PhD Opportunity at CURA

The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity is looking for prospective PhD students interested in developing innovative, interdisciplinary research projects in any field related to cities, urbanism and austerity.

Candidates shall submit a one-page draft proposal to Dr Adam Fishwick (adam.fishwick@dmu.ac.uk) in the first instance. Final submission date for a full application is 17th May. Please note, Full Bursary Scholarships are available only to UK/EU applicants. Fee Waiver Scholarships are open to UK, EU and overseas students.

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Austerity Diasporas: Brexit, Portugal and Looking to the Future

With the following post Lisa Rodan completes the four-part series on “Austerity Diasporas”, which is related to her ongoing PhD research onthe experience of Portuguese migrants affected by the 2008 crash and ensuing austerity. The first post focussed on social changes in Portugal leading up to the 2011 austerity measures. In the second post, Lisa described how migration has shaped Portuguese history up to today. Part three dealt with the experience of Portuguese migrants in London under austerity. Finally, in part four, Lisa discusses the predictions of her research participants for life after Brexit.

The Brexit vote gave an unexpected jump-start to my PhD fieldwork. I had just begun identifying potential respondents for a year-long anthropological examination of how the 2011 austerity measures around Southern Europe had affected the outlook, identity and long-term social imagination of millennial Portuguese migrants in London. They were a group that would eventually become defined within my research by their access to higher education during the more prosperous 1990s.

After the initial shock that it had actually happened, the attitude amongst many of my interlocutors was defiant. “What are they going to do, chuck us all out?” said Mariana, 26, a nurse, “The economy would collapse. They can’t do without us.” Jose, 32, an engineer, was not worried either. “For people like me, there are always lots of opportunities. If they are so short-sighted to make us leave, I’ll go to Germany. But they won’t. I don’t know about outside of London but here at least I know we’ll be OK.”

Not everyone felt as confident though, and the feelings of betrayal caused by the vote were often expressed with resentment and suspicion. Olivia, a 34-year-old waitress who trained as a teacher in Portugal, grimly welcomed Brexit as a, “Necessary evil to keep out those who come for benefits, layabouts… unlike us who have come here to work and contribute.” Her words were echoed by those who resented the harsh living conditions they were exposed to in London. They framed Brexit as a necessary change to a status quo which enabled exploitation of people like them. For Guilherme, 32, an ambitious potential businessman who was feeling burnt-out after two years of working in various catering businesses, “Politics is a sham,” and he welcomed a shake-up of the whole system.  “I came here to work hard and make something of myself,” he told me bitterly, “and am treated worse than a dog. There are too many people here and something has to change.” Marco, a 39 year-old teaching assistant, is determined to stay until he gets the experience that will allow him to establish himself in a permanent teaching career but is resentful of the decision for symbolic reasons. “Portugal is Britain’s oldest ally, right? And I come here, the Spanish, the Italians, we respect the culture, we have a common, western culture. Why is it us they want to stop coming? Me, I never asked for benefits in my life, there’s something wrong, isn’t there? Rather than asking us all to leave, they should stop the benefits, make the people work!”

Over the course of my fieldwork these initial reactions to Brexit became part of a wider reflection from my respondents on plans for the future. Many started to increasingly refer to Portugal as no longer a ‘country in crisis’ but rather somewhere with potential. Returning home was presented as a ‘lifestyle choice’ and a chance for a ‘good life’ with frequent references to accepting and adapting to a new way of being. “People are a bit humbler now” says Andreia, 35, a former pharmacist turned medical student in Porto. “People’s expectations of how things ‘should’ be done are different, it’s no longer go to university, get a job, have a family. People have changed their mentality and learned to adapt to the way things are now. Especially those whose degrees saturated the labour market, like me.”

Part of this ‘learning to adapt’ is harnessing new sources of income generation which will enable a ‘good life’ in Portugal. The intertwined pillars of the post-crisis world in the Portuguese context, from my respondents’ point of view, are digitalisation of careers and tourism. These are dominated

by educated members of the millennial generation and a global outlook achieved through their experience abroad. Ines, 33, a nurse, plans to go back to Portugal but not to work in healthcare. “Long-term I want to change, something with tourism. That’s where the future is. The hospital I worked before, noooo, never. Terrible place! My idea is I’d like to get a two bed flat and rent one bed out on Airbnb. But I have to figure out how.” Like many of my respondents, she had multiple success stories of people who had done just that and achieved the perfect balance of a salary that enabled a global lifestyle and local images of a ‘good life’ represented by the weather, food, and cultural and family connections of Portugal. A friend of a friend, she told me, had quit his prestigious banking job in London four years earlier and moved back to Porto with his wife and baby. He now had a business running food tours, supplemented by freelance financial consultancy. “You see? That’s the dream!”

Who is able to access this dream depends as much on professional and educational capital as on the changing nature of working practices. The digitalisation of a transnational ‘gig economy’ in Portugal has its roots in a generation who consider themselves ‘European’ as well as ‘Portuguese’. They have experience abroad and are now returning wielding their bilingualism and globally recognised skill sets, which allow them to stand out from the crowd. Within such experiences and imaginations are a whole spectrum of potential success stories, ranging from teaching Portuguese via skype, to online jewellery business and international brand consultancy.

The Portuguese cultural imagination has long honoured the trait of ‘making do’ via the concept of ‘desenrascanço’– which loosely translates as “the act of disentangling yourself from a difficult situation using available means.” The Portugueseness of such responses to its’ local crisis is nevertheless embedded in a post-austerity global political economy where reduced state services have placed the onus on the individual to engage in work which can be simultaneously empowering and precarious. Offering digital services allows freedom of movement whilst at the same time removing long-term stability. Whether this diversion of domestic work practices in Portugal will exacerbate existing inequality amongst those who had the opportunity to leave and are now returning and those who had no choice but to stay remains to be seen.

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.

 

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The Future of Capitalism with Wolfgang Streeck

In this special edition of the CURA podcast we talk to Wolfgang Streeck, Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, about his works “Buying Time” (2013) and “How Will Capitalism End?” (2016). You can listen and download the podcast here , on soundcloud, itunes, and most major podcast platforms.

Drawing widely on classics from Schumpeter, Polanyi and Marx, Streeck offers an account of the lineage of democracy, capitalism and the state since the post-war period, identifying the deeply de-democratising and self-destructive trajectory in contemporary capitalist development. Against liberal received wisdom, Streeck argues that democracy and capitalism are anything but natural partners or easy bedfellows, but have in fact been in constant historical tension. The post-war social democratic settlement represents an unusual “fix” to this tension that was relatively favourable to the popular classes, or “wage dependent”, parts of the population. However, this fix unravelled in the 70’s as the capitalist, or “profit-dependent”, class rediscovered its agency and, with neo-liberal globalisation and financialisation, began to shape a world in its interests.

Streeck argues that these processes are putting in danger not only the existence of democratic politics, which is increasingly circumscribed by the need for states to appease financial markets, but also the future of capitalism itself. Streeck’s vision for what is to come is gloomy. Capitalism continues to erode the social foundations necessary for its own sustenance, as well as the resources needed to collectively construct an alternative order. Institutional and policy fixes to capitalist contradictions are running out. We can expect the result to be the development of an increasingly uncertain and under-institutionalised social order, reminiscent of a Hobbesian state of nature, where individual agency and creativity becomes fundamental to meet basic needs and achieve even minimal goals. Politics offers hope of rupture, but is itself increasingly constrained and defiled by capitalist development and rationality.

In this podcast CURA‘s Adrian Bua talks to Wolfgang about his work on the trajectory of capitalism and democracy.

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Popular Democracy – Rejoinder by Baiocchi and Ganuza

In this post we bring CURA’s book debate on Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Ernesto Ganuza’s book “Popular Democracy” to a close, with a rejoinder by the authors to Adrian Bua’s review, written in response to an opening post describing the main argument of the book.

We thank Adrian Bua and CURA for this invitation to reflect on this important set of issues in the contemporary debate about cities, neoliberalism, and the future of democracy.

Adrian Bua presents us with a set of interesting provocations about the challenges of participation in a neoliberal context based on two major issues: the limits of procedures, and the relations between institutions and social struggles. It is not only a question of political will, as Adrian suggests, but of concrete material struggles. And that is what we are going to try address here, knowing that the challenge is huge, touching as it does, on issues that are central to the political left.

The history of Participatory Budgeting dates to pro-democracy struggles in Brazil in the 1980s, but the jump to its becoming a global icon is inextricably linked to the alterglobalization movement. In the early 2000s the Workers Party of the city of Porto Alegre organized the World Social Forum with the alterglobalization movement.  The slogan that emerged, “Another World is Possible”, connected social struggles for a fairer world, which social movements had been claiming on a planetary scale for over ten years, with a participatory experience promoted by a government of the left, which had been implemented in Porto Alegre over the previous decade. There, the desires for a fairer world informed by social justice joined with an instrument based on the participation of the people in the political decision making. This instrument had already proven its ability to distribute wealth in a municipality in the Global South, and therefore, quickly became a global icon against neoliberal policies.

In spite of the seemingly unstoppable advances of neoliberal logics in the next decade, PB  became known as an instrument able to lead a public management in the direction of social justice than actual governance outcomes. After the first three World Social Forums, PB experiences multiplied in the world. Spanish experiences come directly from the WSF, where politicians and activists went to the first years. US  experiences arrived through an American Social Forum, a derivate of the World Social Forum, a few years later.  This is not to say that PB has been promoted by social movements, but the rhetoric surrounding PB come from the WSF and it was used by political representatives to implement this experience in Europe and the US. So, PB in global North was pregnant with ideas about social justice and the democratization of public spaces. How can neoliberalism usurp this idea?

The failure or limits of PB in the Global North, as we discuss in the book, are not due to a lack of tools, but to a political perspective. The history of capitalism that Boltanski and Chiapello outline in The New Spirit of Capitalism already announced the coexistence of artistic logics with the traditional logics of resistance. Participation offers a genuine channel to this artistic expression: more autonomy, self-management and horizontality. That the WB has changed its own way of approaching development, incorporating participation as a driving idea, may be a good example of this. But so are the manuals of new public management so widespread in European countries today. They have made it possible for all types of government, irrespective of their ideology, to see participation as a possible way. The expansion of PB in the world has much to do with this, rather than the ideals of social movements.

However, what we argue is that, despite this, the PB carries with it a radically democratic idea: as it gives autonomy to the people and puts them at the center of the political process, something that we cannot ignore. Participants in these experiences are able to go beyond the boundaries of representation to visualize a radical democratic game, which continually compels them to try to re-connect participation to decision-making processes and social justice, which often involves conflict with the administration promoting PB.  For the Indignados in Spain, for example, PBs were always a concrete tool capable of transferring their rhetoric for social justice to a concrete institutional context. The problem is not the tool, but the political perspective with which the PB is implemented.

The dilemmas that Adrian mentions are real.  Local governments face constraints in pursuing radical policies, partly because they do not have sufficient power to condition the policies that most affect citizenship.  The scales of democracy, to rehearse an old argument of Robert Dahl, are mismatched.  Problems are felt locally, and local constituencies routinely elect more governments that are more progressive or radical, than national ones.   But local governments can do very little to impact policies, such as employment policies, that are the main concern of their constituents.  And in a globalized world, interconnections reduce the autonomy of agents even further.  National governments now find their space of maneuver reduced.

But this does not mean that nothing can be done. It does not mean that if in Europe economic decisions have a marked technocratic and neoliberal character, municipal governments can not deploy political measures with other logics. The problem, we insist, is a political one.  Nothing prevents the establishment of radical democratic mechanisms in cities.  Whether these might come into conflict down the line with policies at other levels of government, or if it might awaken political demands that are more radical than current governance allows, are different questions.   Now, the question would be whether a political project of such caliber is really desired. If the PB has always been implemented on the way that caused the least resistance in the cities, disconnecting it from the operative centers of the administrations, we need to question the political projects behind these implementations. Do rulers really want that democratic radicalism? This obviously alludes to a political issue of immense controversy for the political left. But perhaps the movements of indignados in Spain and Occupy in Us were right to stop thinking of utopian horizons, societies that had to be designed beforehand, which always requires experts and political elites, to imagine a democratic radicalization. It is this democratic radicalism that is frightening, even to many leftist militants and activists.

In Madrid and Barcelona, today’s governments, which would be impossible to understand without the protests of indignados, could assume that democratic radicalism more broadly. It is true that it is not only about techniques, but about political culture and that way is very long. This would not mean to reject experts or politicians, but to democratize political spaces. It is true that none of the governments of the two Spanish cities has a majority in their respective municipalities, which conditions their own government program. But they can undoubtedly use more democratic logics in local affairs where they have maneuverability. That will not change the world, but it would help make it more egalitarian and fairer. But above all it would generate concrete referents to follow that way.

The second great question raised by Adrian Bua has to do with the very design of the participatory experience and to what extent we could say that a participatory government can effectively favor a more just and egalitarian politics. We have already mentioned above that we understand that the problems have not to do so much with the techniques as with the political perspective. Here the question raises doubts about the ability of governments to establish democratic institutions from above, reversing the bottom-up logic that has usually been a commonplace for the political left imaginaries. We understand that doubts are more than reasonable considering past experience, but that cannot make us forget that institutions are based in society.

The problem, as we understand it, is not the institution, unless we imagine a world without them, but the type and logic that make institutions work. As the PBs have been designed, we will hardly see large institutional changes, since they are conceived outside the great political nodes in the administrations. If we say that institutional design matters, it is because we find it difficult to think of social change without changing institutions. The PB has been designed in most of the experiences at the margins of institutions, it is that peripheral character that weakens their possibilities of change. Even so, we understand that the very dynamics involved in a participatory budget activates the political imagination of the participants towards less neoliberal logics and, in many cases, leads them to challenge the limits imposed by the promoters of experiences.

Perhaps if the PB is repeated much will be able to generate a political imaginary that serves as the basis for more substantive experiences. Perhaps, also, it only serves to tarnish a new experiment that promised a lot and was unable to face the oligarchical logics of neoliberalism. In any case, participation as a tool does not pose any challenge in its development. There are innumerable techniques capable of converging the lot with participation in the assembly or in a digital environment. The problem is the political perspective that frames participation and everything that implies in a political scenario dominated by neoliberalism: autonomy and horizontality. That is the political radicalism of the project and in turn the great dilemma for political representatives, whether of the left or right. Do we want really radical democratic institutions?

Gianpolo Baiocchi is associate professor of individualized studies and sociology, as well as director of the Urban Democracy Lab and Civic Engagement at the, Gallatin School, New York University.

Ernesto Ganuza is a researcher at the Centre for Advanced Social Studies, Spanish National Research Council (IESA- CSIC) in Cordoba, Spain.

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Rapport de diffusion: Gouverner dans et contre l’austérité

Nous sommes ravis de publier notre rapport intitulé Gouverner dans et contre l’austérité. Le rapport présente les premiers résultats de nos enquêtes sur le gouvernance d’austérité en huit villes: Athènes, Baltimore, Barcelone, Dublin, Leicester, Melbourne, Montréal et Nantes.

Nous accueillons chaleureusement les commentaires et les commentaires, vous pouvez télécharger le document sur l’hyperlien ci-dessus.

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Austerity Diasporas: Portuguese-British Identity

Lisa Rodan continues our “Austerity Diasporas” series, with a third 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 the second post, Lisa described the influence of migration on Portuguese culture and history, sharing some of the main messages emerging from her fieldwork with migrants in the UK. This post focuses on some of the challenges of living in London, and its impact upon migrant’s identities.

Sitting in the parents’ room of the paediatric intensive care ward at Kings College Hospital in south London, I was only dimly aware of the irony that my first week of fieldwork on Portuguese migrants in London had been indefinitely postponed whilst a Portuguese surgeon operated on my son’s spine. I had left my baby with a Jamaican nurse, Irish anaesthetist, Indian plastic surgeon and Portuguese and Lebanese neurosurgeons and gone upstairs to wait whilst Nigerian cleaners tidied up around me and a small family of anxious looking Ecuadorians murmured amongst themselves. One of the cleaners brought cups of water over for both me and the trembling woman opposite and squeezed our hands. Any differences in our backgrounds, languages and histories seemed suspended far above the more relevant shared experience of why we were all in that small room on that muggy summer’s day.

The normality of this multicultural existence became an overarching theme throughout my subsequent year of fieldwork (which went ahead as planned thanks to Dr José and his colleagues). The Portuguese graduates of the EU generation, arriving with degrees and career aspirations, inhabited multinational, multi-ethnic and multilingual workplaces, house-shares and friendship groups. Their lives were different in many ways from earlier generations of Portuguese migrants to London who had created what one new arrival described to me as “my grandmother’s village trapped in time”.

That is not to say there is a lack of common experiences and references between the university- educated, cosmopolitan millennials and the long-established Portuguese communities of Stockwell, who socialise in Portuguese cafes and shop in Portuguese supermarkets. Many of the former group also have family within the latter community. Yet by virtue of their educational attainments and a certain value-set formed out of the relative prosperity of Portugal in the 1990s have made a conscious decision to pursue the career opportunities which are the most seductive element of London living. The desire to use their educations to achieve recognition of their professional skills as well as a certain quality of life they once hoped for back home is still a possibility in London.

The price is high: loneliness and struggle are constant demons. Everyone knows somebody who ‘couldn’t hack it’ and went home. But for those who are still here, whether they are part of the initial wave of post-austerity refugees who have managed to carve out a niche in their chosen sector, or newer arrivals for whom London remains a land of opportunities, there is a certain pride in having learned how to handle the pace of life- they have become Londoners.

Becoming a ‘Londoner’ in this sense doesn’t mean becoming less Portuguese- the importance of seeking out spaces of ‘Portugueseness’ is an essential part of their lives. Many frame it as a need to escape the ‘coldness’ of the English character. This perception is worthy of a blog post in itself. For now, perhaps things can be more easily understood by looking at it as a longing for familiar cultural references. Regular meetups with Portuguese friends (the majority made since arriving in London or via old acquaintances and friends of friends pulled together by Facebook) are regularly set up and the Little Portugal enclave in Stockwell plays a major role. Even those who describe it as a ‘different world’ from their own occasionally pop in, whether for enormous group feasting in the restaurants or to watch the Portuguese national team play a big match. Nevertheless, a frequent refrain is the realisation of a feeling that one is increasingly more at home within the Portuguese expat community than in Stockwell or with the Portuguese back home who make them realise how English they have become.

It would be an injustice to suggest that life for educated Portuguese migrants does not have the difficulties of London life in general. Struggles with finding affordable housing, housemate conflicts and unscrupulous and exploitative agencies and employers are part of parcel of life here, especially for those who arrived with nothing more than their degree certificate and were attempting to work up to the job of their dreams via the counters of the chain coffee shops of central London. Those who were determined to stay in their area of study often ended up disillusioned by the challenge in finding a job which in Portugal would be have been beneath their skill-set.

As any parent knows, life completely changes with a new addition to the family. For new Portuguese parents, as for any new parent across London, comes the realisation that, whatever your story and hopes for the future, the arrival of a baby restricts access to many of the extra-curricular parts of the city that make the frantic lifestyle worth it and seem to throw conceptions of what exactly a ‘good life’ consists of into a new light. The lack of grandparents and family nearby suddenly is thrown into sharp focus and longings to go back increase. Taking the international experience gained in the hectic London career bubble and channelling it into a life of digital nomadism is a dream expressed by many people I met, especially those with young children.

Throughout my fieldwork the initial impact of Brexit lingered like an uninvited guest. It didn’t change anyone’s short-term plans but, like most Londoners, the overwhelming feeling was that of wait and see and have a plan B. After all, who was more aware of the importance EU citizens to the capital than those who have propped up the city’s economy? Be that as it may, the risk of whatever the fall-out might be can only add to the burnout already felt by many existing in the relentless consumerist cycle of working and living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Nevertheless, many of my Portuguese colleagues have made a life here no less than any other Londoner of diverse and varied background, especially those who have partnered up with people from other nationalities. Some may return but many are planning to stay and weather the storm.

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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Έκθεση προς διάλογο: Η διακυβέρνηση της λιτότητας και η αμφισβήτησή της

 

Βρισκόμαστε στην ευχάριστη θέση της δημοσιοποίησης της έκθεσης με τα πρώτα συμπεράσματα από το  ερευνητικό πρόγραμμα για τη διακυβέρνησης της λιτότητας.  Η έκθεση τιτλοφορείται Η διακυβέρνηση της λιτότητας και η αμφισβήτησή της και καταγράφει συνοπτικά τα ευρήματα της έρευνας στις οκτώ μελέτες περίπτωσης, την Αθήνα, τη Βαλτιμόρη, τη Βαρκελώνη, το Δουβλίνο, το Λέστερ, τη Μελβούρνη το Μόντρεαλ και τη Ναντ.

Σας προσκαλούμε να δείτε και να σχολιάσετε το σχετικό κείμενο, το οποίο μπορείτε να βρείτε στον παραπάνω διαδικτυακό τόπο.

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Informe divulgativo: gobernando dentro y contra la austeridad

Nos complace publicar y difundir nuestro informe para el proyecto Austerity Governance. Se titula “Gobernando en y contra la austeridad” y proporciona una visión general de los resultados iniciales de nuestros ocho estudios de casos sobre la gobernanza de la austeridad en Atenas, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublín, Leicester, Melbourne, Montreal y Nantes.

Agradecemos sus comentarios y sugerencias. El documento se puede descargar en el enlace.

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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 a reduction of administrative units, state grants (about 60% of local revenue), municipal staff, municipally-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, academics 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 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 neighbouring countries social mobilisation was weaker, this may have been compensated by easier transfer 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 unstable 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 reverse 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 reversing 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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