisis? Discrepancies on the definition of what is in crisis

Author: Ana Carolina Balthazar (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

This paper intends to investigate the contrast between a local understanding of the contemporary crisis and the government’s official initiatives in Margate (UK), what seems to have culminated in the recent election of the United Kingdom Independence Party for 7 out of 8 seats in the local council.

Long Abstract

After the increase of international tourism at the second half of last century, Margate's economy (UK), intensely based in the tourism industry, crashed. Recently, in reaction to this situation, a plan was designed by the local government in order to economically and culturally regenerate the town. However, while the government defines Margate's crisis an economical one, something that can be solved with the development of a new tourism industry that will generate jobs, to my informants the risk lies in the ways this new tourism encourages narratives and changes that displace their memories of the town as a working class destination. Nostalgia and nationalism that are often used in the area as a tool for sociality are overshadowed by the government's concern with "interpreting the past in a way that is relevant for today". While governors understand they need to solve an economical problem, my informants protest against the danger of losing the culture that gives meaning to their lives. In relation with such events, the nationalist party UKIP increases support in recent local elections. This paper intends to experiment with conceptual affordances (Holbraad, Pedersen and Castro; 2014) of "crisis" and, further, discuss the level of engagement the researcher should have with the contrasting positions. The political intention here is not to commit to one of the contrasting discourses about what is in crisis but to the political quality that this "conceptual experiment" holds in itself.

To repay or not to repay. Patterns of inequality emerging from mortgage (over-)indebtedness in Spain

Author: Irene Sabaté (University of Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

The notion of household over-indebtedness is questioned in the light of the current wave of home repossessions in Spain. Attention is paid to the strategies used by households, either in order to keep up with repayments, or in order to find support for their decision to quit repaying.

Long Abstract

Since the beginning of the current economic crisis, over-indebtedness due to mortgage borrowing has been threatening many Spanish households with home repossessions.

As a common sense assumption, indebtedness turns into over-indebtedness whenever certain quantitative criteria are met, and thus a normative statement emerges: mortgage repayments should not surpass a certain percentage of income. In the real world, however, this reasoning reveals its weakness when unpredictable circumstances affect household budgets. Calculations made by households during the housing bubble have turned to be wrong as unemployment, illness or divorce -the most conspicuous examples of such unexpected events- have entered the scene.

Moreover, as it will be our main contention, financial vulnerability in the face of indebtedness is not a simple function of the availability of income during the changing cycles of the economy. Rather, different levels of indebtedness are to be understood in combination with a differential access to resources -other than income- that may help households to cope with hardship.

First, resources aiming at keeping up with repayments may include informal monetary help and non-economic resources, such as information or useful social connections. But also, at a certain stage, debtors may benefit less from aid to keep up with repayments, than from the advice to give them up, a decision that implies challenging the moral obligation to repay debts (Graeber 2011).

In our view, the availability of this diversity of resources needs to be considered in order to understand the patterns of social inequality derived from mortgage over-indebtedness under finance capitalism.

The free market bureaucracy: neoliberalism, mutuality and healthcare in The Netherlands

Author: Erik Bähre (Universiteit Leiden)  email

Short Abstract

Dutch neoliberal government policy introduced the personal budget with which long-term ill and handicapped people could purchase care on the market. This paper examines the experiences, moralities and ideologies of the personal budget.

Long Abstract

In the 1980s the dutch government introduced the Persoonsgebonden Budget (PGB). The expectation was that long-term ill and handicapped people would receive cash with which they could by care on the market. The neoliberal assumptions and the associated practices as experienced by those that were entitled to these budget will be presented in this paper. The paper examines the expectations of the dutch government regarding the market and mutual help, the way in which the recipients of the budget deal with the moral and practical dimensions of mutualities and markets, as well as the way in which people are confronted in sometimes complex bureaucratic procedures. This paper introduces the concept of the 'free market bureaucracy' to understand this relationship.

The paper is based on a study carried out with Diny van Est of the Netherlands Court of Audit.

The uses of mutualism in the Italian recovered factories movement

Authors: Giovanni Orlando (University of Turin)  email
Francesca Forno (University of Bergamo)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at the recovered factories movement in Italy as a contribution to the study of (re)new(ed) forms of mutualism, especially in response to the erosion of the welfare state, chronic unemployment and the delocalisation of productive activities.

Long Abstract

The Bretton Woods era was characterised by the expansion of markets, the building of public mutuality in the form of welfare states, and the displacement of socio-environmental externalities to peripheral countries. The neoliberal era saw a radicalisation of market expansion and peripheral displacement, but also the beginning of the welfare state’s erosion and the backflow of externalities to core countries. These processes are symbolised by loss of labour rights, unemployment and delocalisation. The economic stagnation and austerity policies that have followed the 2008 crisis have escalated the “precarization” of labour. In its wake, attempts at increasing grassroots mutuality have been emerging throughout Europe. This paper explores the recovered factories movement in Italy. While the Argentinian case is seminal, workers’ recoveries have recently developed also in France, Greece and Italy. Mutualism is at the centre of this movement in at least two ways, which constitute our main avenues of inquiry. Firstly, mutualism in the form of the self-management ideal. By looking at recent cases of recovery in Italy, we wish to understand the role played by mutualistic values in motivating workers to recover a failed business. Secondly, mutualism as the basis of alliances with other social movements. We also want to comprehend how these values are called upon to establish collaborations with other movements that build on similar egalitarian ideals, such as the solidarity economy one, both domestically and internationally. The paper will contribute to an understanding of the grassroots forces that counteract the market by strengthening the sphere of mutuality.

Familial citizens: from the public to the domestic (and all the way back)

Author: Elisabeth Kirtsoglou (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

Familial Citizens questions the limits, meaning and political function of the domestic and the public in crisis-ridden Greece.

Long Abstract

This paper explores critically the role of the family in the context of the Greek 'crisis'. As kin relations become means of coping with the crisis, thereby decompressing public dissatisfaction with the role of the State and political elites, the family offers itself once again as a familiar metaphor of citizenship. A closer examination of personal stories and narratives however, reveals that local actors present a tendency to separate the nation from the state, embracing the former as they negate, deconstruct and mistrust the latter. The nation comes to personify the domestic, the familiar and the familial, while the State becomes associated, not with the public, but with the foreign, the alien, the hostile and the treacherous. In this context, family becomes the locus of the 'politics of the poor' and of their 'micro-politics' of resistance. Kin groups, but also the-nation-as-family (fellow Greeks) conspire against the state, exhibiting an anthropologically familiar collective ethos of 'self-interest', that might be fiscally perilous for the state, but helps families (and by extension 'the nation') to survive the critical times of austerity. Familial Citizens is a paper that moves between the domestic and the public questioning not only their distinction but their very meaning and political function in the cultural context of crisis-ridden Greece.

Solidarity and charity in times of crises: mutuality, responsible citizanship, the church and the state in Portugal

Author: Antónia Pedroso de Lima ( ISCTE-IUL / CRIA )  email

Short Abstract

In times of Crisis people engage in innovative forms of collaboration to ensure reproduction. From an ethnographic study of every-day strategies to get by in Portugal I argue that overcoming disposition produced by austerity produces new forms of inequality.

Long Abstract

Portugal is undergoing a wide socio-economic crisis (with increasing rates of unemploymentand immigration , low family income, and a growing aged population) with rigid austerity long term policies. Faced with the failing capability of state care systems to continue to provide support, people (re)turn to informal ways to overcome their precarious situation creating new forms of colaboration and solidarity.

By setting extremely precarious ways of living, the 'state of emergency' Portugal lives in, stimulates creativity and innovation not only at the economic but in the social and moral realms as well. From an ethnographic study of every-day strategies to get by in Portugal, in this paper I will analyze how people deal with the uncertainty produced by austerity policies and ensure their subsistence. This paper will debate how informal practices driven by collective responsibility sometimes support national economies in uncertainty contexts produced in uncertainty contexts produced in times of crises.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.