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The Transformative Effects of Crisis

:
A Hitchhiker’s Guide

to the New Economic Cultures
in Spain and Greece

Janosch Sbeih

MA Economics for Transition
Schumacher College

SCH 504: Dissertation
25 August 2014

ABSTRACT
By adopting an action research methodology, I inquire into how far the responses of citizens to the
global economic crisis of 2008 lead to the emergence of a new economic culture in Spain and
Greece. Since Southern European states follow austerity directives and do not offer sufficient
support for their population, communities organise to provide for each other through cooperation
and solidarity. Decentralised political and economic movements are building structures to challenge
and replace established centralised institutions. As people drop out of the formal economy, they find
material relief, ideological support and a sense of belonging in networks of alternative economic
practices.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
My heartfelt gratitude goes to all the individuals whose support has made this thesis possible.
Without the generous scholarships from the Schumacher College Bursary Fund and the German
National Merit Foundation (“Studienstiftung”), I would not have been able to attend the MA
program at Schumacher College of which this dissertation is a final output. I want to thank my
supervisor Jonathan Dawson for his continuous support, enthusiastic interest into my research and
numerous introductions to people in the field. Special thanks to all the people who gave me lifts and
let me stay in their homes during my travels through Southern Europe: Aldo, the Iranian trio in Turin,
the community of Torri Superiore, Luca Adrian and the other drivers who kindly took me from Italy
to Spain, Mirko & Marisol whose lovely company I could enjoy for a month during my literature
review, Olga who introduced me to Madrid, Yara, Eleni, Jennifer who was a great help already before
I arrived in Greece, Katerina, and Pip whose house I could use as a writing retreat in Brighton. Many
thanks also to all the activists and inspiring practitioners of the new economic culture who took their
time to talk with me – your input is the backbone of this paper. Lots of love to Gesa-habibti who
gave me company and confidence during the writing process. Finally, much love of course to my
family who gives me all the support I need to venture out in the world and a reason to always come
back.

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Table of Contents
List of Tables and Figures

4

INTRODUCTION

5

METHODOLOGY

8

Chapter 1: UNDERSTANDING CRISES

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The Metamorphosis of the Current Economic Crisis

13

Crisis: Meaning and Origins

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Crisis as Opportunity

17

Crisis as Community Builder

20

Beyond the Crisis: The Emergence of Alternative Economic Practices

21

Cultural Hegemony and the Third Industrial Revolution

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Chapter 2: SPAIN

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La Feria de la Economia Social y Solidaria – Madrid

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La Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH)

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La Cooperativa Integral Catalana

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15 May 2011: A Historical Date

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Chapter 3: GREECE

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The Importance of Culture and History

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Solidarity Economics and the Welfare State

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The New Economy in Greece

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CONCLUSION

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APPENDIX

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REFERENCES

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List of Tables and Figures
Figure 1: Universe of alternative economic practices in Catalonia

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Table 1: Data on alternative economic practices of Barcelona's population sample

25-26

Table 2: Comparison of practice intensity by socio-demographic categories

27

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INTRODUCTION
The economic crisis of 2008 which was triggered by the bursting of the US American housing bubble
took its toll on the societies of Southern Europe. The speculation and trading of fictitious financial
instruments led ultimately to a tangible humanitarian crisis (Red Cross, 2013). Spain’s
unemployment rates peaked in 2013 at 26.2% across the whole population and 55.5% for people
under 25 (Eurostat, 2014). These numbers are only eclipsed by Greece, the first developed country
to be downgraded to “emerging market” status (Stoukas & El Madany, 2013). There, the
unemployment rates were 27.3% and 58.3% respectively in 2013 (Eurostat, 2014), with the average
Greek salary being cut by 40% five years into the crisis (Georgiopoulos, 2013). Combined with harsh
cuts in state support, this translates directly into increased rates of homelessness, poverty and social
exclusion (Red Cross, 2013). Many of the young and mobile leave their countries in search of
brighter prospects elsewhere – 500,000 emigrated from Spain in 2012 alone (Burgen, 2013). In
Greece, 800,000 lack access to primary healthcare (Cooper, 2014) and there are reports of children
fainting in school due to malnutrition (Katerini, 2012). The economic situation puts many in the
position of having literally to decide between either buying foods or paying the electricity bill and
keeping the lights on (Pascalidou, 2012). The discussion and analysis that follows over the course of
this thesis must be read against the backdrop of this social devastation and human suffering.
As much human tragedy as is incorporated in these numbers, crises like this are an integral part
of the capitalist system and essential for its reproduction (Harvey, 2014). Its systemic instabilities are
confronted and reconfigured in the course of such crises while much gets torn down and laid waste
to make way for the new. What the new is is often unclear as Antonio Gramsci (1971) explained:
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” Crises
shake people’s mental conceptions of the world and their place within it as unconscious
assumptions that previously were held to be universally true, suddenly fail to make meaning of the
unfolding events. Institutions that were always assumed to be rock-solid and that helped to govern
one’s life suddenly disintegrate and leave a void of insecurity until there are new concepts and
institutions that give a meaningful framework to the personal world of subjective experience. That
phase of transition between the disintegration of the old and the creation of the new – which may
happen in different chronological orders, simultaneously and over longer timeframes – holds
opportunities and dangers in the course of shifting power relations. This moment of turmoil is often
regarded as a ‘window of opportunity’ to push forward an agenda that has been long crafted but
was never able to be implemented because the antagonistic forces are too strong in times of
stability.

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At the moment, it seems like neoliberal actors are successful in their cause of forcing structural
adjustment programs that have been long tested by the Washington Consensus in the global
periphery on the crisis-struck societies of Southern Europe. In the name of fiscal stabilisation,
comprehensive austerity programs prescribed by the “Troika” of the European Commission,
European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund are dismantling the welfare state through
cuts in public services and employment. This means that people not only lose their jobs, but the
social safety net to fall back on and to provide for at least the basic necessities of life is at the same
time severely reduced. The old, the young and the infirm thus join the freshly unemployed in the
ranks of the victims of the crisis. Amidst this social distress, public assets and common goods are
identified to being privatised in a fire-sale that is said to even eclipse the disastrous privatisation
programs in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union in sheer size and aggressiveness
(Roos, 2014). Public assets and utilities like railroad networks and water utilities are planned to be
given over to private corporations for a fraction of their actual value. Cultural and ecological
commons like the Greek coastline and ancient temples are considered to be sold off for private
development. This “accumulation by dispossession” (Harvey, 2004) is benefiting the global capital
class by transferring common goods into their hands for private development. On the other hand,
representatives of the traditional left like Marxist geographer David Harvey (2014) lament that the
political left does not have much to hold up against the power of capital which is currently expressed
in the form of neoliberal policies. After trade unions and traditional left wing parties have been
beaten down by thirty years of ideological and political assault from the right, what remains of the
radical left now operates largely outside of any institutional or organised oppositional channels,
focusing on small-scale actions and local activism, so he argues (ibid.). As the autonomist, anarchist
and localist groups seek to change the world without taking power, an increasingly consolidated
plutocratic capitalist class remains unchallenged in its ability to dominate the world without
constraint, so it seems.
Underneath this grim image of the world, however, an entirely different state of affairs seems to
emerge from the rubble of the crisis. An entire generation of young people who are well-educated,
literate in digital communication technology and disconnected from the formal labour market sees
itself confronted with a society that seems to hold no prospects for them beside a life in precarity
(Mason, 2012). Unencumbered from prior struggles for political participation and workers’ rights,
this group that is equipped with the skills to become tomorrow’s elite is the reason “why it’s kicking
off everywhere” (Mason, 2013). Without any central organisation or leadership to follow, a mass
movement of people who felt indignant about the self-serving politics of the political and economic
elite came together in 2011 to occupy the main squares of Spain and Greece. Distrustful of
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leadership and representative democracy as such, the Spanish indignados movement and the Greek
movement of Syntagma square started to engage in radically democratic prefigurative politics
through direct participation in assemblies. Once the occupations of the main squares were evicted,
the assemblies dispersed into different chapters and moved into the neighbourhoods where they
are less visible but better able to organise themselves to address local issues.
Besides grassroots activism in the realm of politics, also the economic sphere is a space for
constructive change on the ground. As the formal economy starts failing on increasingly many
people, a parallel economy begins to develop that is founded on principles of social and ecological
values, participation and cooperation. Decentralised networks of workers’ cooperatives, community
currencies, alternative exchange networks, community supported agriculture, cooperative financial
institutions and solidarity initiatives to provide food, housing and healthcare for those abandoned by
the welfare state are only some of the creations of people who imagine and practise a new
economy. Since the onset of the crisis, a surge in such alternative economic projects could be
observed and members of the middleclass who in other circumstances might have dismissed such
unorthodox economic practices search in these economic countercultures ways to get through the
crisis. Indeed, the participants of this new economy differ in their motivations from the meeting of
sheer need which proves easier in these solidarity networks to ideologically motivated groups that
are convinced of the unethical and instable basis of the mainstream economy. For many, these new
economic practices provide not least of all conceptual stability, something to believe in, in a time
where everything seems uncertain and formerly trusted institutions like banks and governments
stand all of a sudden on shaky grounds.
In the midst of a crisis it is hard to see where the exit might be. Crises are not singular events.
While they have their obvious triggers, the tectonic shifts they represent take many years to work
out. It is often unclear whether one is still in the crisis itself or in its aftermath as the crisis
metamorphoses and gives rise to new dynamics. In this sense, the aim of my dissertation is to
explore the cultural economic shifts as they are currently unfolding. In order to do so, I recognise the
need to immerse myself in the field where these shifts are taking place. Therefore, I have spent six
weeks in Spain and Greece researching the new economic cultures that emerge as a response to the
crisis. It is not my aim to come up with a unified statement of what the conclusive effects of the
crisis are which is an impossible task as we are still in the midst of unfolding events. I much more
attempt to tease out some of the changes that are currently unfolding in the form of shifts of
economic cultures; in particular, a strengthening of so-called “alternative” or “new economics”.
However, the effects of the economic crisis on economic culture are complex, contradictory and in
dialectic struggle. The crisis represents a political and cultural hegemony in crisis. As much as there
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are grassroots movements to detach themselves from political and economic practice as commonly
known, there are intensified efforts by the current centralised powers to uphold the old order of a
political and economic elite.
In order adequately assess the economic cultural shifts resulting from the crisis, I regard it as
indispensable to include the related political movement in my analysis. The political movements of
15M in Spain and the occupation of Syntagma square in Greece are relevant for the countries’
economic cultural shifts for a number of reasons. First, they overlap largely in terms of social
networks; most people who are part of the new economics networks have also been part in the
political movement. Second, both movements’ central concern is to create viable alternatives to an
undesirable status quo in the political and economic sphere. It is generally accepted that one cannot
come about without the other. Third, both movements adopt decentralised, transparent and
participative models and processes as their prefigurative structures. Fourth, while the economic
initiatives are inherently political as they are concerned with ownership, participation and social
change, the political movements are deeply concerned about economics as they emerged as a
response to the dismantling of the welfare state, protest centrally about the prioritisation of banks
over civil population and have a strong focus on the commons in their projects and organisation.
The research question guiding my thesis is: “To what extent do the responses to the economic
crisis in Spain and Greece resemble a move towards a new economic culture that is characterized by
cooperation, solidarity and community-orientation?”. To gather data for this research question, I
have engaged in field research in Spain and Greece adopting a methodology of “action research”
which I lay out in the following section. Chapter 1 provides an overview and discussion of the
literature pertinent to my research and a theoretical grounding how to interpret the impact of
economic crises on culture. Chapter 2 presents my research findings in Spain where I discuss a few
select examples of signs for a new economic culture that I personally came across during my
research. In Chapter 3, I discuss my research findings in Greece and compare and contrast my
impressions of the development of a new economic culture in Greece to that of Spain. The last
section forms the conclusion of this dissertation and offers a short outlook how the findings might
play out in the years to come.

METHODOLOGY
In order to address my research question, I recognise the necessity to immerse myself in the
economies most affected by the economic crisis and directly engage with the alternative economic

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networks that emerge as a response to this on-going event. As Parker J Palmer (2009) would phrase
it, I attempt to not make the common mistake of creating a false distinction between the knower
(myself) and the known (my object of study). This would be committing the ‘objectivist fallacy’ of
studying my object of inquiry “at arm’s length” (ibid.), as if it had nothing to do with me. Instead, my
research plan is to move within the dynamics that I want to analyse rather than trying to observe
them from a distance. In accordance with ‘standpoint theory’ (Haraway, 1988), I recognise that as a
researcher my analysis is always inevitably influenced by my subjective lens through which I view the
world and social position that impacts my worldview and life-experiences. To keep my scientific
integrity, it is thus crucial to make my personal standpoint explicit by writing from my personal point
of view, rather than a disembodied “all-seeing gaze from nowhere” (ibid.) that pretends to be an
objective account of a universal truth ‘out there’. While I consciously seek out alternative economic
initiatives, projects and networks that are products of the creative responses to the on-going
economic crisis in Southern Europe, my account of them is necessarily a limited one and by no
means a comprehensive overview of the state of affairs in these affected economies or their
particular sub-sectors. This paper is rather the product of a personal inquiry which took form after
several weeks of travel and field research, including many formal and informal conversations that
shaped the opinions expressed on the following pages. My personal experiences are complemented
by and contrasted to empirical studies and theoretical analyses found in the wider academic
literature pertaining my field. My aspiration is that this combination of taking personal experience
serious and positioning it in the established network of academic knowledge leads to a scientifically
valid account that leaves my personal voice intact.
Within the five months of the dissertation period, I travelled through and spent time in
seven different European countries (England, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Belgium and Germany).
Madrid, Barcelona and Athens are the places I explicitly travelled to in order do field research (six
weeks in total in these three cities). However, even the time spent in the other countries contributes
to my dissertation as the crisis is a topic in all of these countries, even if the perspective and
discourse of it is different in each country. Being exposed to the different perceptions and narratives
about the economic crisis brings in a wider European perspective into my dissertation that
approaches the shared events from different angles. I noticed that although I went to many places
without the explicit purpose to conduct research, my mind was so attuned to my research questions
that I still had many experiences and conversations that contributed to my research. In the spirit of
collapsing the distinction between the knower and the known, my mode of travelling was in itself
often a research experience. In both aspects of transport and accommodation, I relied largely on
individual cases of solidarity (in the case of hitchhiking when random passersby offered to give me a
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lift) and established communities of sharing and collaboration. In the latter case I became a member
of ‘blablacar’ (a ride-sharing platform) and ‘couchsurfing’ (a platform in which members offer to host
other members in their homes for free). Although these platforms did not emerge as a response to
the economic crisis, it is part of the sharing culture which plays a crucial part in my research.
Although this mode of travelling was quite demanding in terms of constantly having to arrange a
place to sleep through personal interaction rather than just booking a hotel room, it also had the
effect of enriching me with random encounters of people who were able to give me valuable inputs
about my research, refer me to people and projects they knew of and tell me about important
aspects of their culture. Often, one person would refer me to another, either for a place to stay, a
project to visit or a person who I could talk to about my research.
A lot of my research was conducted on this basis of referral and personal networks. In the
initial phase, my supervisor Jonathan Dawson introduced me to a number of his contacts who are
active in the countries that I travelled through. They were either relevant persons themselves for me
to talk to or could refer me to people and projects in their region. Tapping into this network of
Schumacher College affiliates and Jonathan’s personal friends and colleagues proved to be an
invaluable resource which led to many interesting encounters during my field trip. It also helped me
to prepare for my field trip by establishing first contacts with people in the field while still being at
Schumacher College in Devon. At the same time, I prepared myself for the field trip beforehand by
engaging in literature review that would give context to my personal research. Besides, I read many
blog-articles and watched video documentaries made by members of alternative economic networks
and activists that were part of the 2011 occupations in Spain and Greece. These resources were the
first impressions that were able to give me a ‘feel’ for the situation on the ground. As such reports
tend to be documentations of the diversity of projects in the local alternative economies, they
provided me with a good initial overview of the activity in the field. Once I started meeting the first
people in their local environment and talked to them about initiatives in their locality, they often
referred me to other projects and individuals that might be of interest to me. This way, I moved
through the networks of alternative economic practices in Spain and Greece, partially relying on
information I could find online and arrangements that I have made before starting the field trip and
partially improvising where to go next as I uncovered new information on the ground. The latter
aspect gave an emergent nature to my research, since my next steps would only disclose themselves
to me as my research unfolded in the field. In total, I conducted nineteen semi-structured
interviews, eleven of which took place in Spain and eight in Greece. I tried to diversify my sample by
interviewing individuals involved in different kinds of economic and political activities and members
of a variety of projects to obtain a broad overview of the new emerging economic cultures from
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different angles. I selected many research participants due to their broad overview as they
connected various projects and networks with each other by organising festivals for that purpose,
having done research themselves in that field or working for organisations that function as umbrella
networks for the new economy in their locality. I furthermore interviewed members of cooperatives,
time banks, local exchange trading schemes, self-sufficiency projects, solidarity networks,
community centres, squatter movements, economic disobedience offices, newly emerging political
parties and decentralised political movements. Besides, I engaged in countless informal
conversations related to my research with people who I happened to meet on the way.
This emergent way of researching is typical for the cluster of ideas and practices that form
the research methodology of ‘action research’ (Dick, 2000). I believe that my way of researching can
be best described as action research for several reasons. First, like the essential purpose of action
research (Reason & Bradbury, 2001), the purpose of my research is to address issues of concern to
individuals and communities in the everyday conduct of their lives. In my particular case, the
question is how individuals and communities can cope with the difficulties posed through a faltering
formal economy and how they can use the instability of their economic environment to bring about
a qualitatively different kind of economy. The latter point is connected to the wider purpose of
action research, namely to contribute to the increased well-being of humanity and to a more
equitable and sustainable relationship with the wider ecology of the planet of which we are an
intrinsic part (Reason, 2006). As my research aims to both understand the shift that is currently
taking place in the European economies hit hardest by the economic crisis and to assist the practice
of working towards a social and economic transition, my research activity is concerned with both
theory and practice. The desire to ground my research in real-life experience and to move within the
field that I research is reflected in action research’s maxim to base itself on the phenomenology of
everyday experience and to draw on an extended epistemology that integrates theory and practice
(Ladkin, 2004). I believe that this way of researching enriches me with the tacit knowledge of
experiential knowing that can only be obtained through live encounter, empathy and resonance with
the people and places I study (Heron, 1996).
One of the most defining features of action research is its cyclic nature. Similar steps of
planning, acting and reflecting occur in cycles (after reflecting starts again planning, etc) (Dick, 2000).
This was also the case in my research as I went through cycles of initial planning where I wanted to
go, which projects to visit, which people to talk to, what questions to ask, etc. Then, I would act and
execute these plans while often having to adapt to the situations I am confronted with in the actual
site. As action research is responsive by nature (Dick, 2000), it enabled me to improvise and respond
to the emerging needs of the situation. Afterwards, I would reflect on my observations and make
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summaries of what I have experienced and initial notes of what I found remarkable or what analyses
and hypotheses would spring to mind immediately. In this context, my regular journaling practice
proved to be an invaluable resource to me as I wrote down every day what struck me about the
experiences I made. The journaling also helped me in the writing stage as I could go back to the
particular instances and review the thoughts I had at that time. At some points throughout this
thesis I highlight where I quote from my journal. The ‘acting’ part of the cycle consisted mostly of
observing (space, exhibited information and people) and talking to stakeholders of the respective
project about the project, their involvement, my research and their take on it. I always had a rough
idea of what kind of questions I wanted to ask and sometimes the conversation took the form of a
semi-structured interview where we stayed closely to the prepared questions, and at other times
(which happened in most of the cases) we entered into a conversation which was more dynamic and
sometimes took unexpected turns that revealed information that I did not think of before (Feldman,
1999). Oftentimes, the planning stage repeated itself in the action and reflection phase as
participants told me about places and projects that I should visit. The critical reflection about my
observations happened both in private and in shared conversations with other participants. Through
my observations and reflections I generated working hypotheses which I later tried to challenge by
myself and in conversations with other participants. My hypotheses became thus further refined in
successive cycles of inquiry as I tried to disprove them through literature review, personal reflection
and in conversation with participants. This method draws on Karl Popper’s (1959) scientific method
of “falsificationism” and is an important aspect of the action research methodology (Dick, 2000). The
later cycles were thus influenced by prior cycles and provided me with opportunities to discuss
hypotheses, interpretations and analyses with my research participants. The research process thus
proved to be participative as participants were both actively shaping my research through referrals
and inputs to my hypotheses and analyses. They were also generally eager to hear about the
experiences of projects in other countries and what my interpretation of the development of the last
years is. I always hoped to ensure that my research participants were learning as much from our
interaction as I did and that I was able to assist in their quest for social action (Lincoln, 1995).
Finally, Peter Reason and Judi Marshall (2001) argue in their chapter about “working with
graduate students” in the Handbook on Action Research that researchers often choose (consciously
or unconsciously) research topics that will re-stimulate old patterns of distress and invite a renewed
attention to restrictive patterns. Reason and Marshall suggest further that the choice of research
process topic and inquiry process is a bid for personal development by moving into the anxiety of old
distress. This seems to hold true in my case as the research process proved to be challenging for me
on a personal and emotional level. The fact that I travelled through seven countries in a handful of
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months illustrates very vividly my general lifestyle of living a highly transient life. This feeling of
uprootedness led to a personal realisation that this transient lifestyle produces a lot of anxiety
within me and that I feel the strong need to settle down somewhere to invest myself in a place and a
stable community. In the course of my dissertation research the longing for a place-based and
occupational identity became more explicit for me and I believe that this is an important step on my
path of personal development.

Chapter 1: UNDERSTANDING CRISES
The Metamorphosis of the Current Economic Crisis
When in 2008 the financial markets collapsed, first in the US and then in Europe, the repercussions
of what initially started as the bursting of a housing bubble went far beyond the financial markets
alone (Castells, Caraca, & Cardoso, 2012). As the lending of credit froze up, industries and businesses
entered the crisis as they had to stall many of their projects. This led to an employment crisis as
industries reacted with mass lay-offs to the inaccessibility of credit. This in turn led to a demand
crisis which in combination with the credit-crisis caused many small- and medium-sized enterprises
to shrink or close which further worsened the employment crisis. As the current model of capitalism
is finance driven, governments created massive bail-out packages of unprecedented size not to
support their struggling population or the ‘real’ economy, but to liquidate the banks’ debts and get
the financial sector on its feet again. As this was done with public funds, the bail-out of the banks
ultimately led to a fiscal crisis. When European governments started to fail their financial obligations
in the eurozone and threatened to go bankrupt, they would be bailed out through emergency funds
administered by the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission (often called “the
Troika” in Southern Europe). Attached to these bail-out packages were conditions that severely
eroded national sovereignty and prescribed harsh austerity measures that created wide-spread
suffering in the affected populations. Institutionalised solidarity in form of the welfare state started
to be severely eroded, racism and xenophobia were on the rise in many countries and national
media were scapegoating other countries for mismanaging their economies and living off other
societies’ tax-money (Rantanen, 2012). Citizens withdrew their trust and money from political and
financial institutions and societies entered into a crisis of political legitimacy which together with the
economic crisis threatened to destabilise society at large (Judt, 2010; Engelen et al., 2011).
It becomes evident that the current ‘economic’ crisis is multi-dimensional and can be
understood only in a transdisciplinary perspective (Castells et al., 2012). A pure economic,

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sociological, cultural or political analysis would not be able to explain the crisis in its many forms and
would do justice to only one of its many aspects. What is fascinating about this crisis is its
evolutionary character and its transformative dynamics (Thompson, 2012). The financial crisis
created an economic crisis which turned into an institutional crisis that transformed into a social and
cultural crisis. What was initially a financial crisis in 2007/2008, the credit crunch, has become a
political crisis because governments have become directly involved in sorting out the crisis and
therefore the burden has been shifted on states and governments. It is also a social crisis because
governments have to fulfil the demands of private investors and in order to do that they have to
clamp down on public spending and have to try to raise taxes. And this impinges directly on the lives
of millions of ordinary citizens who feel that their life conditions are being threatened (Thompson,
2011). They respond through resentment and anger: a common sentiment is that “we are being
asked to sort out a crisis caused by others. That is, the bankers have caused a crisis and now we have
to pick up the bill.” One effect is that people do not trust their governments anymore and have the
feeling that they only look out for the need of private capital and not for the need of ordinary
people. So there is a widespread distrust of anything that government and institutions do. When the
crisis cuts into their lives, they do not have any instruments because they do not trust their leaders
that have the role to protect them and bring them out of the crisis. While mistrust of governments is
hardly anything new in much of Southern Europe, most people knew how to navigate through
governmental requirements like tax declarations, use public services and otherwise stay out of the
realm of politics. The crisis upset this stable relation as suddenly politics and ‘the economy’ which
usually seemed far removed from people’s everyday lives directly cut into their living conditions
without people knowing how to react to these new circumstances. This leaves many in a state of
cultural uncertainty where formerly firmly established institutions like banks or the state are called
into question and people do not know anymore how to navigate through the public realm and which
institutions to rely on.
This tendency of crises to shift spheres in advanced capitalist societies has been analysed by
Juergen Habermas (1988) in his book Legitimation Crisis. Habermas distinguishes two types of crises
that arise in context of socio-economic lives: “system crisis” and “identity crisis”. In a system crisis,
the system – a self-regulating order of rational action regulated by certain mediating mechanisms
(e.g. money) – faces breakdown of system integration. This happens when the self-regulating
mechanisms of a system break down (e.g. the credit markets), the medium for coordinating actions
fails to fulfil its role (credit), and the system seizes up. An identity crisis, by contrast, has to do with
the breakdown of social integration: it arises when members of a society become aware of a major
disruption and feel that their own lives or “collective identity” is in some way threatened. Not all
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system crises give rise to an identity crisis, but some do, and Habermas concerns himself with the
question under what conditions system crises become identity crises. His argument is that a crisis
originating in the economic sphere can be displaced into the political sphere in the form of a
“rationality crisis”. A political system is in a rationality crisis when it is unable to cope with the
conflicting demands that are placed on it; for example the demand to provide an extensive array of
welfare services on the one hand, and the demand to implement comprehensive austerity measures
on the other hand. Such a rationality crisis can transform into a “legitimation crisis” when there is a
withdrawal of legitimation on the part of the public and the political system is unable to reproduce
itself without resorting to force or violence. A legitimation crisis is not another form of a system
crisis, but rather an identity crisis which is mostly characterised through a loss of trust and pervasive
sense of disillusionment. These are the conditions we can observe in Southern Europe for the last
years: governments unable to cope with the rationality crisis between the demands of their
populations and the demands of the Troika to cut spending. The same governments are in a deep
legitimation crisis as they face widespread protests from their population to which they respond
with coercive force and increasingly repressive anti-demonstration laws. All of this originated and
simultaneously keeps on playing out in the economic sphere. “The logic of crisis displacement” that
Habermas writes about can thus be observed as a metamorphosis of crises in Southern Europe
where an economic crisis morphs into an identity crisis while continuing to be and not losing its force
in the economic sphere.

Crisis: Meaning and Origins
The etymology of the word ‘crisis’ tells a lot about the characteristics of such an event. According to
the Oxford English Dictionary Crisis comes from the Greek word kerein, meaning to separate or cut,
to make fixed, settled (Williams, 2012). The earliest registered use of the word, dating back to the
1500s, is in relation to medical and also astrological events, which were believed to be closely
related. In this context, crisis describes “the point in the progress of a disease when an important
development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death; the turning-point of a
disease for better or for worse” (OED, 2014). Crisis is defined in contrast to ongoing progress –
initially progress of an illness, and by the seventeenth century, “of anything” (Williams, 2012). A
crisis can be understood in two ways. First, as an obstacle to be overcome, a bump in the road of
progress that that needs to be dealt with in order to return to the “normal” state of affairs.
Alternatively, a crisis can be understood as the convulsion in the transition from one system to
another, as a deciding phase in a change of systems. Media and governments universally frame the
15

current crisis in the first sense, as a temporary turbulence which needs to be addressed through
technical fixes in the current system. Every response is geared towards the reinstallment of a
functional pre-crisis system. As we live in a growth-dependent economic system, the central
question of the mass-media and policy-makers is “how do we get the economy to grow again?”. In
contrast, people who are critical of the current economic system and work towards structural
change tend to conceptualise the crisis in the second way, namely, as a moment that marks the
transition into a new system. Long-term critics and grassroots activists often feel that their views are
being validated through the crisis, as the economic system proves to be inherently unstable and
governments look out only for the needs of the banking sector. People on the ground thus need to
rely on each other and take matters in their own hands to save themselves and each other through
the crisis. Many decide that it is time to change how the society works and push for political and
economic change. The former takes shape in occupations, demonstrations and practices of direct
democracy while the latter can be found in the establishment of and participation in alternative
economic networks. Both are prefigurative in the sense that the movements embody the values
people want to see in politics and the economy. On a small scale in the individual initiatives, they are
thus already practising the changes they want to bring about in society at large. The political and
economic ideas that people advocate in these movements are not necessarily new and many have
been practising them already for years before the crisis. It has been argued that severe downturns
tend to accelerate deep economic shifts that are already under way which is why these ideas that
have been around for a while suddenly gain traction through the crisis (Williams, 2012).
Edgar Morin (1976, 1984) who advocated in the mid-1970s the development of the scientific
study of the crisis as such (“crisology”) suggested that a crisis can be an event that both reveals and
has an effect. It reveals what usually remains invisible; it forces us to see things that we are usually
unwilling to confront. The crisis reveals aspects that are inherent to reality and are not merely
accidents; it constitutes a moment of truth. In the current case, it can be said that the crisis reveals
unbridled capitalism, in particular financial capitalism, in all its brutality and its extreme injustice
(Wieviorka, 2012). Above all, it reveals the dynamics of debt which structure our global economy to
a large extend while at the same time destabilising it and stripping it of resilience. It is interesting to
observe that in this context the Bank of England published for the first time a report that openly
states that money is created ex nihilo as loans by private banks (Graeber, 2014). The crisis thus
reveals threatening dynamics that have been going on long before 2008. As an event that has an
effect, Morin considers that a crisis sets in motion not only forces of decomposition, disorganisation
and destruction, but also forces of transformation (Morin, 1976, 1984). In these cases it is also a
critical point in a process that includes dimensions of construction, innovation, and invention. The
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focus of my dissertation is the transformational dynamics of alternative economic practices that this
particular crisis fuels and set in motion. Continuing the idea that a crisis both “reveals” and “has an
effect”, Edgar Morin invites us to admit that the crisis demonstrates that what a matter of course
was is in fact a source of difficulties and presents problems: what worked had its limits, its
drawbacks, and its inadequacies. The crisis therefore constitutes an incentive to invent something
new; but an incentive that is imperative as the system that previously helped us structure our lives
became deeply dysfunctional and cannot further be relied on.

Crisis as Opportunity
Crises offer the opportunity to implement policies that lead to profound political and economic
changes on the fast track as societies are in turmoil and unable to organise themselves against these
implementations. Naomi Klein (2007) explains in her book, “The Shock Doctrine”, how proponents of
neoliberalism unable to convince people by means of argument, use situations of shock such as
coups d’état, dictatorships or natural disasters to proliferate neoliberal policies. These entail a
stripping of the welfare state and general public services as well as the privatisation of public assets.
Rather than “free economies” going hand in hand with democratic societies, as it often tends to be
represented, the “liberalisation” of economies historically depended on the shocking of populations
through extreme state violence and terror or the seizing of opportunities that had an equally
traumatising and paralysing effect on civil society. Naomi Klein shows through a rich array of case
studies of the last 50 years how neoliberal policies are incompatible with constitutional democracy if
no repressive measures are taken against the own population. Neoliberalism was tested first as an
experiment in Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile where the population was held in check through
widespread torture and disappearances. After the experiment was repeated in other military
dictatorships like the Argentinean junta, Margaret Thatcher’s Great Britain became the first Western
democracy that adopted neoliberal policies. After initially dismissing neoliberalism as “incompatible
with constitutional democracy”, she created domestic conditions that enabled her to push forward
with the neoliberal agenda at home. These conditions were created through the Falkland War
abroad and a violent suppression of unions at home. In Thatcher’s Great Britain, downsizing of the
welfare state and far-reaching privatisation programs came along with the curtailment of labour and
demonstration rights and an increase in repressive measures. Such developments can also be
observed in Spain and Greece today.
In direct resemblance to Thatcher’s TINA (“There is no alternative”) narrative, the media and
politicians of both Spain and Greece adopt a discourse of “we have lived beyond our means and now
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we have to cut back, there is nothing we can do about it, we have to cut social services and privatise
in the name of fiscal balancing” (Reich, 2013). One of the main objectives of the Shock Doctrine, as
explained by Klein (2007), is to sweep away autonomous narratives and inoculate people with fear
to diverge from the prescribed plan of action; in other words, to create an experiential
understanding that there really is no alternative to what the central powers say and do. Similarly,
David Graeber interprets neoliberalism less as an economic program than a political program
“designed to produce hopelessness and kill any future alternatives” (Graeber & Solnit, 2012). It is
thus telling that the Greek mass media create horror scenarios of what happens if the congress does
not pass Troika’s austerity memoranda. “Economic experts” literally tell the Greek people on
national TV that “there will be chaos. Greece will become a Third World Country. The supermarket
shelves will soon be empty. There will be ration coupons” (Chatzistefanou & Kitidi, 2012). Similarly, a
special “Citizen Security Law” is crafted in Spain to quell the new forms of citizen protests and
politics that defy the austerity programs, create autonomous narratives and form the Spanish
indignado movement (Fernandez-Savater & Martin, 2014). These anti-protest laws take such
repressive measures as criminalizing passive resistance, uploading police violence on Youtube or
Tweeting about a protest which can be punishable by fines as high as 600,000€ (The Guardian,
2013). Members of the indignado movement identified the objective of these laws as an attempt “to
proscribe politics by criminalizing it, and withdrawing anything other than politics by politicians from
circulation” (Fernandez-Savater & Martin, 2014). It is thus directly aimed at the citizenry’s capability
to create their own narratives and to make sense of the events around them without having to rely
on the information propagated by the political elite and the mass media.
While civil society is educated towards learned helplessness, a psychological state in which
there is no more perceived capability to effect changes on the personal environment and complete
submission to any external changes that are inflicted on the person, comprehensive privatisation
programs transform public goods into private wealth (Soy Publica, 2014). Before the privatisation
program in Greece could begin, however, the necessary governmental positions needed to be
staffed by the appropriate personnel favourable to the plans. When former Prime Minister George
Papandreou stepped down from his post in 2011 due to vehement popular opposition to the
conditions of the Troika’s bailout plan, he made way for the former Vice President of the European
Central Bank, Lucas Papademos, to lead the new interim-government until elections in 2012 (The
Guardian, 2011). Papademos then staffed governmental positions with people from the private
Greek Bank Eurobank which made negotiations with the Troika essentially into an interbank deal
(Chatzistefanou & Kitidi, 2012). It is important to note that this interim government had no
democratic legitimacy while passing comprehensive austerity and privatisation bills that would
18

shape the country’s future for years to come. In the light of the massive vocal opposition to the
neoliberal policies passed, this interim government can be viewed as a direct cancellation of
democracy where sovereignty is given to experts from the banking sector. One Greek citizen
summarizes the feeling of the time in the Greek documentary Catastroika: “The political system we
have now in Greece resembles that of a junta. It is a banker’s junta with no more popular
legitimation than the 1967 junta” (ibid.).
In order to facilitate a speedy privatisation process, the Greek privatisation fund “Hellenic
Republic Asset Development Fund” (commonly known under the Greek acronym TAIPED) has been
founded to undertake the most extensive privatisation program ever implemented in an EU country
(Mavroudi, 2013). The stated mission of the private fund is “to restrict governmental intervention in
the privatisation process” (TAIPED, 2014). Public assets ranging from islands to public utility
companies and motorways are handed over in escrow to the fund for it to be sold off to private
bidders. A special law prohibits assets once handed over to be given back to the state, and the Greek
public sector has legally withdrawn from any financial claim over revenues which are committed to
go towards debt-service (Mavroudi, 2013). Only two out of the six board members are approved by
a parliamentary committee and there are a range of international experts and observers from the
Troika advising the fund. Critical observers argue that the Greek privatisation process resembles that
of occupied countries where external agents come to the country, run the sell-off of the country’s
assets, while the costs of the whole operation are carried by the local population whereas the profits
which are expected to amount to 50 billion Euros go to the creditors (Chatzistefanou & Kitidi, 2012).
It is a large scale transfer of public wealth into private property outside of any democratic control.
As in other privatisation cases, the value of the public assets are vastly underestimated and
therefore sold far below actual value (Klein, 2007). To take an example, the old Hellenikon airport
has been estimated by independent pre-crisis valuations to be worth $6.8 billion (Baboulias, 2014).
Recently, however, it has been sold to the private entity of Lamda Development for $1.2 billion who
as the sole bidder for the site has been exempted “from any tax, duty or fee, including income tax in
respect of any form of income derived from its business, of transfer tax for any reason, [or] capital
accumulation tax” (The Press Project, 2014). To make matters worse, the Greek newspaper To Vima
calculated that the Greek state will have to make at least another $3.4 billion in administrative and
infrastructural expenses before it can deliver the property to its new owner (Roos, 2014). The Greek
state thus accumulates further public debt by subsidizing the multi-billionnaire Latsis family through
this purchase while poverty-inducing fees and taxes are imposed on ordinary citizens who survive on
less than 500 Euros per month. This is but one example to show how the privatisation process is first
of all a transfer of public wealth to the capital class and not necessarily helping in fiscal balancing.
19

Crisis as Community Builder
Crises do not only cause material hardship and an opportunity for the powerful to privatise public
wealth, but they can also spur the fast building of communities and a sense of solidarity between
those who are affected by it. Rebecca Solnit (2009) provides in her book A Paradise Built in Hell: The
Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster a rich array of case studies where people came
together as a response to natural disasters in order to help each other through the difficult times.
From earthquakes in San Francisco and Mexico City to floods in New Orleans and the terrorist
attacks of 9/11, what Solnit found time and again was that in these times of external disruptions to
social life, people who usually lived individuated lives suddenly came together for cooperative
disaster relief. On the ground, people were there for each other, helping their neighbours and fellow
citizens who they mostly did not know, and people reported a great sense of belonging and
solidarity. At the same time, individuals respond emotionally in surprising ways: rather than being
overwhelmed by fear and confusion, they report an intense joy of working together for a greater
cause, and of getting intimate with people instantly who lived in their vicinity for years without ever
having personally interacted with them. Furthermore, as external structures and institutions break
down and individuals respond to them in cooperation with others, they start to feel in control of
their own lives again; they feel to have more power and agency than in their uninterrupted everyday
lives. Solnit describes this spirit of mutual aid always in great contrast to the response of the central
powers – governments – who often militarise disaster zones expecting people to behave in savage
Hobbesian ways as “the social order” is expected to break down through the external havoc. The
only way the prevailing social order breaks down however, is in the sense that people stop relying on
external institutions and start taking responsibility for their own lives by interacting in spontaneously
emerging decentralised networks for dispersed decision making. Solnit recognises how threatening
disasters are for political elites as power is being devolved to people on the ground as they are the
first responders who assemble impromptu kitchens and networks to rebuild their neighbourhoods.
She argues that centralised powers are structurally incapable of dealing with such situations and that
“only the dispersed force of countless people making countless decision is adequate to a major
crisis” (Solnit, 2009, p. 305).
My hypothesis is that economic crises like the one we are currently living through have a
similar effect on people as the account Rebecca Solnit (2009) provides of natural disasters. As great
parts of the population lose their employment and some even their home, and they feel they cannot
turn to the state for help, they start to rely on each other again. In such times of widespread shared
economic distress, people begin to build networks of solidarity and mutual aid. As hierarchical
institutions fail and cannot further be relied on, people build their own decentralised networks of
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provision and decision-making on the ground. This can take the form of widespread social
movements or collaborative economic projects. As the formal economy breaks down, people start
building their own parallel economy on the ground based on values they view should be embodied
in economic interactions. The question is though whether these alternative economic networks
persist longer than the spontaneous reactions of disaster relief which vanish again as their
environment is rebuilt and many think only warmly back to it as an episode they once lived through.
If these new economic networks are built for the purpose of social transformation rather than
surviving through the times of a dysfunctional formal economy, then they can lead through a
genuinely different economic culture that continues to flourish even outside the times of crisis.
Either way, through the convergence of various ecological crises that can be expected to seriously
disrupt the economic system in a not too distant future, the experience of having built a grassroots
economy increases the resilience of these local communities who are better prepared for the crises
still to come. The more these alternative structures are developed, the less hard will be the
transition to a new economy when we are forced to. For this, it is important to strengthen a new
economic culture now that relies on cooperation, mutual aid and solidarity within ecological limits.

Beyond the Crisis: The Emergence of Alternative Economic Practices
Economies are inherently cultural. The way things are produced, distributed and consumed is
strongly shaped through cultural norms and practices (Zelizer, 2011). When there is a systemic crisis,
this indicates also a cultural crisis: the existence of certain values as the guiding principles of human
behaviour that are non-sustainable (Aitken, 2007; Akerloff & Shiller, 2010). Thus, the transition
towards a new sustainable economy based on social and environmental values is strongly dependent
on a fundamental cultural change if we are not to wait on external resource pressures that force us
in that direction (Nolan, 2009). It may very well be that we are currently in such a period of cultural
transition. Since culture is a material practice, it should be possible to observe signs of new protocultural forms in the spontaneous adaptation of peoples’ lives to the constraints and opportunities
arising from the crisis. This dissertation investigates new economic practices as an indication of such
a cultural transition.
The financial crisis has been brought about through a combination of deregulation and
individualism as a way of life which manifested in corporate managers focused on their own shortterm profits as the guiding principle of their increasingly risky decisions (Tett, 2009; Zaloom, 2006).
The “me first” culture is a key-ingredient of business management, manifested in the self-interested,
rational, utility-maximising “homo economicus” (Sennett, 2006; Moran, 2009). This culture can be
21

designated as “networked self-interest” (Cardoso & Jacobetty, 2012). On the other hand, across the
world, there are movements of protesters that condemn this “me-first” culture in economic and
political networks of power and the results it has brought about. Gustavo Cardoso and Pedro
Jacobetty (2012) research the culture of these oppositional movements and argue that although we
live in a network society under network individualism, an underlying cultural shift is taking place
towards the adoption of a paradigm less centred on self-interest and more on the ability to adopt
common interests and belong to a group that shares objectives within a given network. Such a
cultural transition is fuelled by a change in values and belief in cooperation, free sharing,
transparency, and open source production. Cardoso and Jacobetty identify these traits in the
political and economic movements for social change and term them “cultures of networked
belonging”. A description that I find very appropriate as a sense of belonging is one of the most
valuable features that these networks offer to their participants. The sense of belonging to a wider
movement, contributing to a bigger cause, to be looked after and to be able to care for other people
are some of the most valuable psychological support mechanisms that save its participants through
the time of crisis. This has always been the case with catastrophes as Rebecca Solnit (2009) makes
abundantly clear in her book A Paradise Made in Hell, but the difference with the support systems
that flourish in this particular crisis is that they are created to stay on afterwards and continue to
provide these benefits as they embody exactly the social change that people are aiming for. As one
writing on a wall in Madrid puts it: “Nothing would be worse than getting back to ‘normal’” (Biliris,
2012).
The crisis creates a profound cultural challenge for many as it throws them into an identity
crisis as consumers (Chatzidakis, 2014). Since the crisis leads to a severe drop in income for many
people who are also not able anymore to consume on the basis of credit as they used to for the last
decade, large parts of the Southern European population find themselves in a position where they
cannot consume as much as they used to and would like to. Some try desperately to revive
consumer fantasies by visiting gifting bazaars or paying small deposits in stores to reserve items,
pretending not to know that it is no longer possible for them to return and buy them (ibid.). Others
try to find fulfilment in something else than consumption and in order to do so need to change their
values and generate from within a new culture in order to overcome consumerism (Castells, Caraca
& Cardoso, 2012). Since new values do not generate in a vacuum, this non-consumerist culture may
only grow on the basis of actual social practices that exist in societies around the world, often first
enacted by drop-outs of the current economy because of their rejection of what they consider to be
a destructive way of life (ibid.). The rise of a new economic culture may thus result from the
historical convergence between a cultural vanguard searching for a different way of life, and the
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disoriented masses of ex-consumers who no longer have the opportunity to consume anything but
themselves – “people who have nothing to lose but their cancelled credit cards” (ibid., p. 12). In this
light, they need to make the shift Erich Fromm (1976) advocated almost 40 years ago “from having
to being”. In the context of the crisis, the identity of an affected person framed through “having” is
likely to be that of a “defective and disqualified consumer” for whom “non-shopping is the jarring
and festering stigma of a life un-fulfilled” (Bauman, 2011). To create a dignified identity in this new
context, it thus remains the frame of “being” which places greater emphasis on a person’s
relationships, belonging and processes someone is involved in (Fromm, 1976). The alternative
economic practices that currently proliferate in Southern Europe’s crisis-ridden societies offer
exactly this kind of identity-creation through practical affiliation.
A Catalan research group, including the eminent sociologist Manuel Castells, conducted an
empirical research project to study the universe of conscious alternative economic practices in
Catalonia (Conill et al., 2012). On basis of seventy filmed interviews of individuals involved in such
networks and organisations, the research group created the documentary film “Homage to Catalonia
II” which subsequently was used to stimulate debate in eight focus groups. From this qualitative
research, a questionnaire was created which was used to conduct 800 interviews with a statistically
representative sample of the population of Barcelona. The survey tried to measure the extent of
diffusion of each one of the identified alternative economic practices in society at large, and
determine the factors inducing or restraining the diffusion of these practices during the economic
crisis. To be sure, economic activities that do not fit within the pattern structured by the rules of the
capitalist market permeate throughout the entire society, and society only functions because
everybody performs every day countless acts of generosity that defy market logic (Graeber, 2011). In
some cases, however, there is a deliberate attempt to connect these practices to an alternative
vision of how social interaction and especially economic activities should be organised (Conill et al.,
2012). The research team attempts to map the diffusion of these conscious non-capitalist practices
in Catalonia and has categorised the diverse activities in a typology that is displayed in Figure 1.

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Figure 2: Universe of alternative economic practices in Catalonia (Conill et al., 2012, p.214)

The researchers have found that alternative economic practices have grown considerably
since the onset of the crisis, but are due to their methodological setup – a one-time survey and not a
longitudinal study – not able to quantify this growth (Conill et al., 2012). Nonetheless, one
remarkable quantitative finding is that 97% of the surveyed people have engaged in some kind of
non-capitalist economic practice since the start of the crisis 2008. The fact that virtually every
participant of the representative sample of Barcelona’s population is engaged to some degree with
these practices shows that there is a strong resonance between a conscious alternative economic
culture and the culture of a mainstream society shaken by the economic crisis. While everybody,
regardless in how intensely they are involved in alternative economic practices, is fully aware of the
severity of the economic crisis, people differ widely in their perception and evaluation of the crisis.
The first group, which the research team terms “culturally transformative” feels reaffirmed in their
analysis and rejection of a consumerist lifestyle and feels vindicated to have set up an alternative
way of life before the crisis hit. They position themselves ideologically and aim for social change that
treats the root causes of the crisis rather than adapting to its effects. For the second group, who the
researchers term “alternative practitioners”, the crisis has shaken their beliefs and their
understanding of life. It affects everything they used to do or think, so that adapting to the new
24

environment is difficult and confusing. In order to get by in these hard times, they change their
practices: they consume less, they share and barter, they participate in solidarity networks and a
number of other practices that help them to deal with the economic unpredictability in which they
currently find themselves, but often without knowing exactly why, how and for what kind of future.
While the practice of the first group is mostly value-driven, the motivation of the second group to
engage with such alternative economic practices tends to be to meet their needs in a new way as old
patterns do not suffice anymore. While the culturally transformatives had anticipated the crisis, the
alternative practitioners are reacting only now and are learning by doing, slowly discovering a new
world of alternative economic practices through gradual involvement. In contrast, the third group
that the researchers term “culturally adapted” are unable or unwilling to accept the new
circumstances, are waiting, enduring the hard times, and hoping for the best, which is often
vocalised as a return to the ‘normal’ pre-crisis conditions. The research team speculates that as the
crisis deepens, the shift from being culturally adapted to becoming alternative practitioners may be
one of the most decisive trends in ongoing social change (Conill et al., 2012).
The research team has identified 26 practices which they grouped in three categories: selfsufficiency, altruistic and exchange and cooperation (Conill et al., 2012). Table 1 depicts the
percentage of the total population that has engaged in each of these practices since the beginning of
the crisis in 2008 until the research was conducted in 2011.

Table 2: Data on alternative economic practices of Barcelona's population sample (Conill et al., 2012, p.232)

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Table 1 (continued): Data on alternative economic practices of Barcelona's population sample (Conill et al., 2012, p.233)

Furthermore, they made a statistical analysis of the intensity of engagement along the lines of sociodemographic categories which is displayed in Table 2. While the mean of the total population is to
engage in 6.29 of the 26 identified practices, the intensity of engagement with these alternative
economic practices varies along the lines of age, gender, occupation, marital status, residential
status and income. While some findings confirm widely held assumptions, such as the most common
practitioners are aged 18-49 and often highly educated, other findings are rather surprising, like that
the highest income brackets perform the most number of practices. A final finding – which has not
been displayed visually – is that people whose employment has suffered engage in the greatest
number of practices among those affected by the crisis – 7.4 on average. Personally, I would
interpret the absolute numbers of “non-capitalist practices” people are consciously engaged in with
caution. While the statistical analysis is certainly valuable research that depicts the widespread
involvement with economic practices outside of the market, and sheds some light on the
proliferation of individual practices and distinctions of involvement along socio-demographic lines, it
is merely a first step to approach the question the research team has set out to investigate. In order
to appropriately address the question of an increase of such practices since the crisis, a longitudinal
research setup would need to be conducted in order to compare different points in time and how
the involvement with these practices changes over time as the overall economic circumstances
worsen or improve. Furthermore, the finite list of 26 alternative economic practices is necessary for
a quantitative analysis, but seems somewhat arbitrary to me as there are many more practices that
could qualify for such a list, and some items on the list – like using free software or performing

26

manual work at home – can easily be practiced without having to be consciously identified as an
alternative economic practice.

Table 3: Comparison of practice intensity by socio-demographic categories (Conill et al., 2012, p.238f)

Cultural Hegemony and the Third Industrial Revolution
In order to contextualise the cultural shift of economic behaviour, it is worthwhile to look to Antonio
Gramsci’s (1971) concept of ‘cultural hegemony’. Gramsci argues that the grand societal narratives,
clusters of beliefs and cultural norms that people unconsciously take for granted and regard as
“common sense” is in fact the dominant ideology imposed by the ruling class. These views and
norms constitute the cultural hegemony to which people have consented if they have not been
forced to do so through coercive means. We can observe through the widespread protests in
Southern Europe that the ruling power’s degree of consensual control – that is that individuals
voluntarily assimilate the worldview of the dominant group – is waning. As this type of social control
does not suffice anymore, the governmental forces use coercive control through state violence and
repressive laws to uphold their cultural hegemony; a sign that their hegemonic leadership is
fractured. At the same time, the political and economic grassroots movements that have been
27

occupying public squares and creating alternative economic networks are building their own cultural
hegemony. That is, they disseminate values, norms and behaviours based on cooperation,
participation, transparency, solidarity and community-mindedness. Every act of solidarity, every
cooperative project is part of what Gramsci terms the “war of position” in the construction of
hegemony. Each of our daily actions, according to Gramsci, holds an implicit vision or philosophy of
the world. The defining feature of the war of position is the affirmation and development of a new
vision of the world. Thus, rather than a frontal attack on the social order, the oppositional forces
construct first their own cultural hegemony to slowly leak power away from the old vision to finally
displace it. The prefigurative politics and economics practiced by the new grassroots movements are
thus developing a new definition of reality, and the “revolution” is not won through a concentrated
accumulation of forces, but rather through an indirect diffuse pressure that slowly builds new
cultural norms and behaviours (Fernandez-Savater, 2013a).
This understanding and strategy of social change is perfectly expressed through the big 15M
banner that read “Vamos despacio porque vamos lejos.”: “We go slow because we go far” (Castells,
2011). The understanding is that this is a big beginning and nothing has to be taken for granted; the
economic or the electoral systems are not eternal. Things can be changed by adopting a different
cultural viewpoint and acting on that view together with like-minded peers. This movement is for
many an antidote against that crisis of meaning that people experience who previously felt firmly
embedded in the old cultural hegemony of consumerism and now lack the tools to make sense of
their world as their worldview is disintegrating. The latter group is exactly what Gramsci describes
with this quote: “The crisis consists of the fact that the old is dying while the new cannot be born”
(quoted in Dawson, 2014). The population of disillusioned ex-consumers are bereaved of their old
lifestyles while they struggle to adopt a new one. In contrast to Gramsci’s quote, however, the
argument of my thesis is that the new is already in the process of being born. The political and
economic grassroots movements of my research are so to say in labour to give birth to a new
economic culture. By proliferating their practices, letting their networks grow and making them
accessible to more people, they offer something new to hold on to for the disillusioned masses that
cannot follow the old worldview anymore but have not found a new one yet. I thus wholeheartedly
agree with my supervisor Jonathan Dawson (2014) that we need not to theorize about a new story
to displace the old one, because the new story exists already and only needs to be strengthened
through practice.
There is also a technological argument to be made for the emergence of a new economic
culture. Jeremy Rifkin (2014) argues that with the advent of the internet and diffused renewable
energies, we are about to enter a new communication/energy matrix which ushers in a paradigm
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shift from capitalist markets to collaborative commons. While the economic system which we now
call “capitalism” has resulted out of the first and second industrial revolution in the nineteenth and
twentieth century, the collaborative commons – an economic paradigm based on dispersed
production, peer-to-peer distribution and free access due to near zero marginal costs of production
– will be brought about through what Rifkin terms the “Third Industrial Revolution”. The first and
second industrial revolution were brought about through the new energy regimes of fossil fuels (first
coal and then oil), and the communication systems of first print and telegraph, and later telephone,
radio and television networks. The energy sources themselves were centralised as they are found
only in certain places and require high capital investment to be extracted and processed. Similarly,
the centralised communication systems needed immense capital investment to be installed and
were most efficiently operated through a top-down command structure. These circumstances
required giant vertically-integrated, centralised corporations that could ensure sufficient economies
of scale to guarantee a return on the huge initial investment of developing the communications- and
energy-infrastructure.
The third industrial revolution that Rifkin (2014) sees coming is the dispersed
communication model of the internet which manages distributed renewable energies and
decentralised production and distribution networks. In contrast to the old mass media which are
centralised one-to-all communication models, the internet is a dispersed all-to-all communication
tool which requires near zero marginal cost for any new unit of communication or production of
digital content. Similarly, Rifkin expects renewable energies to become markedly cheaper over the
next years which enables individual households and communities to generate their own energy that
can be managed and distributed over an intelligent “Energy Internet” infrastructure. The marginal
costs of production for goods and services will gravitate towards zero through technologies like 3Dprinting which enables manufacturing at household scale and the free sharing of blueprints across
the internet, free online education where the marginal cost of each additional student is close to
zero, and the technological enabling of the sharing economy which changes the economic regime
from property to access. As everybody can freely produce and share goods and services, Rifkin
expects corporate profits to dry up, property rights to weaken and the current economy of scarcity
to give way to a new economy of abundance. This new economy – which already exists at the
margins of the current capitalist market economy – can be described as the “collaborative
commons” as it is characterised through collaborative peer-to-peer production and governance of
shared information, energy, goods and services. Along with this new economic regime comes a shift
in economic cultures from the competitive mindset of the capitalist market to the collaborative spirit
of the commons (Rifkin, 2014).
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Rifkin (2014) makes a compelling case for how technologies influence economic cultures and
acknowledges the struggle that is currently being fought between the two competing paradigms. On
the one hand we have the vertically integrated centralised corporations who sit firmly established at
the politico-economic power-centres, and on the other hand we have new economic movements
engaging in cooperative production, technologically enabled community currencies that ease the
dependence on national currencies, and peer-to-peer networks governing and producing for
material and immaterial commons. While it is tempting to view the new technologies as catalysts for
a new economic culture, I would be cautious not to fall in the trap of “technological determinism”
(see e.g. Smith & Marx, 1994). The idea that a society’s technology determines its political, social,
economic, and cultural forms is widespread, yet scholars of the field of “Science and Technology
Studies” show in their historical analyses that reality is more complex than that (see e.g. Sismondo,
2010). Although technology certainly has an influence on economic cultures, a particular culture also
influences the way technologies are being developed and used. Thus, while the internet certainly
empowers distributed peer-to-peer production, it also strengthens the corporate sector through
increased interconnectivity and hyper-mobile capital movements. Whether technologies like the
internet remain open and free for everybody depends largely on political struggles around issues like
“network neutrality” – the question whether internet service providers are allowed to discriminate
between data, artificially degrade some services or explicitly filter out content (see e.g. Wikipedia,
2014a; Rifkin, 2014, chapter 12). While Rifkin’s observed technological developments may indeed
have profound implications for an enabling of economic cultures to work for the collaborative
commons, it is equally important to build the cultural hegemony of such an economic culture so that
the technologies are indeed used in the way Rifkin envisions the “Third Industrial Revolution”. Rifkin
(2014) acknowledges this in his account and adequately interprets “the struggle to define and
control the intelligent infrastructure” (chapter 12) as a battle of paradigms between the “Second
Industrial Revolution telecom giants” (p. 198) who strive to enclose the common infrastructure and
force a centralised command and control governance model on it to boost their profit margins, and
the end users who are determined to keep the internet an open commons to enable the
development of a new economic paradigm of peer-to-peer production with zero marginal costs.

Chapter 2: SPAIN
The four weeks that I spent in Spain researching new economic projects, alternative political
movements and other signs for a shift in economic cultures brought me in contact with a diverse
range of fascinating ideas, actors and practices. Some of them I expected due to my preparatory
30

research, and some took me by surprise in their approach, innovativeness, outreach and intensity.
This section consists of a selection of organisations, movements and practices that I encountered
during my time in Barcelona and Madrid in May/June 2014. Where appropriate, I refer to the
organisations’ websites or external articles and videos that describe their practices. Much
information presented in this section has been gathered in personal interviews however, and is
therefore not referenced.

La Feria de la Economia Social y Solidaria – Madrid
I was lucky enough that my stay in Madrid coincided with “La Feria de la Economia Social y Solidaria
– Madrid”, a trade fair and convention of the local social and solidarity economy (La Feria, 2014).
This two-day event took place for the second time with the first one being held the year before in
2013. The event offered an interesting crosscut between intellectual debates and presentations, a
“social market” that offered sustainably produced local goods and a trade fair in which over 100
organisations related to the Madrilenian social and solidarity economy presented themselves and
established connections between each other. For my research purposes, this event proved to be a
lucky coincidence as it visualised the diversity of Madrid’s new economy in one focal space. The
exhibited organisations ranged from producer and service cooperatives of all sorts to alternative
financial institutions, local currency and umbrella networks, research and advocacy groups, fablabs,
community projects, and solidarity initiatives.
First of all, I was struck by the diversity of cooperatives which is certainly due to Spain’s
historically strong cooperative sector, as for example in contrast to Greece where such a sector and
organisational culture needs to be built nearly from scratch. Besides the traditional producers’
cooperatives I find especially remarkable that also the modern 21st century knowledge and service
economy begins to “cooperatise”. Examples of such a new kind of innovative cooperatives range
from a juridical lawyer’s network that specialises in work and consultancy for the alternative
economy and social movements like 15M, over design, communication and market research
cooperatives, to a network of therapists who combine psychological and philosophical insights to
counsel their clients through these challenging times of change. What I find especially relevant in the
current ‘crisis-context’ are the many examples of groups of unemployed individuals who form a
cooperative together to offer such services as commercial cleaning, printing, gardening, house and
bike repairs, elderly and nursing care, craftsmanship and building maintenance collectively. These
cooperatives mostly offer a range of services in a particular sector like building maintenance
collectively to have a bigger public image and more appeal to enterprises as an organisation. The
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groups consist mostly of four to eight individuals and told me that they would take on more people if
there was enough work, but they often struggle already to keep their current members sufficiently
occupied. Still, it is a good example of how people group together in a crisis to help themselves and
each other as they collectively have a higher capacity to “surf the crisis” (Cardoso & Jacobetty,
2012).
The supportive networks to start and sustain a new social enterprise in Madrid are impressive.
There are many cooperatives that offer help in setting up new enterprises by providing expertise,
working space, legal support and start-up capital. Contrary to the formal economy where credit
lending froze up during the crisis, finance institutions in the Spanish social and solidarity economy
seem impervious to the global financial crisis and continue to provide loans for projects that
correspond to their ethical standards (Conill et al., 2012). This holds true for ethical banks like FIARE
as well as credit cooperatives like Coop 57 which held savings of members worth 7 million Euros in
2009 which is projected to rise to 25-30 million Euros in the same quarter of 2014. When I
interviewed a bank official at the end of May 2014, he told me that they currently had 8 million
Euros in savings that they were willing to lend out to appropriate businesses, but did not have
enough viable projects applying. The access to seed finance does thus not seem to be a problem in
the Spanish social and solidarity economy. I found it furthermore remarkable how the individual
enterprises strive to strengthen the alternative economy through offering services specifically
addressed to this particular sector like specialised legal advice or social and solidarity based
insurance policies, through the use of the local currency “Boniato” which is mainly used for businessto-business trading, and through umbrella organisations that improve the networking and
cooperation between the individual organisations. The individual organisations seem to have a
consciousness of wanting to strengthen and expand their sector as they do not move within
business-culture of competition but cooperation.
Besides organisations for an ethical and cooperative business culture, la feria featured solidarity
initiatives that were both peer-directed and support-initiatives from a wider movement for those
most in need. One example that shows an interesting cultural shift in the older generation is that of
self-help groups for older workers who lost their jobs. While initiated through younger members of
the political movements, it is an interesting development that older members of the working class
who delved into an identity crisis through the loss of their occupations are able to break out of their
isolation and talk about the emotional aspects of losing their jobs; something remarkable, as the
verbal sharing of feelings is usually not common among the male members of that generation. A
wider solidarity movement of another kind is that of doctors and health care workers resisting the
Royal Decree 16/2012 – a norm comparable to a law but not approved by the parliament – which
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changed the public health care system by withdrawing coverage from undocumented migrants
(Garcia, 2012). The movement “Yo SI, Sanidad Universal” (“YES to Universal Healthcare”) informs
doctors and health care workers at private clinics and public hospitals how they can practice civil
disobedience against this decree, lobbies the government to revoke it and forms support groups that
accompany affected individuals to clinics in case the administrative assistant does not heed the
patient (Yo SI, 2014). The solidarity movement and individual actions of doctors and municipal
governments have succeeded within a few months to create widespread civil disobedience against
this decree (Garcia, 2012). A similar method of support groups helps mortgage-victims resist
evictions from their homes and is spreading widely in Spain under the movement of PAH:
Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Movement of Mortgage Victims).

La Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH)
The struggle between the Spanish population and their elected political leaders who favour banks
over their electorate is probably most distinctly pronounced in Spain’s notorious real estate sector.
Before the financial crisis hit Spain in 2008, there was a prolonged real estate bubble building up in
which many families took on mortgages to buy a home. Now that this housing bubble burst, many of
these mortgage-affected families do not only see a huge drop in the value of their houses (far below
the mortgage they took on), but they also get to know the clauses of their contracts and the Spanish
mortgage legislation the hard way. What many of them did not know when they signed their
contracts – because neither the bank, nor the realtor, nor the notary, nor the government warned
them of that particular legislation – is that if they happen to be late on one month’s payment, the
bank is allowed to start a fast-track foreclosure process on the debtor (Lopez Iturriaga, 2013). These
foreclosure processes cannot be halted by contesting abusive or downright illegal clauses of the
mortgage contract in court (BBC News, 2013). As Spain happens to be a country with extremely high
home ownership rates and a soaring unemployment rate since the crisis – with 26% the highest
figure after Greece in the eurozone – a growing number of families find themselves unable to meet
their monthly mortgage payments (Lopez Iturriaga, 2013). In 2010, the Spanish consumer protection
association Adicae estimated that about 1.4 million Spaniards were facing potential foreclosure
proceedings (Daley, 2010). Within the first five years of the crisis, over 350,000 families have been
evicted from their homes with numbers of daily evictions increasing year by year (Jourdan, 2014). In
2013, an average of 184 families was evicted from their homes every day (ibid.). What they also only
get to know in the foreclosure process is that they happen to live in one of the few countries where
legislation is excessively punitive on foreclosed families. Not only can they be evicted from their
33

homes through high-speed foreclosures if they happen to be one month late with their payment, but
they also continue to be personally liable for the full amount of the loan even after their house was
repossessed by the bank (Daley, 2010). On top of that come penalty interest charges which range
from 5-19% and tens of thousands of Euros in court fees, including those of the bank (ibid.).
Individuals who find themselves in this situation can effectively never get rid of this debt as it is not
possible to get relief in the courts through personal bankruptcy – Spanish legislation specifically
excludes mortgage debt there (ibid.). “I will be working for the bank for the rest of my life; I will
never own anything – not even a car” (ibid.) quotes the New York Times one mortgage victim. As
bankers pressed many homeowners to find guarantors at the time they took out the mortgages or
when they began to struggle to make payments, this even affects other family members like debtor’s
children who often took on that role thinking of it as a formality or not fully understanding the
implications (ibid.). Spanish banks are legally allowed to collect a percentage of the debtor’s income
if it exceeds €962 per month or €1,347 per month if the debtor has dependents (Human Rights
Watch, 2014). The chairman of the Spanish Mortgage Association called it “the bank’s duty to try to
collect” the debt from foreclosed families in order to ensure the bank’s solvency (Daley, 2010).
The government takes on a similar discourse in favour of the banks’ interests, arguing that
“we have not seen the problems of the U.S. because the guarantees here are so much better”
(Daley, 2010). Note that the “guarantees” that are spoken of here are guarantees for the lenders to
be paid irrespective of social circumstances of the debtor and not guarantees for the debtor that
there are no abusive clauses in the loan agreement. Implicitly, it is assumed that the lender is
morally in the right and needs to be protected from potentially immoral actions of the debtor (like
not paying her debts). This unspoken conception of the lender’s moral superiority over the debtor is
an almost universally held assumption that, as David Graeber (2011) shows formidably in his book
Debt: The First 5.000 Years, has been deeply engrained in our culture over time. Similarly, with “the
problems of the U.S.”, the politician did not mean mass evictions of people from their homes, but
private banks going bankrupt. This was in 2010 before Spain’s banks had to be bailed out with 41.3
billion Euros from the eurozone rescue fund; a loan that will have to be serviced by tax-payers’
money (Dowsett & White, 2014). However, even after banks were propped up through tax-payers’
money, politicians did not start to take sides with their population who demand amendments to the
foreclosure laws, including letting mortgage defaulters settle their debts with the bank by turning
over the property. The situation is such that judges have begun to look for legal loopholes in order to
aid foreclosure victims by temporarily suspending evictions (Lopez Iturriaga, 2013). Eventually, the
European Court of justice even ruled that Spanish legislation infringes EU law and that Spanish
judges should have the power to halt evictions while homeowners take legal action against clauses
34

in their contracts (BBC News, 2013). It seems the biggest support for mortgage victims comes from
within their own ranks though.
Since 2009, the popular movement Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) supports
mortgage victims through legal advice, direct action, and lobbying the state for a retroactive
amendment of the foreclosure laws (PAH, 2014a). The PAH is a nation-wide (over 200 groups in
different cities throughout Spain), decentralized, horizontal, non-violent, assembly-based movement
that uses a discourse of a right to housing and considers forceful evictions over economic motives a
legal but immoral violation of the right to a home (Lopez Iturriaga, 2013; PAH, 2014a). It defines
itself as “a group of people who, unaffiliated with any party, recognizes that […] the current legal
framework is designed to guarantee that banks cash in on debt, while at the same time the law gives
no protection to the people with mortgages who are unable to cover their payments due to reasons
such as unemployment or rising fees/interests” (Wikipedia translation of PAH, 2014b). Under the
platform, families who have trouble paying their mortgages, face eviction or have been evicted are
brought together with people in solidarity with them. The first thing that attracted many to seek the
PAH’s consultation was to first of all understand what happened with their mortgage, the legal
terminology being used, what their rights were and what they could do in this situation (Jourdan,
2014). Quickly, they realised that there was not much they could do legally, as even if there were
illegal clauses in their contracts, they would still be evicted while engaging in a lengthy and costly
process against the banks. At this stage, many would join the PAH’s assemblies and direct action
groups to help themselves and others in their situation through social pressure on the banks and
politicians.
On the political front, the PAH has exceeded the necessary amount of 500,000 signatures by
an additional one million in order to introduce a so-called popular legislative initiative (ILP), a
proposal of law by popular demand, to be voted in parliament (PAH, 2014c). The demands of the ILP
are: “a) A moratorium on evictions; b) The cancellation of mortgage debt upon handover of the
property to the bank; c) The creation of public rent housing with empty homes owned by banks”
(ibid.). Although, according to surveys, 90% of the Spanish population supports these demands, the
Spanish government of the conservative Partido Popular (PP; “People’s Party”) initially opposed
these demands and when this was no longer politically tenable, they merged it with a proposal of
their own which watered the demands so far down that it did not resemble the original ILP anymore
(Garea, 2013; Hernandez, 2013). In the meantime, the PAH started a visual campaign that spread
widely in the streets, social networks and mass-media (Enmedio, 2013a). It was a very simple
message for positive change that was rather non-confrontational and easy to reproduce. It
contained the popular slogan of the different Spanish political movements “Si se puede” (“Yes we
35

can”) printed on a green cardboard circle and a red cardboard circle that read “Pero no quieren”
(“But they don’t want to”). This visual imagery intended to display the possibility of change as
advocated by the PAH’s ILP and the opposition of conservative parliamentarians that block it against
the will of the people (ibid.). It spread widely across Spain and was displayed in the streets, on
demonstrations and in shop windows that supported the initiative. It was also displayed by
demonstrators in the rather confrontational – yet non-violent – escraches that took place in front of
banks, politicians’ workplaces and homes (Alvarez, Manetto & Hernandez, 2013). This tactic of
making demonstrations personal to name and shame politicians where they live and work is called
escrache and was widely used by Argentinean human rights activists against officials trying to avoid
responsibility for their actions under Argentina’s junta (Nichols, 2013). Taking their inspiration from
Argentina, the Spanish demonstrators adopting that strategy enraged parliamentarians who called
this practice “pure Nazism” and compared their perpetrators to the Basque terror organisation ETA
(Alvarez et al., 2013). The PAH’s response to the charges of obstructing democratic representatives
to freely exert their work are that they have tried to use every official way to meet these supposed
representatives to discuss the issue of thousands of families being made homeless, including
collecting 1.5 million signatures to propose a law in parliament, and that these representatives have
“not moved a millimetre” and do not seem to represent the will of the people (Nichols, 2013). The
reasoning is that as the politicians cannot be found another way, the people need to find them in
person to make their demands heard.
A similar strategy of deligitimation is applied to the banks by publically personalising the
evictions through a demonstration where a bank’s facade is placated with images and life-stories of
individuals who have been evicted by the banks (Enmedio, 2013b). The PAH reports that banks have
been much more willing to sit down and talk since they have been attacking their public image
(Lopez Iturriaga, 2013). And this is exactly what the PAH attempts to achieve: to sit down with the
banks that start foreclosure processes against their customers and negotiate with them to find a way
that the families can stay in their homes although they cannot meet their agreed mortgage payment.
In a personal interview, two members of a PAH-associated group in Madrid explained to me the
working methodology of the PAH. They told me most families are helped through negotiations for
social rent. If a family comes to the PAH because they struggle to meet their mortgage payments and
are facing a foreclosure process, the aim is to renegotiate the mortgage payment to a rate that the
family can afford. The most difficult step is to have the bank enter the negotiation process as in their
eyes there is no reason to negotiate about a standard foreclosure process – the law is in their favour.
Therefore, the PAH exerts social pressure on the banks to make them enter a negotiation with the
family. First, one or two activists go with the family to the bank to support them in asking for a
36

rearrangement of their mortgage plan. If the bank turns their request down, the next day the family
comes again with 10 more people from the PAH. If that does not help, they come the following day
back with 20 people, 30 people, and so on. Then people start peacefully protesting inside and
outside the bank, spraying the entrance, sleeping in the bank, etc. At the time of writing, this
method has halted 1135 foreclosures throughout Spain by negotiating social rents for affected
families (PAH, 2014a).
In the cases where the banks do not agree to halt the foreclosures and evict families, the
negotiation process is taken to a second stage which the PAH calls obra social (“social program”)
(Garcia & Sanz Paratcha, 2013). In that case, a vacant building which is owned by the bank that
evicted one or more families is identified and subsequently squatted, or in the PAH’s terminology
“liberated”. The liberation of a building is being done and celebrated in broad daylight with music
and dancers; a huge party, publically visible for everyone. When enough people have gathered
round to see what is happening, a pamphlet is being read through a megaphone explaining the obra
social and why they regard it as legitimate. The PAH gives special trainings to people opening the
building, to people supporting the first group by shielding them from police, to people whose role it
is to talk to police officers that may arrive, and so on. The trainings are published online in a socalled “squatter’s manual” (PAH, 2014d). Once the building is open, the families who have agreed
beforehand to live in the liberated building enter and cannot be evicted without a court order signed
by a judge (Jourdan, 2014). As mostly apartment blocks are chosen for this purpose, many families –
often up to 100 people, including children – can be housed in one building. Before they are allocated
to a building, the families undergo extensive training and education over the concepts and (legal)
consequences of squatting, philosophical discussions over private property, how to function as a
community inside the blocks, how to react when owners and police come and generally how to look
after each other in this newly formed living arrangement. If the bank wants their squatted building
back, they have to find a solution where to relocate the families in exchange for social rent
payments. Most families can afford to pay a certain amount of rent, but the most difficult thing, for
the banks to accept, the PAH activists told me, is that some families require a social rent of €0. The
building is only handed over when an acceptable arrangement has been found for all families, since
they function as a collective once moving into a block together. “One of the best things”, the PAH
activist confided me with a smile, “is that the bank needs to acknowledge and interact with this
group of people who they would usually just ignore.”
The idea of a large-scale public takeover of empty buildings to house evicted people began
to develop in the summer of 2011 (Garcia & Sanz Paratcha, 2013). A few months before that, people
in Andalusia who are not members of the PAH had begun their own campaigns for housing rights
37

with the same objective and strategy: occupy vacant housing blocks owned by banks and negotiate
for social rents (ibid.). While the local 15M assembly in Sevilla has contacts to these families, they
organise on their own, most of them middle-class families without any former background in
squatting (ibid.). At the time of writing, the PAH has relocated 1180 persons into liberated buildings
(PAH, 2014a), and many more follow the same method like the group in Andalusia (Garcia & Sanz
Paratcha, 2013). In many cases, the banks went to court to get the judge to sign an eviction order.
Several occupied buildings have been evicted, and in most of those cases the families are facing
criminal charges (ibid.). In an interview from November 2013, one of the lawyers who works with the
PAH admitted that the legal strategy of the movement “is still at an initial stage” (ibid.). A lot of work
went into developing the manual on squatters’ rights but there is no offensive legal strategy yet.
“We are thinking about looking for pronouncements from international agencies and centering the
offensive on the lack of alternatives that those who are evicted face,” said the lawyer at that stage
(ibid.). In the meantime, there have also been encouraging responses from the courts where judges
asserted the right to housing over the right to property (ibid.). On 16 October 2013, one building
should be evicted in Salt, near Barcelona. The night before the planned eviction, dozens of people
came to the building to support the families, and 100 fire-fighters announced that they would join
the fight to stop the eviction (ibid.). When the day came, the European Court of Human Rights
ordered that the eviction should be postponed until the end of the month and urged the Spanish
government to provide alternative housing to the families (ibid.).
The PAH is an especially interesting political and economic movement for me, because it
takes a narrative to scale that squatting activists adopt since a long time, but could never popularize
beyond their own marginalised sub-culture. Their campaign for mutual aid, solidarity and civil
disobedience strikes at the very core of Spain’s power structure which lies at the nexus between the
political elite and the financial industry (Delclos, 2013). The fact that a wide spectrum of society,
including middle-class families who would usually pass off as ‘respectable citizens’, challenges in this
particular context state decisions and a legal property regime gives the movement greater
significance and legitimacy. In contrast, the legitimacy of the Spanish state is further decreased
through repeated interventions of the European Court of Justice due to national legislation that
violates human rights in order to benefit banks over people’s livelihoods. According to surveys, the
PAH enjoys more support from the Spanish population than any political party (El Pais, 2013) and
was awarded the Spanish national prize for human rights in January 2013 (El Diario, 2013). Apart
from the practical help the movement offers to families in distress in their struggle against abusive
legislation and financial institutions, I find it especially pertinent to my thesis for the emotional
support, community work and formacion (education) it offers to its members. Through the short
38

term tactics and strategies which lead to tangible successes in relatively little time, the PAH succeeds
in empowering people (Delclos, 2013). Where state violence and media reports indoctrinate people
with the message of “There is no alternative”, movements like the PAH help people out of their
learned helplessness and let them experience the power of community. The members that I
interviewed told me that the PAH always emphasizes that families who come for help are not being
helped by the organisation’s saviours, but that they help themselves and need to help others, too.
While every family has two references who act as mentors for them, soon they are encouraged to
act as reference persons for new members. This way, the community grows constantly as the
families tell other families they know in similar situations. One member answers the question of
what the movements keys to success have been so far this way:
“The PAH’s success lies in every one of its local assemblies. People arrive at those assemblies
looking for a solution to their individual situation, but they quickly realise that through
solidarity and civil disobedience, not only can they find solutions to their problems, but also
that they are part of a community that is capable of large scale success.” (Delclos, 2013)
This is where I believe the long-term impact of the movement lies in terms of shifting political and
economic cultures. Surely, the movement helps families to housing when they might have ended up
on the street, and the PAH may eventually even be successful in pushing for a change in Spanish
mortgage legislation. The real impact for a long-term transition in economic cultures is in my eyes
however the experiential formacion they offer to their members. The whole educational work of the
movement is to externalise individuated systemic problems again (not being able to pay their
mortgage) and let people feel that it is not necessarily their fault, but that the situation they find
themselves in is of systemic nature, that they have a right to housing and that they are supported by
a community to attain that right. This experience makes people want to help others in the same way
and a movement of mutual aid and solidarity is born; values that differ significantly from the
neoliberal economic culture of networked self-interest and that may very well persist even after the
PAH may not be needed anymore. Ada Colau, spokesperson of the PAH, describes this transition in a
beautiful quote as an answer to the question how people respond when their eviction gets halted:
“More than with gratitude, they respond with personal involvement. Regardless of what
response it manages to elicit from the government, the PAH has won already. People arrive
here with their self-esteem at rock-bottom levels, they find support, and they feel the desire
to help others. It's a process that nearly everyone describes as like being born again: turning
from a victim into an activist. It's the most beautiful thing I have seen in my life.” (Lopez
Iturriaga, 2013)
39

La Cooperativa Integral Catalana
"In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic
model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete. That, in essence, is the higher service
to which we are all being called." (Buckminster Fuller, quoted on P2P Foundation Website (2014))

The most comprehensive and practically articulate manifestation of a new economic culture which I
came across during my research in Spain and Greece is embodied in the Cooperativa Integral
Catalana (CIC: Catalonia’s Integrated Cooperative) (CIC, 2014a). The network came into existence
after a controversial action by the anti-capitalist activist Enric Duran (Duran, 2014a). A few years
prior to the financial crisis in 2008, Duran started to study in depth the way the economy in its
current form functions and came to the conclusion that at the root of many of the contemporary
social, economic and ecological crises lies the creation of money by private banks through interestbearing debt. Then in 2005, he started to plan an action to expropriate banks with the motive to use
the money to create a social alternative to the current economy based on cooperation and selfmanagement (Duran, Bauwens, Gorenflo, & Restakis, 2014). The timing for his plan was just right – a
few months before the crisis where loans were given out freely – and so he managed to take out 68
commercial and personal loans from 39 banks in Spain (Kassam, 2014). In total, he managed to take
out loans in the magnitude of €492,000, the bulk of which he withdrew while being on a
promotional degrowth pilgrimage through Catalonia (Radi.ms, 2014). Mainly, it was not his cunning
way of misusing the financial system without being in an ‘insider’ position, but the way the money
was spent that earned him international media fame. Rather than putting the money away in a
private off-shore account, he used it to promote social alternatives to the current economic system
by sponsoring the mentioned degrowth pilgrimage, purchasing collectively held media equipment,
printing several editions of a free magazine that denounces the flaws and injustices of the current
system and points out viable alternatives, and building up the structures of the CIC (ibid.). After
spending two months in jail, he was released on bail and is now in hiding since he did not show up to
his trial in February 2013 where he was convicted to eight years in jail (RT, 2014). From his
undisclosed location, he continues to work on several projects surrounding the CIC and has pledged
to face trial under the condition that his case be treated under a restorative justice process tied to
the wider financial crisis (Chalmers, 2014). This would entail having banks alongside him on trial to
be judged for the damages done to their victims.
The founding story of the CIC sheds light on its radical working methods. The objective of the
network is to promote economic and political disobedience, and to embody a constructive proposal
40

for self-management to rebuild society in a bottom-up manner (CIC, 2014b). Activities are thus
aimed at enabling members to detach themselves as much as possible from the state and capitalist
formal economy through the building up of structures in which people can provide for each other
the diverse necessities for life in a self-organised manner. Duran describes the CIC as “a model for
transition more than a model for society” (Duran et al., 2014), as the idea is to progressively
construct practices and take decisions that move its members away from their starting point in the
current system and towards the world they envision. It is an open cooperative that does not require
formal membership and anyone who is interested can participate in its meetings and decisionmaking process (Duran, 2014b). The political organisation and decision-making process is assemblybased to fully incorporate the ideals of self-management, self-organisation and direct democracy
(CIC, 2014b). The network formally began its development in May 2010 with the first constituting
assembly and defines itself as follows (CIC, 2014c):
-

“Cooperativa, as a project that practices economic and political self-management with the
equal participation of all of its members. Also, because it takes the same legal form.

-

Integral, to join all of the basic elements of an economy, such as production, consumption,
financing and its own currency and at the same time because it seeks to integrate all of the
areas of activity necessary to live: food, housing, health, education, energy, transportation …

-

Catalana, because it organises itself and functions principally within Catalan territory.” (ibid.)

It should be clear by now that CIC differs from most traditional cooperatives in a variety of ways: it is
not membership-based, is largely not integrated in the formal national or global economy, does not
follow a competitive mentality and, most crucially, is statutorily oriented towards the common good
and the creation of material and immaterial commons (Bauwens, 2014). The CIC explicitly identifies
itself as an example of the new kind of open cooperativism that Michel Bauwens calls for (Duran,
2014b) and has recently entered into a strategic partnership with the “Peer to Peer Foundation”
(CIC, 2014d). The way the CIC dedicates itself to the creation of commons is by constructing an
integrated cooperative public system that produces in a collective and cooperative manner goods
and services for the collective good, outside of the realm of the state or private property (CIC,
2014c). The identified needs to be addressed by the network are listed as “food, education, health,
housing, transportation and energy” (ibid.). This is being done through a combination of
collectivisation and decentralisation. On the one hand, the CIC is a decentralised territorial network
constituted through autonomous projects that form nuclei of self-management (Duran et al., 2014).
On the other hand, these self-governing projects are linked through the CIC to promote between
each other the collectivisation of goods, land and buildings, and contribute to common goods like
education and public health (CIC, 2014c). While for example the collectivisation of land and buildings
41

is done through cooperative purchase or donation from its owners, common goods like education
and healthcare are maintained through mutual, pooled systems to cover project expenses (Duran et
al., 2014). This means that every participant contributes according to their economic means in form
of spontaneous donations or on the base of a table which displays the amount of income and
number of dependents (ibid.). Regarding access to food, the CIC built a structure of supply centres in
which food is collectively pooled and then distributed to the “pantries” of the individual projects and
communities (CIC, 2014e). Each of the supply centres interacts with farmers and food producers
from the local area and within the network to guarantee equitable food distribution for the entire
network (Duran et al., 2014). The different distribution mechanisms and individual exchanges are
facilitated through a network wide currency called “eco” which is connected to some 20 community
currencies in the bioregion. Duran estimates there to be some 300-400 productive projects, 30 local
nodes for integral self-management, about 15 communal living projects and about 4000-5000 active
participants in the network (ibid.). When I asked a member how much of their material needs
families can cover within the network, he told me the example of a family of four who lives
materially comfortable with 17€ per week; the rest of the family’s needs are covered within the
network. He continued to tell me that some people join the network because they are desperate
and need to find a way to get by, and others feed their houses and other capital stocks into the
network because they support it ideologically.
What animates all this activity is the conviction that the current political and economic
system is deeply flawed, inherently violent and currently drives itself into the ground. The
motivation is thus to detach themselves from a self-destructive system and build resilience in selfmanaged networks of mutual provision. The members do not believe in the fixing of a corrupt
system of representative democracy or the return of the welfare state and aspire to move beyond it
to a system of networks of mutual aid (CIC, 2014c). As, for the time being, the legal entity of a
cooperative involves interaction with the bureaucratic structures of the state, the CIC minimises this
interaction for its members by collectivising them under one legal organisational structure (CIC,
2014b) which is furthermore made accessible as an open-source structure to anyone who would like
to replicate this model (Duran, 2014b). Indeed, the worldwide proliferation of their model of
integrated cooperatives is something the CIC actively promotes through outreach work like the “call
for integral revolution” (Integra Revolucio, 2014) and the construction of an independent digital
communications and networking platform called “Radi.ms” (Radi.ms, 2014b). In a personal
interview, one member told me that the CIC has been invited to Germany and Greece to help with
the construction of similar networks there. Besides its constructive work through the various
projects within the network, the CIC promotes economic disobedience through the legal support of
42

squatting activities and a call for “self-taxation” to local projects dedicated to the common good
instead of the state (Duran, 2013). It furthermore works together with so-called “economic
disobedience offices” (five physical offices listed in different cities of Spain) and has helped to
publish two editions of a “Manual of Economic Disobedience” to assist people in withdrawing
resources and legitimacy from the state and channelling them into local projects instead (ibid.; CIC,
2014f).

15 May 2011: A Historical Date
“What we may be witnessing is […] the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's
ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of
human government.” (Francis Fukuyama (1992): The End of History?.)
“Vamos despacio porque vamos lejos.”
(Banner at 15M Occupation in Barcelona (2011): “We go slow because we go far.”)

Contrary to the famously proclaimed “end of history” by Francis Fukuyama (1992) after the fall of
the Berlin Wall, most Spanish youth I have talked to seem to be conscious of having witnessed and
partaken in a historical event that has significantly changed their ideological evolution. Many told
me explicitly that “there was a world before 15 May [2011], and there is a world after.” Nothing
seems to be quite the same since the 15M movement (named after the date 15 May when
occupations began) has occupied the main public squares for weeks on end in several cities
throughout Spain. In the run up to the date, the soon-to-be indignado movement felt frustrated and
“indignant” as political subjects about the empty debates in the municipal election campaigns and
took to the streets to demonstrate that there is nothing to vote and none of the representatives
actually represents the electorate (Castells, 2011). It is a feeling of disaffection for representative
democracy that is shared throughout Europe and much of the world, symbolised through the
physical occupation of public spaces in over 1,000 cities in more than 80 countries by mid-October
2011 (Oikonomakis & Roos, 2014). The old political elite are aware of the crisis of the political model
within which they rule. Felipe Gonzalez, one of the founders of Spain’s social-democratic Party PSOE
that governed Spain in tandem with the conservative Party PP for the last decades, puts it bluntly:
“There’s disaffection with politics – it’s quite universal. Representative democracy as we know it is in
crisis” (Mason, 2013, p. 226). Indeed, the economic crisis seems to drain the little legitimacy that the
political elite still held and redirects it to the streets where people experiment with horizontal,
43

assembly-based, direct democracy. The new political movements are decentralised, non-hierarchical
and practice “prefigurative politics – the end as process” (Sitrin & Azzelini, 2014). The dynamics,
cultures, methods and motivations of these new political movements are fascinating in their own
right and have been subject to many sociological and anthropological analyses (e.g. Castells, 2012;
Graeber, 2013; Sitrin & Azzelini, 2014). At this point, however, I want to focus on the movement’s
impact on the development of a new economic culture. For this, it is important to understand the
wide-ranging implications of a cultural shift brought about through the 15M movement.
The 15M movement can best be described as “a new social climate” (Fernandez-Savater,
2012). People say that they can now “see, think, feel and do other things” (ibid.) than they could
before 15M. The party system is no longer a taboo and there is a widespread conviction that politics
can be done differently. Generally, a whole generation has been politicised. A friend from Madrid
told me during my research that she was never interested in politics and always wanted to move out
of Madrid – until 15M. Before, “politics was a joke”, because people felt it was very removed from
their lives, run by a corrupt elite that governs in their own interest and does not care anyways what
people say or think. 15M changed a lot because all of a sudden politics got real for her generation
and people felt they had a stake in running their city and country. The disaffection with politics does
thus only pertain to the old political model which does not allow for citizen-participation beyond
casting a vote for two indistinguishable parties (which are colloquially grouped together under the
acronym PPSOE) every four years. On the streets and on the internet, everybody started talking
politics since 15M, and much more people got involved in neighbourhood assemblies, local
community projects, and wider political movements. 15M changed the general political culture (in
the sense of grassroots politics, not in the party system) and created communities of political
subjects. According to French philosopher Jacques Rancière (2001), politics interrupts what is
perceived as inevitable, creates an alternate map of what is possible and invents new political
subjects. It can thus be argued, that after decades of stifling politics through a TINA (“there is no
alternative”) discourse, 15M can be identified as the (re)birth of politics. What is presented as the
inevitable (austerity, representative democracy, neoliberal capitalism) is interrupted, an alternative
map of what is possible is being created (new political spaces, new economic networks) and new
political actors are being created from a formerly silenced mass into “the 99%” who now start raising
their voice (Fernandez-Savater, 2013b). As politics and economics go hand in hand, the new political
culture is accompanied by a new economic culture that evades the “inevitable laws of the market”
and practices economics differently by creating communities of new economic subjects.
Suddenly, outrage about legal economic injustices is not limited to marginalised activist
groups anymore, but pervades the whole of society. The indignation is cross-generational,
44

exemplified for example through senior citizens who group together in collectives to invade and
occupy the Barcelona Stock Exchange (Coca, 2012). What has previously been regarded as a routine
eviction due to lack of mortgage payment becomes suddenly intolerable (Fernandez-Savater,
2013b). Traditional banks suffer the worst deterioration in their public image since the Great
Depression and many people move their money to ethical banks instead. In 2011 alone, deposits in
Spanish ethical banks like Triodos, Fiare and Coop57 have increased by 54% (Gaupp-Berghausen,
2012). Besides indignation about the economic status quo, viable alternatives are being built on the
basis of cooperation, decentralisation, mutual aid and solidarity. While alternative economic
initiatives like consumer and producer cooperatives, time banks and community currencies have
existed already before the crisis and 15M, they suddenly gain traction through an increase in people
interested to participate and start up new projects. The reason is that the crisis sheds light on the
dark underbelly of the current economic system, people feel indignant about it, question their
values and are exposed to viable alternatives in the occupations of 15M which are focal points for
long-established practitioners of alternative economic projects. Furthermore, the encampments
themselves are counter-cultural spaces where practices of “commoning” (the creation of commons
(see e.g. Bollier, 2014)) abound (Gutierrez, 2013). People who have never heard of the commons
before are thus experientially immersed into what it is like to be a “commoner”, and to govern and
co-produce a shared space with shared resource through leaderless, non-hierarchical networks
(ibid.). Since the beginning, references to the commons and other values of the new economic
culture

like

autogestion

(self-management),

horizontalidad

(horizontalism),

cooperation,

decentralisation, solidarity and mutual aid were omnipresent in the debates and daily practices of
15M (ibid.). They were felt everywhere from the daily provision of food, over open libraries to
mutual legal aid. People who were part of the occupations told me that it was like living in a political
and economic utopia for some time.
The real revolution of 15M though, I have been told many times, is that 15M brought people
into contact with each other. Amador Fernández-Savater (2012), a popular philosopher who is an
active member of the movement, explains that “15-M has much to do with the joy of being together
in a competitive society of ‘each man for himself’. We have learned that the unknown other is not
only an enemy or an indifferent object, but can also be an accomplice” (ibid.). An activist from the
Madrilenian community project “Patio Maravillas” told me that 15M was an event where many
people lost their fears to meet their neighbours. The real revolution that took place was the
community building at that time. It is known from successful initiatives in the social and solidarity
economy that the most important factor for success is not the innovative technology that enables
people to cooperate, but the social capital that needs to be built beforehand through community
45

work (Jackson & Victor, 2013). This is a lesson drawn, for example, from the emblematic case study
of the community development bank “Banco Palmas” in Brazil, which subsumes economic activities
to community relations, trust and solidarity (França Filho et al., 2012). As important as the
organizations, initiatives and technologies are that emerge out of 15M, the crucial factor are the
social relations that are being built in the process. The cultural shift that needs to happen for a new
economy is that of a society of isolated individuals and fragmented communities to that of tightlyknit, networked communities that create social and economic resilience. This sense of connection
and belonging is also a key aspect for people’s well-being which is yearned for more than anything
else in contemporary Western society (Jackson, 2011). I strongly assume that this feeling of
togetherness and working for a greater cause is why so many talk of the times of 15M as a “utopia”.
Eventually, the utopia needed to diffuse as people cannot continue to live in the squares and need
to get on with their daily lives. In fact, one of the challenges is to integrate the lessons and
experiences of 15M in everyday live. It still continues even though it is now less visible. Now, it does
not take the form of symbolic occupations of the central squares anymore, but the organisation
through neighbourhood assemblies and alternative economic networks. What remains from the
weeks of 15M besides the newly formed institutions and organisations, are the networked social
relations, a new perception of economy and politics, and the experiential knowledge of “si, se
puede” (“Yes, we can”). As my personal journal entry reflects, now that the spectacle in the main
squares is gone, it is easy for outsiders who have not been part of this experience to fall in the trap
of assuming the “revolution” or cultural shift has subsided:
24 May 2014: When I visited Puerta del Sol, the main occupation space of the indignados in
Madrid, I noticed for the first time that it was the square from which all the biggest shopping
streets in Madrid start. Before going there, I heard Olga’s stories about how thousands of
people were occupying the plaza, how direct democratic elections and invigorated
discussions took place there. How people were drawing the crowds as a chronicle and writing
up the happenings as counter information against the misrepresentation of the mass media.
Now that I was there, I did not see any sign on this plaza that this event ever happened. All I
saw were huge shopping streets going in all directions, people running around with big
shopping bags displaying the logos from where they have just bought their latest consumer
goods and tourists taking pictures of themselves and others. I felt like in the centre of
Babylon. There was no statue, no commemorative plaque, no material sign that any of the
revolutionary democratic practices that my subculture was so enthusiastic about ever
happened. After having heard all the stories about the indignado movement, about the
events that happened at this historic place not too long ago, after having sought out
46

alternative economic initiatives and counter-hegemonic spaces throughout the city, I was
confronted with the realisation that the consumer culture is still dominant. That most of the
people who I saw on this plaza did not share my conviction (or possibly even desire for that
matter) that a cultural transition is going on. They have probably not heard of a single
project or alternative economic practice that I take as evidence for the transition we are
currently going through. The consumer culture is still ubiquitous; I need to consciously search
for the signs of a cultural transition towards different economic practices, but as soon as I
diverge from my carefully researched path, the other side presents itself as the overwhelming
standard.
This journal entry serves as a good reminder that the new economic culture is not a cultural
hegemony yet and that consumerism is still the modus operandi for many individuals out there.
Nonetheless, the economic countercultures are clearly growing and while the old political and
economic model may still reign in the centres of power, they are losing legitimacy with the ongoing
crisis, and the decentralised economic networks are more resilient and better equipped to deal with
the various crises still to come.

Chapter 3: GREECE
The goal of my dissertation is to find out in how far the responses of Southern European
communities to the economic crisis constitute the emergence of a new economic culture. For this
purpose I travelled to two of the countries which were hit hardest by the crisis: Spain and Greece. It
was important for me to experience the shared dynamics and differences of how the emergence of
new economic cultures plays out in the respective countries. I could equally well have travelled to
Italy and Portugal and would certainly have found commonalities of new economic practices and
distinct characteristics of the contingencies in the particular countries. In the following section I
want to sketch out a short comparison how the emergence of new economic cultures plays out in
Greece as in contrast to Spain. I have spent two weeks of June 2014 in Athens to conduct field
research and most of the information presented in the following section is based on personal
conversations and interviews.

The Importance of Culture and History
Before I arrived in Greece, the first thing I heard from a fellow researcher and alternative economic
practitioner was “familiarize yourself with the modern Greek history before you come. This context
47

is vital to understanding the why's, how's, and who's of the solidarity economy (and anything else)
here.” While I cannot go much in depth here, it is important to know that the modern Greek history
of the last 200 years is a chaotic sequence of gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire, being
ruled over by Western European royalty, the Balkan Wars, the Greco-Turkish War, the Nazi
occupation, a civil war, a seven-year long American-backed military dictatorship and the very recent
evolution of a modern democracy and market economy after the end of the junta in 1974 (see e.g.
Wikipedia, 2014b). This sequence of occupations and the experience of collaborators within the own
population has left a legacy of a “culture of mistrust” which still persists today, I have been told
many times. In the context of the new political movements, at the occupation of Syntagma square
(the Greek equivalent to 15M), this expresses itself in the existence of various strains of anarchist
and communist fractions which are contrasted to reports of the open and inclusive communities of
the 15M squares in Spain (Fernandez-Savater, 2013b). A “culture of mistrust” is a crucial feature to
be worked on in the context of a new economic culture which essentially relies on trust and the
strengthening of social relations within and between communities. In comparison to Spain, I found
that political parties like the left alliance ”Syriza” play a much bigger role in Greece, as well as
reports about serious discussions whether rather to use violence against the state or build up
alternative structures - a discussion not being had in Spain since there is a clear decision for the
latter option.
Another aspect that is tied to the recent integration in the European community and the
long history of being part of the Ottoman Empire is the question of cultural identity in Greece
(Hinton, 2012). On the one hand, modern Western culture – including Western philosophy and
democracy – has been born in ancient Greece. On the other hand, during the 400 years under
Ottoman rule, Greece did not share much of Europe’s more recent cultural development, including
the Renaissance and Enlightenment. On the front, Greece identifies very much as a modern
European state and did much from the 1980s throughout the 2000s to catch up with its European
neighbours in terms of urbanisation and the development of mass consumerism. Underneath the
surface, however, every so often shines a certain inferiority complex through with people saying in a
slightly embarrassed tone “you know this country; it’s not like Germany or the UK” or flat out “this is
not Europe”. It is possible that this cultural identity crisis of being at the crossroads of East and West
contributes to a glorification and fetishism of its ancient culture and the development of a
heightened nationalism as exemplified through the neo-Nazi movement of “Golden Dawn”.
At the same time that there is an internal cultural crisis in Greece, there is an unprecedented
attack by Northern European (e.g. German, Dutch and Skandinavian) media on the Greek culture. At
the time of the Greek bailout in 2011, the Northern European media launched an ugly campaign
48

presenting Greece as a country full of lazy people who do not want to work and therefore need to
rely on the tax money of the hard working Northern European population. The Dutch newspaper
“Telegraaf” ran a headline saying “Boom, kick them out of the eurozone. Our citizens no longer want
to pay for these wasteful Greeks” (Beugel, 2011), and the German “Bild” Magazine demanded that
Greece should pawn its natural and cultural heritage to pay off its debts: “Sell your islands, you
bankrupt Greeks! And sell the Acropolis too!” (Roos, 2014). Oblivious to the historical sensitivities
around the German annexation of foreign territories, the right-wing magazine demanded “We give
you cash, you give us Corfu” (ibid.). That these allegations of laziness do not hold up to statistical
analysis – the Greek people work with 40.6 hours per week most of all 27 EU member countries
(Beugel, 2011) – does not interest these newspapers and magazines. They are simply preparing a
discourse to justify the large-scale privatisation of Greek national assets. It is sad to observe that big
parts of the Northern European population adopt this narrative without much critical reflection and
elect nationalist political parties on the platform of non-solidarity campaigns against the financial
assistance of fellow eurozone countries (Rantanen, 2012). A Greek friend told me of an experience
he had when he was with friends at a cafe in the Netherlands. As soon as one member (a Dutch lady)
of the group heard that he was Greek, she proclaimed: “I’m not going to pay my part of the bill. You
should pay for me, as my tax money goes to cover your country’s debts.” Luckily, in the same
countries there are also international grassroots solidarity movements which recognise the dire
situation the Greek population finds itself in and financially assists local solidarity initiatives on peerto-peer basis.

Solidarity Economics and the Welfare State
Greece is the country hit hardest by the economic crisis and the population’s capability to meet basic
needs suffers accordingly. As many families struggle to feed themselves or access healthcare
services, solidarity initiatives like social medical clinics, social pharmacies, and social kitchens spring
up across the country (Solidarity4All, 2013). These solidarity initiatives are all volunteer-run centres
for peer-to-peer assistance. Solidarity clinics are run by volunteer doctors and health care workers
who provide free primary healthcare to those who lost access to the medical insurance system.
Social pharmacies are centres where citizens can donate pharmaceuticals or drop off the drugs that
they have at home and do not need for themselves, in order for them to be given out to people who
need medicine but cannot afford any. Social supermarkets provide every 15 days packages of food
and household goods for families in need. The contents of the supply packages are gathered by
private individuals in front of supermarkets who ask customers to donate something to the solidarity
49

network; they often have a list of items that are most urgently needed. Solidarity kitchens are
networks of individuals who bring ingredients and cooking equipment to a public place in order to
cook and share a warm meal together. Often anybody can come to these events, whether in need or
not, and people are encouraged to help in other ways – like cooking or helping to clean up – if they
cannot contribute ingredients, in order remove the stigma of charity and make it an event of coproduction instead. Furthermore, there are free education activities like Greek language courses for
immigrants and music and language classes for children which are not offered in school and families
have to organise privately. Although in 2012, there were about 20.000 homeless in Greece – a
phenomenon almost unknown before the crisis – there are no house evictions yet because Greek
mortgage legislation is not as punitive on the debtor as in Spain. This legislation is scheduled for
revision at the end of 2014 though (ibid.).
In June 2014, I have visited the umbrella organisation “Solidarity 4 All” (S4A) which attempts to
assist the various autonomous solidarity projects in material and immaterial ways (Solidarity4All,
2013). I was told that the organisation is the node of 2,000 self-governing solidarity initiatives
throughout the country, one third of which is situated in the metropolitan area of Athens. S4A
provides financial assistance to purchase medical equipment and materials where solidarity clinics
and pharmacies do not succeed to acquire them through their own means. The funds are partially
provided by a number of Syriza MPs who donate 20% of their salaries to the organisation and
partially through an international grassroots campaign for solidarity with Greece (Greece Solidarity
Campaign, 2014). The international solidarity movement which comprises members from England,
Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium supports Greek solidarity initiatives
through money and materials like clothes and school materials. Besides being the connecting hub
and providing support for the various solidarity initiatives throughout Greece, S4A organises wider
campaigns like asking olive oil producers to donate part of their produce to gather one litre of olive
oil for every unemployed person in Greece. A more regular campaign is the “No Middlemen
Movement” which connects farmers directly to the end-customers without using intermediaries to
sell once a month fresh produce like vegetables, potatoes, oil, flour and lemons at cost price
(Katerini, 2012). This way, the price for these goods can be lowered by up to 50 percent compared to
what they cost in the supermarket (ibid.). Besides the immediate alleviation of material need, S4A
regards the role of solidarity also as emotional support against the fear spread by the media,
government and neo-Nazi movement of “Golden Dawn”. The latter runs their own solidarity
networks which gives out rice and cooked meals to poor Greek Orthodox families to gather them for
their cause. S4A hopes to have a long-term impact with their work to politically mobilise society and
engage it in inclusive and democratic ways of making decisions.
50

The response of Greek civil society to the crisis is impressive: S4A estimates that between 2011
and 2012 the number of solidarity initiatives rose from about 100 to over 2,000 (Katerini, 2012) – a
remarkable number for a population of about 10 million. Although the solidarity initiatives certainly
have a positive impact in terms of people’s morale and actual material well-being, overall, the
various clinics and food initiatives have far more people requesting help than they can assist with
the means they have. Although such solidarity networks provide the lived experience of mutual aid
which is important in the development of a new economic culture, they resemble rather Rebecca
Solnit’s (2009) account of collaborative disaster relief than long-term structures for an economic
transition. The S4A organisers are themselves painfully aware that the solidarity initiatives perform a
role that a functional welfare state should usually perform. If there was a welfare state which would
provide a basic social safety net to ensure people’s subsistence and a universally accessible
healthcare system, there would be little need for a solidarity network. It often seemed to me as if
people in the solidarity economy had an ambiguous relation to charity and the welfare state. On the
one hand, they are outraged about the catastrophic shrinking of the welfare state in form of cut
pensions, unemployment benefits and free healthcare, and on the other hand they disparage charity
as an enslavement of the human spirit. Proponents of solidarity initiatives emphasize the notion of
co-production and mutual aid in their projects to the extent that in some cases they exclude those
unable (or unwilling) to help in the acquisition and distribution of resources. This is for example the
case in the video documentary “Pieces of Madrid” (Jourdan, 2014) where a Spanish solidarity
network asks customers in front of supermarkets to buy something extra for their food bank while
framing it as mutual aid: “We have gathered this food to hand it out to people who need it. Mutual
aid: we give the food out to the people who help. It’s not charity; it’s help that we give out mutually.
Those who come to help also receive help. Those who don’t help, don’t receive help.” First of all, it is
a questionable distinction between charity and mutual aid as the customers donate something to
the solidarity network out of charitable reasons without expecting anything in return. To the extent
that members of the food bank have to contribute to the acquisition of the food in order to receive
something, it could equally well be framed as an organised beggar network which distributes its
bounties internally. While acknowledging the virtues of co-production, I find it dangerous to exclude
people from solidarity initiatives because they are unable to contribute. Certainly, it is important to
empower people to contribute to their own subsistence since people easily fall in the trap of
psychological and material dependency if they are being spoon-fed by a person or institution.
However, if only people able to contribute are included in solidarity networks, then it raises the
question where the people remain who do not have access to either state benefits or citizen-led
solidarity initiatives. This is a crucial question that came up more generally in relation to my

51

research. Individuals with the skills, education and social capital to build up and participate in
alternative economic practices are to some extent able to weather the crisis outside of the formal
economy and state services. Those, however, who lack the skills or social and cultural capital to gain
access to these networks, are left to their own demise if there is no private or public support system
to guarantee their subsistence. This is why, in my eyes, it is indispensable to have a functional state
which guarantees at least the subsistence of all its inhabitants and the diffusion of social welfare.

The New Economy in Greece
Compared to Spain, there is a far bigger emphasis on solidarity projects in Greece to address the
immediate needs of the population who see themselves confronted with increased taxes, rising
prices for food and electricity, steep salary cuts and a mere one-year period of unemployment
benefits (Solidarity4All, 2013). The Greek cooperative movement is by far not as strong as in Spain,
since it does not have a comparable history in the country and basically started to develop as a
response to the crisis. Spain’s comparatively strong development of an alternative economy can be
traced back to its historically strong cooperative movement and establishment of social
infrastructure to support alternative economic practices prior to the crisis (De Jong, 2014).While in
Spain, activists have already been working on the establishment of an alternative economic culture
for decades and built networks for the development of a new economy prior to 2008, this culture
only starts to develop as a response to the crisis in Greece. The effect of this is that there are several
obstacles to the development of cooperatives and alternative economic networks in Greece.
According to Klaus Niederländer, the director of Cooperatives Europe, the missing legal framework
to enable growth on a national scale is the main barrier to the Greek cooperative sector (Birch,
2012). Organisers from Solidarity 4 All told me that one of the main obstacles to start new ventures
in the social and solidarity economy is the access to finance. In contrast to Spain, which has
established financial cooperatives that continue to provide seed funding for ethical businesses
during the crisis, Greece does not have any infrastructure to support individuals who would like to
start a cooperative or other value-driven economic institution. Besides a supportive legal framework
and access to seed funding, also other supportive institutions like legal advice and networks that
increase the interconnectivity between individual projects still need to be developed in Greece.
Basically, whereas Spain already had a functional infrastructure that could support the new
enthusiasts of alternative economic practices to start their own projects or to get engaged in existing
ones, Greece needs to build the whole sector from scratch. It is the more impressive how many new
economic projects are starting up in the short amount of time since the crisis hit Greece. Overall, the
52

development of a shared vision what kind of economic transition is needed and how to effect it is at
a much earlier stage in Greece than it is in Spain, although there is already a big culture surrounding
the concepts of “solidarity” and “degrowth”.
There are a number of hubs that attempt to map the emerging new economy in Greece and
connect the variety of projects with each other. Solidarity 4 All is one of these hubs for the solidarity
economy and the “Omikron Project” tries to create increased visibility for the newly emerging sector
and culture of alternative economic practices while at the same time challenging the Northern
European defamations of the “lazy coffee- and ouzo-drinking Greeks” (see Appendix 1 & 2).
Furthermore, there have been two editions of “The Festival of Solidarity & Cooperative Economy”
with a third one being scheduled for October 2014 (Festival4sce, 2014). I have been lucky to get the
chance to interview the festival’s main organiser during my time in Athens. While she recognises
that Greece is still taking the first steps of developing economic alternatives to the collapsing formal
economy, she sees a lot of initiatives starting up in a very short amount of time. According to her,
within the last five years over 1,000 initiatives started up with a great diversity of forms and content,
including local exchanging trading schemes (LETS), community-supported agriculture initiatives
(CSA), self-sufficiency projects, commons movements, local sharing economies, time banks and a
wide variety of community currencies. She says that Greek networks are much less organised than
Spanish ones in terms of overarching networks and technological tools like digital assemblies, and
that the next step is to build ties between the various initiatives and have them collaborate. Like
many social networkers in the new economy sector that I met during my research, she is also helping
to organise a particular project; in her case a time bank in Athens. The Athens Time Bank has about
3,000 registered members of which around 800 are active. She assumes that most of the
participants use the time bank because they do not have sufficient Euros to meet their needs and
the participation in the time bank eases their dependency on national currency. As a person who is
involved in the organisation of many projects, she wishes for more people to help in the governance
of the project to not depend on a small group of dedicated activists and because such projects
should be run by the community on principles of direct democracy. She told me that there are also
EU funded time banks in Greece but she does not collaborate with them in her role as the festival
organiser, because she believes that it “doesn’t make sense to use money to build a time bank which
purpose is to circumvent the use of money”. She claims that due to their founding structures, these
initiatives will never develop the necessary consciousness for deep-rooted systemic change. Like
many others in the new economy sector, she is also very critical of big philanthropic initiatives from
the church or state as they are not citizen-led and lack the necessary awareness of the need for
systemic change or have even vested interests against it. While she acknowledges that it is good that
53

they are there since they also help, she does not like their approach which resembles more charity
than cooperative aid. They do not educate people and communities for self-sufficiency and do not
enable people to contribute to their own material improvement. She emphasizes that it is of key
importance to have the educative projects for self-sufficiency cooperate with the solidarity projects
so that they can complement their short-term impacts with the formacion for long-term transition.
Besides having a tangible material impact on people’s lives in the crisis, the alternative economic
practices provide a beacon of hope and life quality for people in Greece. In a country where many
say that the crisis has resulted in a “collective depression”, the sense of empowerment, social
solidarity and belonging to a community is vital to survive the economic disaster wreaked upon the
Greek population. One former business owner describes the impact of being member of a citizen-led
solidarity initiative:
“From being a gentleman, from having my own shop, [...], I reached the point of going to the
Church’s soup kitchens. I had gone mad, my psychology had sunk to the bottom... Now I offer
help to others, but also to myself, this gives me pleasure, keeps me alive. We are at the end, but
from this end we try to help each other. Here we are all one family, the Club’s premises has
become my second home.” (Solidarity4All, 2013)
I find this quote describes the powerfully the difference between being helped at “the Church’s soup
kitchens” and being enabled to help yourself and others through cooperative solidarity initiatives.
Similarly, research about Greek complimentary currency systems shows that while they can offer
significant material relief by leading to increased transactions, production level and employment,
the strongest motive for participation in such schemes is not the need for goods and services but the
need to “participate, offer and feel empowered” (Eleni, George, & Dimitris, 2013, p.3).
Like in Spain, there are also widespread anti-austerity movements in Greece. In response to
the harsh austerity measures devised by the Troika and passed by the Greek parliament, there have
been widespread riots in Athens’ inner city and violent conflicts between protesters and riot police
(Vradis & Dalakoglou, 2011). At the same time, especially in 2011 and 2012, Greece saw the rise of
the neo-Nazi movement and fascist party “Golden Dawn” which controlled whole neighbourhoods,
trashed market stands of migrant traders, and did face controls at subway exits to beat up
immigrants in plain eyesight of police officers (ibid.). For a while, “anomy” – “a situation where
instead of anarchy (lack of government), you find mass refusals to cooperate with the system, amid
the collapse of social norms” (Mason, 2013, p.103) – was the buzzword of political commentators in
Greece who feared social breakdown as they saw their society disintegrate (ibid.). The government
lost grip on social control in the country and tried to uphold it through brutal police force while
54

people defied social norms like paying road tolls or the bills for their privatised utilities as a protest
against the austerity “memoranda” (ibid.). While never reaching far into Greek society, the state lost
absolutely any legitimacy through the passing of successive austerity memoranda which not only
caused humanitarian crises in the country but also increased its public debt (ibid). The social
opposition to these measures was so fierce that the Greek government eventually had to scale back
its projected privatisation proceeds from 50 billion Euros by 2015 to 11 billion Euros by 2016 (Smith,
2014). Grassroots campaigns throughout several cities in Greece rouse public opinion against the
privatisation of public water utilities and have achieved first successes through a favourable court
ruling that blocked the privatisation of the Athens water utility (Kanellopoulou, 2013). In contrast to
Spain, where the squatting movement is largely directed towards housing, Greek occupations seem
to be more related to geographical struggles like the preservation of particular neighbourhood parks
which are commissioned for “development” (e.g. into parking lots). One example is the so-called
“parking park” in the anarchist neighbourhood Exarcheia in Athens which has become a commons
initiative after people occupied an open air parking lot and turned it into a self-managed
neighbourhood park (Parkingparko, 2014). Another popular occupation success story in Greece is
that of the occupied Vio.Me. factory which has been occupied by its workers before the owners
could take away the machinery without paying the nearly 1.5 million Euros owed in salaries and
compensations (Karyotis, 2014). Taking inspiration from Argentina, the workers adopted the slogan
“Occupy! Resist! Produce!” and decided to continue to produce while governing their workplace
through workers assemblies (ibid.). So far, the factory has been operating under workers’ control for
over 1,5 years and shifted parts of its production to environmentally friendly cleaning products using
local and natural ingredients (Vio.Me., 2014). The products have been largely distributed through
the Greek solidarity networks and the workers received widespread support from other solidarity
initiatives (Karyotis, 2014).
Overall, it seems to me that Greece is at a much more radicalised position than Spain with its
material hardships being more severely pronounced and the reactions more desperate than in Spain.
Political ideologies clash harder in Greece with the police and Golden Dawn members taking violent
actions against protesters and anti-fascist groups as well as left-wing cooperatives and solidarity
initiatives (Youlountas, 2013). Nonetheless, there are very promising developments of a surge of a
wide variety of new economic initiatives being developed in a very short time. If this rapid
prototyping and developing of new economic cultures continues at such a pace and supplementary
support structures are built to connect the various initiatives with each other, it might well be that
Greece may soon champion one of the strongest cultural hegemonies of a new economic culture.

55

CONCLUSION
“I believe right now that we are sleeping on a volcano. Can you not sense by a sort of instinctive
intuition … that the earth is trembling again in Europe? Can you not feel the wind of revolution in the
air?” (Alexis De Tocqueville, 1848)
De Tocqueville’s quote above has a timely resonance to it. It seems like the earth is trembling again
in Europe. The global financial crisis of 2008 has drawn ripples through the social, political and
economic spheres of Southern Europe. Contemporary Greece and Spain are characterised through
the struggles between a political elite trying to adhere to the Troika’s austerity policies and a
population that is indignant about the prioritisation of banks over their own needs. In both
countries, there are resistance movements against the austerity policies that dismantle their welfare
state and privatise the country’s public assets. 2011 has been a decisive year to construct a
movement of the people as decentralised, non-hierarchical, assembly-based movements occupied
the main squares in Spain and Greece. Out of these spontaneous gatherings rose neighbourhood
assemblies and communities of new economic practitioners. Together, they started to construct
their own political processes and alternative economy that is based on cooperation, solidarity and
community-mindedness.
The research question that serves as the red thread of my dissertation reads: “To what
extent do the responses to the economic crisis in Spain and Greece resemble a move towards a new
economic culture that is characterized by cooperation, solidarity and community-orientation?”.
During my field research I came across festivals for the cooperative and solidarity economy, a largescale squatter’s movement for mortgage-affected people, an integrated cooperative network that
helps people to detach themselves from the formal economy by building up a collective production
network, and many individual projects that aim to build up a new economy with the values that
people would like to see embodied in economic interactions. The values embodied in these
economic initiatives can be described as “from the people for the people”; this new economy is
based on cooperation, democratic decision-making, mutual aid and solidarity. Its primary motive is
the creation and provision for communities, placing a strong emphasis on social relations,
participation and the common good. I believe that the plethora of alternative economic initiatives
and the decentralised political movements constitute clear signs of a new economic culture in the
making. The economic crisis plays a crucial role in the development of this new economic culture.
First, it disrupts the cultural hegemony of the current economic system by demonstrating its
inherent injustices and instabilities. Consumerism and “business-as-usual” is for many not an option
56

anymore as they are taken out of their old lifestyle with the loss of their jobs. Since it is very difficult
to find new employment, people look for alternatives to make ends meet. They start engaging in
barter networks, group together in worker cooperatives and find social support in a wider
movement of people who face similar troubles with paying their mortgage. As the state is not
supporting its population adequately through the economic crisis, people look to each other to help
each other out and build something new. Some people have engaged in these alternative economic
networks for many years already and others try to find their way into this new economic culture as
the crisis cuts into their lives. While in Spain established networks saw a significant increase in
people interested to get involved or start up new projects and were able to provide assistance
through established institutions and frameworks, Greece has to prototype this culture from scratch
and boasts an impressive number of projects starting up in the social and solidarity economy. At the
same time, governments and banks lose legitimacy and are challenged by their electorate and
former customers. Representative democracy and property rights of banks are called into question
by widespread social movements that put social pressure on banks and experiment with direct
democratic processes. Legitimacy is drawn from established centralised institutions and redirected
to newly emerging dispersed social networks. The social turmoil that can be observed in Southern
Europe at the moment can be interpreted as the struggle between the old and the new economic
culture, between the old centralised institutions of power and the new dispersed social movements
that challenge the cultural hegemony of the governing institutions and build new political and
economic structures.
The question how this new economic culture will fare when/if the economic crisis ends and
regular employment opportunities become available again is posed often in relation to my research.
I believe that the new economic culture and structures currently being built will persist one way or
the other and are not only a temporary phenomenon to weather the crisis. Certainly, many
individuals who get engaged with alternative economic practices, because they currently do not see
another possibility to get by, aim to take up formal employment again as soon as the opportunity
arises. Many others though find a deeper sense of fulfilment and belonging through the
communities of new economic practitioners and would not want to give up the practised values of
cooperation and solidarity for a better-paid job. The older generation that has lived for decades in
the old work- and consumption-model may find it tempting to go back to their old lifestyles even
though the alternative economic practices that were very marginal before the crisis have become
widely accepted by now. However, the young people who are now in their twenties and have lived
through six years of crisis – and who knows how many more – will be strongly shaped by this period
of their lives. They are engrained with values of economic democracy, cooperation and solidarity in a
57

time that is crucial for their socialisation. They adopt the new political and economic culture as their
main culture and will want to continue to co-create the economic structures they are part of even if
the formal economy recovers again. Furthermore, it can be expected that the global economic
structures will continue to be shaken by economic crises in the years to come, if not by inherent
instabilities of the capitalist system itself, then by external resource pressures that will converge in
the coming years and make a radical rethinking of the economy necessary. The localised and
cooperative production networks that are currently developing in Southern Europe are crucial
prototypes of resilient production and distribution networks outside of the global economy. Chris
Thomson who has been a Bank of England economist, lawyer in Scotland and Scottish National Party
candidate lives now in Catalonia and recognises the change that is currently taking place: “I don’t
think the mainstream structures will last much longer. They are in their death throes. One global
paradigm is dying and, at the same time, another one is growing that will replace it. The new
paradigm hasn’t got a name but you can see signs of it, social and economic signs” (Chalmers, 2014).
He explains: “It’s like any birth – it’s painful for the mother and it’s utterly confusing for the child.
The real success of the paradigm will be individual change, individual by individual” (ibid.). In context
of the current economic crisis, many individuals have bid goodbye to the old economic paradigm and
are now adopting a new economic culture that may constitute this new paradigm.

58

APPENDIX
Appendix 1: Omikron Project – Grassroots Groups in Greece May 2013 (Omikron, 2013)

59

Appendix 2: Omikron Project – Grassroots Groups in Greece June 2014 (Omikron, 2014)

60

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