LIVEWHAT researchers organised a Section on ”Citizens’ Resilience in Times of Crisis” that provided evidence-based knowledge about citizens’ resilience in times of economic crises with a view to identifying more effective policy responses to the negative consequences of such crises. It examined in particular the ways in which European citizens have reacted to the crisis that, at different degree of intensity in different countries, struck Europe since 2008, but also how they dealt with economic crises and their consequences more generally. This may encompass a wide range of strategies and forms of resilience by citizens, from exiting from the political sphere and withdrawing from political engagement to voicing their concerns and engage in political action. It may also refer to citizens who choose different channels and strategies to make their voice heard as an active reaction to crises. Not only can they engage in political action and protest, but they may seek access to justice at various levels (from local to European and international) and take part in the associational life of their community. Economic crises may also open up new opportunities for political parties – in particular, right-wing populist parties – which voters might consider as providing attractive solutions to cope with the negative consequences of the crisis. In addition, citizens might develop new attitudes and practices towards the economic system, society at large, and their own place within it. Studies show the existence of a wide repertoire of non-capitalist practices that involve citizens lowering their cost of living, connecting to other communities and assisting others. Alternative forms of resilience include the strengthening of social and family networks and community practices to foster solidarity in the face of crises, change of lifestyles towards more sustainable forms of consumption and production, developing new artistic expressions, moving abroad for short or long durations (or on the contrary reducing mobility). In brief, the section examined both individual and collective responses by citizens, both the private and the public dimensions of such responses, and both political and non-political responses. In addition, special attention was paid to new and alternative forms of resilience in times of crises.
The section’s aim was to create a dialogue as well as a cross-fertilization of finding between the research outputs of this project and the wider scholarly community working in this field, also with the aim of establishing a research network of scholars working on this topic. The section was supported by the Standing Group on Participation and Mobilization. Panel 3 was also part of the section on Forms of Political Violence.
The section included eight panels:
Panel 1: Changing interactions between publics and policies in times of crises
Panel Chair: Manlio Cinalli (Sciences Po Paris)
This panel dealt with relational mechanisms at the meso-level beyond the consideration of policy change at the macro- level and variations of political behaviour in time of crisis. The current crisis is often discussed in terms of its bad impact on a number of ‘deviant’ forms of political behaviour, in particular, electoral abstention, political aphasia, or alternatively, affiliation to left/right extreme movements/parties (and the recourse to extreme forms of political mobilisation). The increasing call for a ‘normalised’ political inclusion is also bringing about many calls for reforms in terms of labour market, social policy, access to citizenship, as well as specific policies targeting the most vulnerable groups. Yet, relational dynamics stand out as a crucial filter between channels for political access, flow of resources, and identities on the one hand, and both the micro- (individuals) and the meso- (organisations) levels of political participation on the other hand. Attention on these relational dynamics allows for assessing the roles and positions of a large number of different actors –—including policy-makers, political elites, movements of citizens, vulnerable groups, organisations mobilising on their behalf, as well as various civil society stakeholders.
Going beyond an approach looks especially at associational membership as an ‘individual’ attribute that impacts upon the political participation of ‘individuals’, this panel thus looks at relational dynamics across the public domain and the policy domain, considering different types of actors, and possibly, different policy and issue fields. The relationship between the domain of policy-making and the public domain of political intervention considers that these two domains are independent from each other, without the assumption that one affects necessarily the other. Accordingly, the panel assessed the extent to which variations of political participation in times of crisis, both at the micro- and at the meso-level, can be linked to specific relational mechanisms, which filter the impact of more ‘distant’ explanans. This panel included empirical papers dealing with both national and sub-national spaces, as well as theoretical papers questioning the nature of the relationship between policy-making and (sub)national publics in times of crisis.
Panel 2: Political responsiveness in times of crisis
Panel Chair: Katrin Uba (Uppsala University)
Discussant: Laura Morales (University of Leicester)
Protests against government policies are not rare although at the time of economic crisis there are probably more reasons for protests and therefore also move contentious mobilization. Policy-makers are blamed if they are not proposing any plans for remedying the citizens’ difficulties or if they do propose some too radical austerity plans. The interesting question, especially in the contexts of democratic governments, is the authorities’ responsiveness to such citizens’ protests. Do activists actually achieve what they ask for (a new constitution, regulation, legislation or a resignation of a politician) or do their efforts fail and governments continue with their policies? More importantly, in what context these processes take place? Can we say that at the time of crisis there is more policy responsiveness because of all the insecurity? Or is the situation opposite and governments are rather following the requests of the international community than their own protesting citizens? Is the short term success actually an achievement the activists looked for and what are the unintended political consequences of contentious actions in times of crisis.
This panel included papers that deal with the above outlined questions and systematically examine the governments’ long and short term responsiveness to citizens’ demands in times of crisis, particularly to such demands that are expressed via non-electoral forms of actions. Comparative papers were presented, and interesting case studies, which helped to improve our understanding of political responsiveness.
The goal of this panel was to advance the understanding of political violence in times of economic crisis. In order to do this we were concerned with addressing the following interrelated research questions: How do violent repertoires of contention relate to the context of economic crisis? Does economic hardship provide incentives to the use of violent tactics? Which forms of political violence are most widely used in this context? Why, and with which outcomes? How does the context of economic crisis impact on the level of socially tolerated violence and on the individuals’ availability to certain tactics? Which kind of justification of political violence is pursued in times of economic crisis? Which political groups are more likely to turn to violence in this context? How do security forces react to political violence in time of crisis? The panel hosted papers coming from different disciplinary fields, in the attempt to bridge the scholarship on political violence with the empirical analysis of the social outcomes of the economic crisis.
Panel 4: Economic crises and social citizenship
Panel Chair: Maria Theiss (University of Warsaw)
Discussant: Paolo Graziano (Bocconi University)
Economic crises, and particularity current economic recession starting in 2008, have caused far-reaching decrease in citizens’ social security. As a result changes occur in two intertwined spheres of citizens’ political participation and welfare state functioning. Thus, there are at least three (new) forms of pressure to the welfare state: need to adjust the protective measures, responding to rising citizens’ claims and the growing scarcity of financial resources.
The aim of the panel was to address the issues of welfare state changes from the citizenship perspective. It focused on the change of social rights, and particularly on the following questions: If the balance between social rights and social responsibilities shifts, and if so how? What changes regarding universalism, generosity and scope of risks covered occur in spite of crisis? How the (re)defining of social entitlement shapes the new boundaries of a political community? For the purpose of the panel the broad notion of social citizenship was stressed, which includes formal social rights, but also informal practices, including the use of discretion rules and street-level democracy on both national and local level.
Panel 5: Economic crises and the rise of populism
Panel Chair: Jordi Muñoz (Autonomous University of Barcelona)
Economic turmoil has often been connected with the rise of populist political movements and parties. Unemployment and other personal and social consequences of economic crises have been found to favor vote for extreme-right parties and participation in populist movements. However, this is not a universal implication of economic downturns: even within the current European crsis we find a great deal of variation in terms of the rise of such parties and movements, across and within countries. Therefore, we are interested in understanding under what conditions do economic crises breed populism. The panel presented comparative research focused on the contextual and individual factors that condition this relationship, as well as case-studies that provided insights on the causal mechanisms that link crises with increased support for extreme right and populist parties and movements.
Panel 6: Citizens’ political responses to economic crises: Grievances or opportunities?
Do economic crises lead to greater or lesser political participation? Do grievances lead to protest and other forms of unconventional political engagement? Or rather, does the experience of economic crisis lead people to exit the political sphere? How does this vary for the conventional and unconventional political domains? And what about membership of SMOs and NGOs? Do findings apply to the general population or only to those groups most hard hit by the economic crisis? Grievances and relative deprivation have been increasingly dismissed as explanations for political protest. Instead, mobilization models emphasizing the importance of resources, political opportunities, and the construction of ideological frames for political solidarity have received more support. But may hardships stemming from economic crisis rather spur political engagement as recent waves of contention seem to suggest? What is the role of absolute and relative deprivation? In relation to which reference group(s) should the latter be understood?
To address these important questions for understanding political participation in times of crisis, this panel invited papers addressing the political responses of citizens to economic crises, and in particular the role of grievances and opportunities for explaining such responses. Both individual-level and collective-level analyses can be proposed, insofar as they focus on political responses to economic crises. Empirical comparative studies were presented. Some further research questions that were considered include: How do different types of European citizens construct economic crisis and how does this relate to their political participation? Do European citizens feel the at the European Union’s reactions to the economic crises have been adequate? Do they feel more confident or less confident in the European Union as a result and does this have any repercussions on their political activism? Are there important differences across social groups and countries in constructions of crisis and in citizens’ political reactions? Is the role of grievances and/or opportunities more important in some contexts than others?
Panel 7: Resource-poor people in times of crisis
Panel Chair: Christian Lahusen (University of Siegen)
The past decades have provided ample evidence for the ability of poorly resourced people (e.g., the unemployed, working poor, undocumented workers and migrants) to protest on their behalf, thus overcoming their state of social and political marginalization. The economic and political crisis spreading throughout Europe since 2008 has not terminated these mobilizations, as illustrated by protest waves in the European South (e.g., Portugal, Spain and Greece). Individual cases have received ample consideration (e.g., the Spanish ‘Indignados’), but no consistent picture has been portrayed so far.
This panel aimed at studying these protests in a more systematic manner by presenting, analyzing and discussing available evidence from various mobilization waves. It proposed to address a number of relevant questions. On the one hand, it is necessary to assess the role of poorly resourced people in the protests against the hardships of the crisis and the policies advanced by the European Union and national governments to combat economic recession. In how far were deprived people proactively involved in these protests? Where they able to stabilize their mobilization across time? And are we speaking primarily of local events, or did protests develop a national and/or European range of activity? On the other hand, it will be interesting to discuss conditions, mechanisms and consequences of these protests. Do times of crisis provide more favorable conditions for the mobilization of the poorly resourced people by increasing the relevance of their claims, expanding the range of allies and improving public support, or do we need to acknowledge also new impediments? What does the varying intensity of protests across the European Union tell us in comparative terms about beneficial or inhibitive conditions? What can we learn about the conditions of a successful scale-shift of local protests of poorly resourced people towards the national and/or European level? And can we say anything about the outcomes of these protests, i.e., does the mobilization of the people most severely hit by the economic crisis have any impact on public policies at local, national or European level? The panel invited papers that addressed these questions and allowed deepening its empirical and theoretical knowledge. While the focus was on poorly resourced people, the panel was open to research about different constituencies, policy issues and countries. Comparative papers were presented, but also relevant case studies.
Panel 8: Alternative forms of resilience in times of crisis
Panel Chair: Maria Kousis (University of Crete)
The aim of this panel was to contribute to the study of collective responses to economic and political threats as they are reflected in alternative forms of economic and non-economic activities by citizens confronting hard economic times and falling rights, especially since the global financial crisis of 2008.
Expanding world-wide, collective responses to economic threats under neoliberal policies, tend to cover basic and urgent needs relate to food, shelter, health, childcare and education. Alternative collective actions and initiatives of resilience include: solidarity-based exchanges and networks, cooperative structures, barter clubs and networks, credit unions, ethical banks, time banks, alternative social currency, citizens’ self-help groups, presumption practices, social enterprises, and others.
Related studies center on innovative practices (e.g. clubes de trueque) which sprang during the economic crisis in Argentina and other Latin America regions. Nevertheless, similar initiatives have developed in Europe before and after the crisis of 2008 – e.g. the SOL social currency Project in France; regional currencies support by NGOs in Germany aiming to support local economies; the flourishing of local currencies and barter networks in Greece and Spain; the alternative cashless production and exchange systems Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) in the UK; and, Ethical banks promoting ethical commitment, ideology and principles.
These alternative practices attest to a new kind of politics through the creation of bottom-up participatory initiatives promoting a ‘solidarity economy’, as seen in countries confronting crises in the past. Papers addressing such alternative forms of resilience at a theoretical, comparative, or empirical level were presented.