Portugal and austerity: what European model?

In today’s blog post, Roberto Falanga and Simone Tulumello describe the trajectory of Portuguese austerity politics, from the post-crash bailout. Portugal is often held up as an example of anti-austerity politics, especially by the left in other countries. Roberto and Simone argue while it is correct that the left coalition is reverting austerity policies, it does so under contradictory conditions that call for a broader rethinking of the European model if the approach taken until now is to be sustainable.

The Memorandum of Understanding for the 3-year economic adjustment programme in Portugal was signed in May 2011 under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund, European Commission, and European Central Bank (the so-called Troika). The bailout package of 78€ million provided to the country was agreed by the three mainstream parties – the majority made up of the Social Democratic and Popular parties, and the Socialist party in the minority – to consolidate domestic finances and improve international competitiveness against the increasing vulnerability of the country to the effects of the global crisis.

Preceded by preliminary rounds of austerity (the Programmes of Stability and Growth, Programas de Estabilidade e Crescimento) imposed by the European Union to the socialist government led by José Socrates, the intervention of the Troika between 2011 and 2014 imposed significant pro-cyclical fiscal consolidation measures (like in Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, and Spain, where similar Memoranda were signed in the same period). At the local level, for instance, fiscal retrenchment entailed reduction of administrative units, state grants (about 60% of local revenue), municipality staff, municipal-owned enterprises, while decreasing local debt and enhancing new mechanisms for risk management control, reporting and monitoring (Teles, 2016).

Against the negative effects of the austerity measures on social, economic and political life (economic recession, increasing unemployment, impoverishment of large sectors of civil society, emigration of young and high-skill generation, private housing speculation, etc.), protests and social mobilisation erupted in the peak of the crisis between 2011 and 2012. Labour unions and political parties at the end of the left spectrum tended to support movements (e.g. ‘Indignados’, ‘Que se lixe a Troika’, etc.) and civic networks (e.g. the ‘Congresso Democrático das Alternativas’ composed of people from trade unions, left-wing parties, researchers and social movements). In this period, public interest over large payroll tax increases – and more broadly austerity measures – grew and key institutional actors like the Constitutional Court directly challenged the government and pushed the suspension of austerity measures, like Labour Code amendments.

Portuguese mobilisation spread after decades of low participation in political life and within a global scenario in motion, with the ‘Arab Spring’ and the Spanish occupations in Madrid rising interest and concern worldwide. This notwithstanding, when compared to neighbour countries like Spain and Greece, protests, occupations and strikes in Portugal attracted less public than expected and did not produce new ‘anti-system’ groups. According to Caldas (2012), this was due to an increasing alienation from politics and representatives, perceived as corrupt and dishonest, which exacerbated historical trends of disaffection with political institutions and representatives (De Sousa et al., 2014). Moury and Standring (2017) explain that alienation of grassroots movements and self-organised groups was the result of the government attitude against social partners and professional bodies, placed before austerity as a fait accompli.

The reasons behind the growing mistrust towards the political class, as well as towards protests at occasion perceived as controlled by labour unions and political parties (Observatory for the Quality of Democracy report 2012), should be searched in the way the adjustment programme was implemented. Disaffection in civil society was coupled by discontent among business sectors (for instance, due to the rise of the valued added tax), and within party ranks of both government coalition and opposition. The major mainstream party at the opposition, the Socialist party, decided to stop supporting the government in 2012 by voting against amendments to the 2012 budget and the 2013 budget, in a time when pools on voting intentions gave it an edge over the centre-right coalition (De Giorgi et al., 2015).

Despite the attempts to persuade society on the need of austerity through the TINA (‘There Is No Alternative’) rhetoric and blame shifting communication strategy on previous administrations (Fonseca and Ferreira, 2015), confidence on government dropped-off. Alienation from the political sphere reached the highest abstention rates since 1979 in the 2013 local elections (47.4 %; preceded by 41.9% in 2011 and followed by 44.1% of abstention in 2015 in legislative elections). Noticeably, abstention resulted positively associated to lower socioeconomic resources and educational skills, furthering the exclusion of the most vulnerable groups from public decision (OECD, 2015).

It is worth noting that the blurring borders between institutional and non-institutional spheres have always characterised political life in the country. If compared to neighbour countries social mobilisation was weaker, this may have been compensated by easier transference of ideas and instances between movements and parties, as the same actors often played multiple roles. As a result, in contrast to the growth of anti-system groups, like in Spain and Greece, political parties tended to incorporate social claims, taking ahead political strategies  that eventually prepared the field for the ‘Geringonça’ to be in power from 2015.

The term Geringonça means something with an instable structure (and few chances to be durable in time), and is informally used to describe the coalition between the Socialist, the Communist, and the Left Block parties that is currently governing the country. The coalition, emerged from the initial impasse for the formation of the national government after the legislative elections in 2015, has a peculiar character: the left-wing parties do not take part in the government, but form, together with the governing Socialist party, the parliamentary majority. This situation has brought the parliament back into the core of political action, in that every governmental proposal needs to go through the negotiation with the Communist and Left Block parties – and in some cases with the centre-right parties, in the name of ‘large agreements’ and ‘stability’.

Amid the deep recessionary effects of the austerity policies, the dismantling of the welfare regime, the crisis of corporatist traditions and the interruption of secular trends of greater equality and inclusion, the new majority declared its intention to revert the austerity agenda implemented between 2011 and 2014 – though with significant contradictions. The priority has been restoring the purchasing power of workers and civil servants – for instance, by reverting the tax increases and the extension of the work week from 35 to 40 hours put in place by the previous government. Though some economists and experts have been criticising these measures,[1] 2016 and 2017 have seen a fast economic growth, giving the government the possibility to keep up with the expansionary agenda as well as maintaining good financial fundamentals.[2]

However, some fundamental contradictions persist. On the one hand, the economic growth is based on exportations and, expressively, the boom of tourism, and doubts persist on its sustainability in the long run. On the other hand, amid the Socialist will to not break up with European conditionality, the investment in purchasing power has meant that virtually no action has been put in place so far to revert the dismantling of the welfare state of the previous years – the national health system, housing policy and public transport are possibly the fields where austerity hit the hardest. While ongoing discussions for the 2018 budget seem to signal a renewed attention to the welfare state, particularly in the field of health[3] and housing (a ‘New Generation of Housing Policies is ongoing public discussion), it seems to us that the potential for consolidating a different path to development lies exactly in the engagement with the contradictions we highlighted, which is quite unlikely in absence of a more general rethinking of European institutions and mainstreams.

While many in Europe are pointing at Portugal as the evidence that the austerity (and neoliberal) hegemony may start their path to decline, we believe Portuguese successes and contradictions point toward the need for a deeper questioning of the European model of development.

Roberto Falanga and Simone Tulumello, are Postdoctoral Research Fellows, at the Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa

[1] The Post-Programme of Surveillance initiated in May 2014 in order to monitor economic, fiscal and financial policies in Portugal stress spread weakness in labour market, public administration, and judicial system inter alia. The programme also critically observes the reverse of some previous reforms, as the return to the 35 hours working week in civil service; the increase of public employment via new hiring policies; the reduction of VAT for food at restaurants; backtracking in reforming state-owned enterprises and concessions negatively affecting the capacity to attract foreign direct investment.

[2] The Ministry of Finances, Mario Centeno, has even been included among the potential leaders of the Eurogroup.

[3] See http://expresso.sapo.pt/sociedade/2017-10-14-Orcamento-para-a-saude-aumenta-44.

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Book Debate: The End of Representative Politics?

Today we publish a two part blog on Professor Simon Tormey’s book “the End of Representative Politics“. In this work Tormey argues that narratives of democratic decline are too tightly focused on representative forms of politics, and thus conceal processes of politicisation and democratisation outside the purview of representative institutions. Tormey’s opening statement in part 1 is followed by a reply by CURA’s Adrian Bua in part 2, asking Simon to expand upon the democratising potential of “post-representative” forms of politics.

Part 1: Simon Tormey on the End of Representative Politics

For nearly half a century political science has been gripped by “the crisis of democracy”. After a period in which liberal democracy seems to be in rude health with high turnouts for elections, mass political parties, and high level of interest in and knowledge about politics, citizens seem to have turned off and tuned out.

2016 gave us a partial correction of this image of apathy and indifference with the emergence of populist movements and leaders. The reinvigoration of politics as it least a talking point in many households off the back of Brexit, Trump et al. Some parties, notably the Labour Party, also bucked the trend in managing to recruit a new generation of enthusiastic young members.

Yet political scientists remain gloomy about the overall trend. Many note the lack of engagement in for example sub and supranational elections. Others note the “easy come, easy go” nature of our political affiliations, our fluctuating preferences, low boredom threshold, and the inconsistency of the manner by which we engage as participants. Many also note that populism arises not out of renewed interest in politics, but it’s opposite: frustration with mainstream politicians, technocrats, experts, representatives of all stripes.  In short we should not be sanguine about the future of democratic participation because of populism. On the contrary, populism should be a wake-up call for all of us concerning the health and well-being of our democracies.

Looking back over the relevant literature three variables have been explored by political scientists to explore the problem: the lack of civic engagement, the decadence of the political class, and the deathly grip of neoliberalism and austerity politics.   Depending on one’s intuition about the matter and reading of the relevant data, the solutions flow from the diagnosis:  increasing civic education, understanding and knowledge of political institutions; better training, payment and preparation of the political class; acknowledging the complicity of market based strategies and privatisation in the emptying out the public realm.

This is all quite persuasive at one level.  However there is something missing in this puzzle, and this is the representative function itself.  What I argued in The End of Representative Politics (polity, 2015) is that we have arrived at a moment when we need to look more closely at how representation itself works, and for whom. My reasoning is that the core elements that historically compose the representative claim:  commonality of interest, identities or ideologies is under stress as we move from societies marked by stable hierarchies, respect for tradition, for elites toward societies marked by “individualisation”, flatter or even horizontal social structures, and a consequent erosion of the traditional basis for authority, a respect for hierarchy.

Sociologists regard these developments almost invariably in negative terms.   They represent the loss of the kinds of society they grew up in and have done well in: societies in which there is a deep respect for, for example, academics and professionals we have special claim to knowledge and insight. On the other hand, what it means is a different  way of relating to politics and a different repertoire of political engagement. Henrik Bang uses the term “everyday makers” to describe the emergence of new kinds of political actor who do not wish to be represented by others, who are not satisfied by a periodic engagement with the electoral process, and with the assignment of the capacity to act to representatives.

In my own fieldwork in Spain, this sense of impatience with representation was all too evident. It’s an impatience borne by a strong belief that politics should be about individuals joining together to help themselves rather than to be passive recipients of something whether that be welfare, jobs or whatever. But what also became evident is that a mistrust of mainstream politics need not necessarily lead to apathy or indifference. Nor does it have to lead to populism, or at least the kinds of populism that we associate with Trump and Brexit.   It can lead to the development of an imaginative repertoire of new kinds of political action, initiatives which led me to describe Spain as “a political laboratory”. It’s a laboratory where citizens conduct the experiments. It is one where what was considered impossible yesterday becomes quite possible today, whether it be the creation of pop-up parties, Twitter-led citizen insurgencies, a proliferation of direct action groupings of every stripe and colour, or latterly the election of “unelectable” radical figures, notably Ada Colau and former communist Manuela Carmena.

And so we arrive full-circle.  Representative politics is not dead. It is not even dying. It is mutating and changing. With the emergence of new kinds of political subjectivity armed with new tools for individualised collective action, we are seeing “everyday makers” move from the periphery of political life to the centre. Whether the emergence of a more active citizenry and of institutions better attuned to their needs succeeds over the counterveiling forces that so preoccupy political scientists is needless to say far from a formality.

But nor can we go back.  The Golden Age of representative politics is long past.  Either we reformulate democracy in terms that are more engaging and inclusive for citizens or we can anticipate continued gains by those for whom democracy is a means to their own advancement, rather than to an improvement in how we govern ourselves.

Part 2: Reply by Adrian Bua

There is much to agree with the argument set out in Simon’s book. First, it is a refreshing departure from narratives about democratic decline that do not sufficiently recognise the importance of the politics that occur outside of the purview of traditional institutions. Second, underpinning his argument is an understanding that democracy is a highly adaptable system, shape-shifting in reflection of social balances of power. Third, The End of Representative Politics does not attempt armchair design of institutions intended to “fix” the system – the big changes the book traces do not come from blueprints, but emerge from dynamics that exist in the present. For these reasons Simon’s book is necessary reading for those thinking about how to shape a more democratic future.

In my response I ask Simon to extend his argument in one area: that of the massive challenges that democratising projects face contemporarily. In doing so, I will focus on issues related the third variable that Simon identifies in the literature – that of neoliberalism and austerity politics. Specifically, I question whether new forms of post-representative and progressive politics pose a threat to the deeply de-democratising trajectory  of contemporary capitalism. My challenge is that whilst Simon’s work is indeed refreshing in challenging ubiquitous decline narratives, it runs the danger of Pollyannaism absent a clear account of how post-representative politics can challenge the deepening and expanding capitalist system.

One way to cast this challenge is the development of plutonomy – an idea developed by Citibank in the mid noughties to reassure its equity clients that global prosperity was not threatened by widening inequality, and would not again depend on a redistributive fix akin to the post-war settlement.  A decade on, and following the global financial crash the move toward global plutonomy seems to me to be alive and well – and also seems to dwarf post-representative politics.

The democratic spaces that Simon identifies emerge at a time when the space for politics is unprecedentedly constrained by the imperative to protect appease capitalist markets. Responses to the crash by nation states and global state institutions have been designed to insulate neo-liberalism and austerity from democracy.  The increased use of coercive enforcement does point at a crumbling hegemony – neo-liberalism resorts to the hard hand of state power to protect accumulation as it can rely less on popular consent or acquiescence. In the face of a phenomenal expansion of protest movements, the austerity state has developed measures for policing and criminalizing protest. Simon would be right to argue that these are signs of a system struggling to cope and with and control new political dynamics. However, absent an alternative capable of mobilising protest and governing it seems to me that evanescence – one of the features of post-representative politics identified by Simon in his book – is all we can expect. Without moving from protest to effective proposition two outcomes seem likely: for neo-liberalism to continue on in its de-democratizing path, in zombie fashion and under the protection of the austerity state, or for it to be de-railed by authoritarian nationalism, or fascism.

Developments in Spain, described by Simon and colleagues in other work as a “political laboratory”, are indeed hopeful. Here we have an attempt by post-representative social movements to move into the representative state.  As well as the election of Ada Colau (Barcelona) and Manuela Carmena (Madrid) mentioned in Simon’s post, an impressive array of other major cities have elected administrations claiming to represent social movements. An array of policies are being implemented that advance minority rights, protect the welfare state, combat gentrification and experiment with participatory democracy. However, this politics is constrained by governance challenges linked to a hostile Spanish state that dutifully implements austerity measures, the development of policies that contradict international capital, and contemporarily, regional independentist movements that have arguably pushed social issues down the political agenda, and are being quashed in decidedly undemocratic and authoritarian fashion, by a reactionary government that mendaciously claims to be acting in protection of “democracy”.

In summary, I do not want to question the development of post-representative politics, but its ability to perform and deliver democratisation in the context briefly sketched here. Simon is right to reject nostalgia, and focus on emergent possibilities. The question I want to ask is linked to one posed by Simon at the end of the book – can post-representative politics transform their critical energy into a genuinely reforming political initiative? How can we expect radical democratic impulses of post representative politics to interact with the de-politicising, de-democratizing tendencies of increasingly authoritarian neoliberalism and, perhaps most importantly, its capacity for co-option and usurpation?

Simon Tormey is Professor and Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney

Adrian Bua is a researcher at the New Economics Foundation and at CURA

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Austerity Diasporas – Portugal and Migration

Lisa Rodan continues our “Austerity Diasporas” series, with a second post related to her ongoing PhD research into the experiences of Portuguese migrants affected by the 2008 crash and ensuing austerity. The first post focused on social changes leading up to the 2011 Austerity measures. In this post, Lisa describes the influence of migration on Portuguese culture and history, sharing some of the main messages emerging from her fieldwork with migrants in the UK.

Mass migration is a concept that has shaped Portugal since the 15th century. The cultural sentiment of saudade for that which is missing or lost echoes within literature, discourse and the very soul of the Portuguese. According to any Portuguese you will ever meet, saudade is untranslatable to those whose country has not been shaped by chronic partings and longings to return.

So what’s different now? Throughout my research, my respondents have all been quick to point out the answer. Of the 110,000 Portuguese who left their homeland in 2013, a third now had degrees. Graduate migration was double what it was 10 years earlier. According to Joana, 35, a molecular biologist who did her PhD in Spain before moving to London where she has just had her first child, this was a structural problem born during the golden years of early EU membership – “that explosion of university education was short-sighted,” she says, “the labour market couldn’t cope with all the graduates. For me, I love my country but what would I do there? There is nothing for me there professionally.”

“The middle class is dead” says the father of another of my respondents. A 60-year old doctor with two jobs and three children studying and working abroad, in his opinion it all started going wrong with the Euro. “This is no longer a localised crisis, where you can just migrate and establish new communities, it’s a global one and where is it felt most? In the same countries who only a generation ago were welcomed into the European ‘family’ with open arms.”

Levels of cynicism vary according to the individuals behind those statistics. Carrying values inherited from post-EU prosperity, they don’t talk of ‘migration’, which is associated with rural, uneducated movement, but ‘adventure’, ‘opportunities’ and ‘choice’. In some cases, historical class divisions are noticeable- about a quarter of my respondents claim “no-one had migrated before”. Further probing revealed they meant “no-one like me”. These are the descendants of factory owners, landowners or the long-standing urban middle classes. In other words, a section of Portuguese society that had generally left travelling abroad for work to poorer country folk. For most of my respondents however, migration is a vibrant part of their family history. Many have parents or grandparents who had travelled to work in French hotels or Swiss construction sites, often commuting between there and their families back in the villages of (mainly) northern Portugal.

Regardless of family background, what the current generation have in common is the expectation of a standard of living based on the model their parents were able to provide for them growing up. Plentiful opportunities for work, eating out, travel. “Not luxurious, but a good life” is the common refrain. The Erasmus university exchange scheme is often mentioned as a rite of passage, following a childhood of holidays around Europe. “We are children of the EU” says Nuno, 32, an architect with an Italian wife, “it feels more natural to make a life here in London than anywhere else.” He presents the crisis as a positive thing, facilitating his decision to leave.  Susana, 34, a nurse, agrees. “I didn’t have to come, I had a job. I just wanted a better one! One where I could grow, start my life. It’s not like it was in my father’s day, he had no education and had to leave just to find work so he could support us.”

Dancing around claims “it’s not about work” however, professional success is the narrative that dominates and is interwoven with frustration at the lack of opportunities to progress and have a comparative standard of living back home. Despite initially being firm to differentiate their experience of migration as distinct from earlier generations, as I got to know my respondents I began to note a continuity of experiences. Many people referred me to a cultural concept known as desenrascar– another of those enigmatic Portuguese expressions which is variously described as ‘getting by’, ‘making do’ or ‘hustling’. Nearly three quarters of the people I spoke to had parents who had worked outside of Portugal at some point in their lives. Of these, many of them were also the children of retornados– the name given to the three quarters of a million Portuguese who were repatriated from Portugal’s African colonies after her empire crumbled in the 1970s. “Angola, Mozambique…those countries were all part of Portugal at the time,” they tell me, “so it wasn’t really migration. It was just going somewhere else in Portugal to try your luck.” Even Joana with her PhD and criticism of Portugal’s unrealistic expectations of the 1990s later tells me about her family’s route from Guinea-Bissau and her siblings now scattered around the world, adding “that’s just the way it is in my family, you are expected to migrate…it’s more unusual if you don’t!”

I did not meet a single person who came to the UK without knowing of someone already here. Sometimes a distant cousin or a long-lost childhood friend, reunited through Facebook, but in several cases a close family member. The social, financial or practical support of existing communities in both London and Portugal established a form of transnational movement equally, or perhaps even more, connected to each other than at any time in the past. Digital communications, a product of the same raging technological progress that crippled economies and crushed social systems have enabled deeper continuities with home and more extensive local networks in the latest chapter in a long history of movement out of a periphery country towards the global centres of power.

Lisa Rodan is a third year PhD student in Social Anthropology at the University of Kent where she is working with three colleagues on an ESRC funded project entitled Household Survival in Crisis: Austerity and Relatedness in Greece and Portugal.

For the past 12 months Lisa has been carrying out ethnographic interviews with university educated, Portuguese people in their 20s, 30s and early 40s in London, supplemented by time spent in Portugal where she has been lucky to meet some of their families. In a series of posts Lisa will share her initial analysis of some key themes arising from her fieldwork data, which she began to collect in June 2016 just after the Brexit vote. These encounters have ranged from one-off interviews to valued friendships and time spent with each other’s families. The content of the series will be a very close reading of  fieldwork notes in their raw form. Lisa welcomes any input and suggestions from interested parties.

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Thinking Differently About Peri-urban Infrastructures

In today’s post, Valeria Gaurneros-Meza dn Steven Griggs report on the results of a two day workshop on peri-urban infrastructures hosted by CURA at DMU on May 2017.

Whether we are travelling to work on a train, flushing a toilet, turning on a light, or sending an email, our daily lives depend upon repeated interactions with multiple and complex systems of infrastructure. Yet few of us regularly stop to consider our reliance on such infrastructure and how it shapes our daily life – unless it is one of those days when these complex systems break down and we are immediately exposed to the costs and frustrations of their absence.

But, as we are only too aware, many communities pay such costs every day. Some live next to airports or under flight paths, or experience the ‘threat’ of development to their quality of life. Others live without access to water or sanitation, often forced to develop their own informal practices to substitute for poor or lack of provision. In fact, it is often these very communities that pay the costs for the provision of infrastructure, as they are uprooted to make way for the likes of international airports, or suffer the environmental costs of the new mining practices upon which infrastructure development relies.

This unequal politics of infrastructure provision has been widely recognised. Infrastructures are far from neutral tools or technologies. They are governing instruments that shape collective and individual behaviour. They are the products of social struggles, exercises of power and forms of resistance. Their governance cannot therefore be divorced from questions of democracy, citizenship, social justice and economic equality, as well as rival claims to knowledge and expertise.

With this in mind, shouldn’t we all think a little more about the infrastructure that inhabits our everyday lives? And if so, how? How do we think beyond the debates over the economic and engineering value of infrastructural investment that abound?

These questions formed part of the agenda of a two-day workshop held in May 2017 on governance and conflict in urban and peri-urban infrastructures, sponsored by CURA and the British Academy. Of course, many have grappled with such questions. Here we set out the potential avenues of inquiry that emerged in the course of discussions between participants at the workshop.

Learning from difference

The two-day workshop brought together scholars based in Britain and Mexico to exchange their experiences of researching in and around infrastructure projects in Europe and Latin America. Its starting point was the importance of comparison and exploring how we might learn by comparing difference – how different scales, contexts, histories and framings of issues may shed light on what we take for granted or force us to reconsider our ways of thinking.

Recognising complexity

Much of our discussion underlined the need to grapple with complexity. Complexity comes in different shapes and forms. It was identified in the varied relationships between citizen groups and state agencies which cut across different levels of government and local and international non-governmental organisations and social networks. It comes with different histories and the need to understand legal and other institutional traditions (such as ethnicity and identity) in shaping the forms taken by contestation and resistance. Finally, it is to be found in the mechanisms and strategies used to withhold power by elites and by grassroots groups in challenging those centres of power. Grappling with complexity has to be intrinsic in any understanding of communication mechanisms (i.e. dialogue, consultation, diffusion of ideas/knowledge, resistance), where simultaneous practices are undertaken by individuals and groups to maintain or fight domination without recourse to coercion and repression.

Exploring conflict

The study of conflict through its myriad forms exposes critical junctures in the investment in new infrastructures. We need a broad understanding, from the development of knowledge and expertise as a form of control to the barbarism of violence and repression prompted by state actors in collusion with big national and transnational corporations. Indeed, the role and value of legal knowledge was foregrounded not only as a vehicle to study conflict between capital elites and local communities, but also the capacities of resistance, the redistribution of power in infrastructural investments (if any), and their broader interrelationship with the environment and climate change.

Investigating spatial geographies

The spatialisation of politics is widely recognised. Processes of infrastructure development bring into being new political spaces. But to what extent does infrastructural investment enhance or blur the linkages between the rural-urban divide? Although there have been important debates on land use, production, and circulation of goods and services to define urbanism, one pressing area of inquiry is the interrelationship between urban-rural actors in their contestation and resistance to landscapes impacted by urbanisation.

Everyday practices

Infrastructures can provoke moments of conflict and crisis. But we should not ignore the everyday practices that surround infrastructures or compensate for them. These practices impact upon changes in production, consumption and the political institutions of localities experiencing major infrastructures. This focus on everyday practice and knowledge may well open up alternative opportunities for local tiers of government to challenge national decisions that have been overridden by global economic interests and for social mobilizations to potentially connect with broader environmental and social justice demands vis-à-vis economic compensations.

A new research agenda: infrastructures as political objects

Each of these new directions or avenues suggest the importance of viewing infrastructures as ‘political objects’ (to borrow from the recent study from Cole and Payre of ‘cities as political objects’). ‘Seeing’ infrastructure investment in this way leads us to spend time exploring the political discourse of infrastructures to understand: the contextualised rationales behind ethics, corruption and illicitness; governmental decisions and the simultaneous use of informal arrangements alongside expert knowledge; and the type of relationships and spaces built between social mobilisations, the state and the private sector. This offers us a future research agenda that cuts across global north and south dichotomies – an agenda that this network of researchers would like to pursue in the next few years.

The Workshop Participants

Vanesa Castan-Broto (Sheffield University)

Mercè Cortina-Oriol (DMU)

Dan Durrant (Bartlett School of Planning, UCL)

Jonathan Davies (DMU)

Adam Fishwick (DMU)

Armelle Gouritin (FLACSO-Mexico)

Steven Griggs (DMU)

Valeria Guarneros-Meza (DMU)

Graeme Hayes (Aston University)

Ibrahim Has (DMU)

David Howarth (Essex University)

Ernesto Isunza (CIESAS-Golfo)

Marcela Torres (FLACSO-Mexico)

Gisela Zaremberg (FLACSO-Mexico)

This blogpost was written by Valeria Guarneros-Meza and Steven Griggs, CURA members. The authors are grateful to the workshop participants for their contribution to the ideas developed in this post. All interpretations are of course the responsibility of the authors.

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Austerity Diasporas – Households in Crisis: Austerity, Migration and Family in Portuguese London

In today’s post Lisa Rodan introduces a series of publications on her ongoing PhD research into how Portuguese migrants understand their lives and experiences in relation to the political and social changes wrought by the 2008 financial crisis and the austerity measures that followed. For the past 12 months Lisa has been carrying out ethnographic interviews with university educated, Portuguese people in their 20s, 30s and early 40s in London, supplemented by time spent in Portugal where she has been lucky to meet some of their families. In a series of posts Lisa will share her initial analysis of some key themes arising from her fieldwork data, which she began to collect in June 2016 just after the Brexit vote. These encounters have ranged from one-off interviews to valued friendships and time spent with each other’s families. The content of the series will be a very close reading of  fieldwork notes in their raw form. Lisa welcomes any input and suggestions from interested parties.

Today’s blog, the first in a four-part series, will focus on social changes in Portugal leading up to the 2011 austerity measures. I will continue next month by reviewing how migration has shaped Portuguese history and what makes this latest wave different. Part three will look at London and how Portuguese migrants exist within it as a changing, global city in a time of European-wide austerity. Finally, I will discuss predictions for life after Brexit and how my research participants view recent positive changes in Portugal in terms of their own futures.

The following blog post is the first in the series on austerity and family – on the theme of “the changing role of the family / state in Portugal”.

“Things were going well, there was so much to do in Portugal, people were positive about their lives, their futures and then the crisis happened.” Carlos, 45

Carlos, 45, Lisbon, teacher turned IT consultant. Cecilia, 26, Vila Real, nurse. Sofia, 35, Porto, scientist[1]. Different worlds and stories but there is one thing they can all agree on- that they are a product of a ‘golden age’ of social and economic expansion in Portugal throughout the 1980s and 90s that no longer exists. These are the children of Europe, making their way in a very different world from the one their parents aspired to on their behalf. This was a world defined by prosperity, with education- via a proliferation of new universities all over the country- at its centre. The graduates of this expanded educational system form the backbone of a new middle class who found themselves with no place in the Portugal during the first decade of the 21st century.

Changing expectations is the key concept here. Values had transformed from the days of the Salazar dictatorship (1926-1974), and in the years following Portugal’s 1986 admission to the EU. Education was the key to an exciting new world where, for the first time, a ‘good life’ was accessible within Portugal, as long as one worked and studied hard for it. A long tradition of migration in search of a better standard of living, albeit through low paying jobs, was being turned on its head in favour of a prosperous future at home.

This new middle class, many of them the children of migrants who had returned to Portugal during the ‘golden years’, saw their expectations for a life different to that of their parents diminish before their eyes when austerity measures crippled the Portuguese economy in 2011. The industries worst hit were represented by thousands of unemployed graduates in nursing, teaching and construction- graduates who would now join the traditionally less educated migrant groups in seeking their fortune elsewhere.

The older ones I’ve spoken to are still angry. They remember what life was like before, although their anger has significantly diminished in the six years since the hardest repercussions of austerity were felt. However, it is the under 40s who have crossed my path more, and they define their experience as fleeing the prospect rather than experience of unemployment or stagnant careers. Expectations have once again changed in the ten years following the financial crash and again and again I am confronted by stoicism, a confidence in their ability as Europeans to find a way around the challenges of Brexit, but most of all a hope for the future rooted in trust in the same educational capital that prompted them to seek a world away from family and friends back home.

These graduates in their 20s and 30s encompass the values of a generation raised with Erasmus exchanges, travel opportunities and an affinity for the English language that, they explain, contrasts them to their parents, whose clinging to job security above all else is alien to what they have been brought up to believe. Nevertheless, the two sets of values are inexorably linked, not just through the obvious affective family bonds but through ongoing support networks. These networks are both financial, allowing young people to undertake internships, language classes or simply the space to save and figure out what to do next, and emotional, communication technology offering an opportunity for transnational connectivity in a way hitherto unexperienced by previous generations of migrants.

But what are the main differences between the EU generation in London and their parents, the children of the dictatorship? The former overwhelmingly present their experience as providing hope, meaning and pride through success (or the potential to succeed) in a career which is both internationally transferable and offers recognition of the individual’s talents. The irony at work here is the root of such hopes in the earlier prosperity wrought by neoliberal expansion which could only temporarily mask the inability of the economic and political framework of periphery countries to support the excesses of global finance and failures of the monetary union. What we are seeing now are the social repercussions of expectations of access to global consumerist comforts and existential fulfilment without the need to migrate. For many, this is now only attainable through planning a future outside Portugal.

Those Portuguese who recall pre-EU days defined by lack of both consumerism and the welfare state claim the younger generation don’t know the truth of how hard life can be and undervalue security. Those who have migrated and remained abroad describe their home country lovingly but as being devoid of opportunities befitting their qualifications and experience- a country mired in a system based on nepotism that undermined ‘EU values’ of efficiency, prosperity and merit. The young people I have spoken to refer to a favours system based on pre-revolution mentalities where contacts, rather than ability, are the key to getting ahead and have led to a country stuck in the past, where aspirational and intelligent young people migrate, leaving the same old names in charge.

Lisa Rodan is a third year PhD student in Social Anthropology at the University of Kent where she is working with three colleagues on an ESRC funded project entitled Household Survival in Crisis: Austerity and Relatedness in Greece and Portugal.

[1] All names have been changed

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Popular Democracy – Response by Adrian Bua

In this post Adrian Bua continues CURA’s third book debate by replying to Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Ernesto Ganuza’s first post outlining the argument in their recent book “Popular Democracy: the Paradox of Participation”.

Popular Democracy deals with an important question for contemporary debates on democratisation – what is the democratic potential of participatory governance in a context of deepening neo-liberalism? To answer this the book develops a history of changes in public administration theory and practice, and then focuses specifically on the origins and travel of Participatory Budgeting (PB) from Porto Alegre in Brazil to Cordoba in Europe and Chicago in North America. In doing so, the authors draw on years of research into participatory governance including ethnographies in the European and North American case studies.

On one hand, Popular Democracy tells a story of the neo-liberal usurpation of what was originally a radical and innovative attempt to revive the socialist project in the context of disillusionment with the pseudo-socialist regimes of Eastern Europe and elsewhere. However, as is clear from the author’s first post, as PB travelled the globe, it became disconnected from its original attempt to provide a collective space for the pursuit of distributive justice, to one oriented towards the individual expression of preferences (for an overview of this process of disconnection see here). On the other hand, the book also tells a more positive story about possibilities opened up by PB. In this post I invite the authors to elaborate upon the implications of their arguments for (a) the potential and limits of institutional design, and (b) the relationship between social struggle and participatory governance, and the role of the former in generating opportunities for empowerment.

First, a key argument of the book is that institutional design matters. Thus, as Ernesto and Gianpaolo argue in their initial entry, if participation is to be a genuinely democratising force, it should be clearly linked to binding decisions of state administration, which itself must adopt a participatory ‘modus operandi’  to accommodate participatory inputs. For reasons I won’t repeat here, but have summarised in another review, this was achieved in Porto Alegre – which turns minds to the claim that processes and institutions can be designed by elites to empower citizens. This is a key tenet of “top-down democratisation”.  I would like to ask the authors, firstly, to what extent is success down to the technicalities of getting the institutional design “right”, or is it more to do with politics? The second question is about how far institutional design can go – to what extent can a well-designed Participatory Budget influence fundamental questions about political economy, including how resources are distributed; where economic power lies? The challenge here might be that there is space for participatory governance in times of plenty, but it hits the buffers when resources are scarce and there is more conflict over both the size of budgets and distribution.

International research into collaborative governance led by us at CURA broaches the question of what happens to collaborative practice and ideology during capitalist busts – in times such as the present one, of low growth and austerity. Our cases vary. To give two examples, in the UK it is clear that participatory governance has lost the normative power it once had amongst local state actors. It has become a tool for the local state to manage the consequences of, and adapt to, austerity and scarcity – a far cry away from the empowering and democratising claims associated with it in earlier times. However, in Barcelona, municipal government is experimenting with radicalised forms of participatory governance. Although hopeful, this experiment is severely limited. It is a crosscurrent, even if a strong one, to a hostile Spanish state which continues to deepen neo-liberalism. Still, the fact that such experiments are taking place in various Spanish cities indicates a more generalised ambition for a more participatory democracy and an alternative, more socially just, political economy.

The experience in Barcelona, and Spain more broadly, is rooted in the oppositional and pre-figurative politics of post-crash social movements based around the 15-M demonstrations. The influence of PB upon these social movements is alluded to in the book, which argues that despite their clear limitations, the experience of US and Spanish PB ignited a radicalism which lived on in mass mobilisations such as occupy in the US and the indignados in Spain. It evoked new political subjects and expanded social imaginaries beyond the boundaries of representation in ways that contributed to the alternatives proposed by these movements. This is an interesting argument because critics of elite democracy promotion (or ‘governance-driven democratisation’ for others) argue that it forecloses, and diverts energy away from, more critical and bottom up forms of participation and struggle which have historically been perhaps the main democratising force. Given the different outcomes observed in our own research, at which point, and why, do the authors think that the demands they made translated into this substantive reform agenda within formal political institutions? At the level of direct participants this seems counter-intuitive – surely, taking part in the kinds of individualised, zero-sum processes the authors describe in their initial post must be a disappointing and disempowering experience? I would like to ask the authors to expand on how is it that more radical and democratic subjects emerge from this, particularly in light of the much-discussed diminution out of the Porto-Alegre model?

This question brings me to my final point.  Ernesto and Gianpaolo’s account points to a non-dichotomous, even complementary, relationship between top-down and bottom-up spaces of participation. Municipal governments like Barcelona en Comu and Ahora Madrid evidence this kind of relationship – they are rooted in grassroots oppositional politics, but now engage in institutional design and policy making. Their move into the state means a move “from protest to proposition”. At the end of the book the authors argue that the challenge for the future is to make the most of the critical energies summoned by participatory experiences like PB. I would like to close by asking what advice the authors have for radical administrations currently experimenting with participatory governance.  Do they think that this participatory milieu in urban governance can be shored up and avoid neo-liberal co-option – and what is the role, if any, for critical and oppositional forms of participation and social struggle in this?

One respondent from the fieldwork in Barcelona (see p. 17 here), put the contextual challenges faced by this project well:

“The tools are very tiny and the expectations are great. How can the City Council of a city that is globally located on the map of the relevant cities in the world, which attracts migratory flows, capital flows… how can it manage a power that it does not have? The City Council does not have the power of the city. It is a very small portion of power”.

Adrian Bua is a researcher and a core member of CURA.

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Urban Futures Podcast – Tackling City Decline with Andy Pike

In this second edition of the Urban Futures podcast we talk to Andy Pike, Professor of Local and Regional Development and Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Development studies, at Newcastle University about recent work he and his colleagues have carried out into city decline in the UK.

You can download the podcast on soundcloud and itunes.

The Declining Cities report, analyses city decline in the UK and reviews international experience for learning. The research seeks to address a gap in urban research agendas that have tended to focus on successful, thriving cities rather than the situation of and policies needed in cities coping with relative decline. The report develops an index of city decline and a typology of relatively declining cities which is used to measure the scale and nature of city decline in the UK. It also includes a review of UK and international literature on policy responses to city decline as well as an assessment of the implications of the evidence for declining UK cities.

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Patterns of Neoliberalisation and Resistance

Professor Jonathan Davies introduces a new paper “Austerity Urbanism: Patterns of Neoliberalisation and Resistance in Six Cities of Spain and the UK”. The paper is co-authored with Ismael Blanco and published in Environment and Planning A. The article is fully open access and can be downloaded at the link above.

The relationship between austerity, neoliberalism and the governance of cities has been the source of intense debate since the 2008 crash. We develop a fresh perspective, through a six-case comparative analysis of austerity urbanism in Spain (Barcelona, Donostia, Lleida and Madrid) and the UK (Cardiff and Leicester).

We begin by looking at a continuum of perspectives on neoliberalism, from thinkers like Perry Anderson who see it as a globalising hegemonic strategy of historically unprecedented influence, to urbanists, who see it as infinitely variegated and even disappearing when studied under a fine-grain analytical lens. Our argument is that if, in the spirit of critical realism, we treat social life as stratified and scaled, then these analytical polarities are not mutually exclusive. Divergence at one level of analysis can underpin convergence at another – and indeed vice-versa.  Convergence and divergence should therefore be understood in relational terms.

Following this intuition, our central argument is – perhaps unsurprisingly – that culturally, politically and economically diverse austerity regimes tend to strengthen neoliberalism in both Spain and the UK.  Urban austerity regimes are far more strongly embedded in UK cities than in Spain, bearing witness to the enduring shadow cast over local politics by the Thatcherite shock of the 1980s.  Yet, in cities where anti-austerity struggles are highly developed, as in Barcelona and Madrid, the potential for urban transformations is both tantalizing and fraught with difficulties.  At the same time, the breadth of regional variation in Spain leads us to follow Patrick Le Gales (2016) in asking where “neoliberalism” begins and ends. Donostia, for example, retains a strong commitment to public welfare, made possible by the relative economic strength and autonomy of the Basque region and the durability of local welfarist traditions across the electoral divide. Hence, while explaining how local varieties of neoliberalism strengthen neoliberalism as a global project, we also recognize limits to the concept and the potential for overcoming it through resistance grounded in urban politics.

Theoretically, we follow a regime approach, developing a heuristic analysis based on Clarence N. Stone’s “iron law”. Stone (2015) states that for any governing regime to succeed, resources must be commensurate with the agenda pursued. This simple formulation provides a helpful lens for bringing our diverse case studies into a meaningful conversation with one another, around the question of what alliances are forged among which actors, mobilizing what resources in pursuit of which goals – and with what limitations?  Applying this lens allows us to develop an inductive comparison around a thematically structured discussion of austerity governance and resistance in our six cities. Through this approach we benchmark the powers and limitations of neoliberal austerity regimes.

We finally consider the implications of our study for conceptualizing neoliberalism and for further developing urban regime analysis in the spirit of Stone’s iron law. The paper concludes with eight propositions to inform future studies of austerity urbanism.  We hope readers find them useful and stimulating.

Jonathan Davies is Director of CURA and Professor of Critical Policy Studies at De Montfort University

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How the world’s first Social Impact Bond drained public resources, and why the market model fails forward

In today’s blog, Robert Ogman argues that success stories on the social investment market are hiding inconvenient truths, and require honest rethink about such risky and expensive policy experiments

In 2009, when governments took on enormous debts to rescue the crumbling financial sector, they sought to address the fiscal crisis by slashing funding to the public sector in the turn to austerity. The conservatives called for a “Big Society” to fill the gap for scaled-back social protections, but quickly realising that nothing comes for free, sought to link the resource-weak social sector to capital markets ‘awash with liquidity’ (IMF), through the Cabinet Office’s new “social investment bank”, Big Society Capital. Private surpluses, could be ‘mobilised’ to offset government funding gaps, through loans to civil society groups coping with deepening social crises. In the ‘age of austerity’ (Cameron), the Social Investment Market is a magic bullet: It should offset fiscal problems by securing new pools of capital, address social problems by expanding the social sector, and make capitalism responsible by directing investors towards products with societal benefit. So were the praises sung by the father of venture capitalism, Sir Ronald Cohen, now involved in Big Society Capital, the Social Finance organization, and a host of ‘impact’-oriented initiatives.

Central to this broad policy initiative is the Social Impact Bond, a mechanism to address three interlinked problems, namely, to create ‘inclusive growth’ and ‘shared value’ as a new economic model, to offset public fiscal deficits with private investment, and to ‘solve society’s most intractable social problems’ by expanding preventative services. This experiment was tested in Peterborough as the world’s first SIB, bringing together market, government, and societal actors seeking to ‘break the cycle of reincarceration’. Investors provided £5 million as working capital for organisations, who adapted an anti-recidivism programme by St. Giles Trust , to reduce reconvictions of people released from short-term sentences at the local prison. If it reduced reconviction by 7.5% compared to a control group, the Ministry of Justice anticipated related reductions in its budget. It hoped that lower court, police, prison, and other criminal justice expenses could amount to up to £90m. If the project succeeds, a portion of these savings would be used to repay investors plus dividend. If it missed its mark, investors risked losing their capital. The idea was that this would “transfer the [financial] risk to the investors”, as Social Finance writes.

A central pillar of SIBs is the fiscal argument. As project manager of the Peterborough project and major driver of U.K. SIBs, Social Finance describes as a “precondition of a successful [SIB]”, that the savings are larger than the service intervention costs. In a time of fiscal constraint, the SIBs were meant to ‘do more with less’, downsizing prisons, and in doing so, ‘paying for themselves’. They were sold to the electorate under the mantra of presenting “no risk to the taxpayer”. In fact, without such fiscal pressures, one might ask whether this policy would have gotten off the ground at all, let alone accelerate an international diffusion of nearly 90 projects in 19 countries in the value of £300, according to Social Finance.

The final results for the Peterborough project came in this week achieving a 9% reduction in recidivism among its 2,000 person target group. In their statement, Social Finance praised the reductions in reoffending and the repayment of investors. The Ministry of Justice played the same tune and Gordon Brown praised the project in the same manner. Yet, as advocates were patting themselves on the backs, they were also moving the goal posts, with negative implications for the public. The new storyline neglected any reference to fiscal issues. This covered up the inconvenient truth that the Peterborough project would not pay for itself, as Rand wrote in a report for the Ministry of Justice. Absent savings, investors would effectually be paid through new expenditure, from tax payer dollars in the Ministry of Justice’s budget, and public money from the Big Lottery Fund, who rescued the project with a multi-million pound subsidy. While the project was supposed to allow government to ‘mobilise private capital for public good’, the Peterborough experiment appears to inverse this, compelling the government to “fill the funding gap for UK social impact bonds”, when they fail to create expected savings. This fiasco is just the latest example of a blunders associated with the uncritical approach to market-style governance.

While mistakes are common in policy innovations, there appears little concern to reassess the project. Instead, new efforts are being made to shore up the model despite its problems. Anticipating future failures, the Cabinet Office and the Big Lottery Fund conjured up £60 million of special “outcome funds” to subsidise investor returns when SIBs fail to create anticipated efficiency gains.

But now one really has to ask what the fiscal logic is for these projects. If SIBs were partially designed to help government out of a fiscal jam, now they’re placing more pressure on the budget, simply to pay investor returns on projects they’ve contributed no social value to. One wonders why the government should continue a project meant to reduce fiscal pressure, when it is now increasing expenditure with no added value?

So long as the government continues to cut public resources, and refuses to draw in revenue through taxation of concentrated private wealth, we’ll likely see more of such unhelpful market governance schemes, with attractive language but poor outcomes.

While many supporters of SIBs view them sympathetically, they do so because they would like to see more investment in social protections, more market actor involvement in societally beneficial endeavors, and more private contribution to the rebalancing of public finances. But the Peterborough problems show that joining market governance to ‘public responsibility’ are a weak compromise, they can inhibit these goals, and may produce contradictory results. The shortcomings of the Peterborough pilot require more than a tinkering with existing market governance models, and instead an honest rethinking of broader policy directions, asking how the economy may be more adequately ‘re-embedded’ in structures of public accountability.

Robert Ogman is a member of CURA and a doctoral researcher at the Department of Politics and Public Policy at De Montfort University.

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Dissemination Report: Governing in and Against Austerity

We are delighted to publish our dissemination report for the Austerity Governance project. It is titled Governing in and Against Austerity and provides an overview and reports initial findings from our eight case studies of austerity governance in Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublin, Leicester, Melbourne, Montreal and Nantes.

We warmly welcome comments and feedback, you can download the document on the hyperlink above.

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