Democratic responses and political pressures for change

This two-day seminar focused on patterns of contestation, protest, alternative forms of political participation, and how each of these have had an impact upon contemporary policymaking in political economy. The seminar focused on a range of questions related to the relationship between democratic participation, protest, and political economy outcomes. How are changing forms of protest re-defining the contemporary political economy? To what extent are we witnessing new political actors created through the activity of anti-austerity protest? How have policymakers responded to new forms of protest and dissent in the current age of austerity and anti-austerity?

The seminar began with an introduction by Professor Vicenç Navarro, Director, JHU-UPF Public Policy Center, outlining the major ways in which the crisis had destabilised the welfare state in Spain and the impact that this had had upon Spanish society. This was followed by a presentation on the scope for democracy in the crisis stage of neoliberal capitalism, by Jerome Roos (EUI/ROAR). This set out some of the key problems facing contemporary democracy during the current post-2008 period, especially those of indebted welfare states and increasingly precarious working conditions. This was followed by a direct response by Mònica Clua-Losada (University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley) and David Bailey (University of Birmingham) and then discussion from the floor, setting the terms of the debate for much of the discussion of the following two days.

The following session heard from four speakers with a range of academic and activist backgrounds. Cristina Flesher Fominaya (University of Aberdeen) presented some of the key findings from her recent empirical research, highlighting some of the key pressures and trends that marked the current wave of anti-austerity activity. Pierre Lapin (Boycott Workfare) then presented his experiences of political participation in campaigning around welfare and workfare issues, illustrating some of the key ways in which activists have sought to challenge the so-called workfare agenda in the United Kingdom. Kelly Rogers ((National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, NCAFC) then presented a talk on her participation in a prolonged struggle against different forms of austerity, including both the student movement against tuition fees and the marketisation of higher education, and recent campaigns against library closures. Finally, Onder Sevimli (Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey) presented his research into the recent wave of protests that had occurred around Gezi park, titled, ‘The Medium and the Message: The Dynamics, Politics and Future of Gezi as Event’.

The third panel of the day focused on what was termed, the struggle for social reproduction. Alejandra Araiza and Robert González (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo, México) presented their work on experiments in cooperative forms of caring: ‘La Mainada:  caring, collectivization and shared upbringing in front the post-austerity municipal policies in Barcelona’, Marilena Simiti (University of Piraeus) discussed some of the key ways in which alternative forms of social reproduction have emerged in the post-crisis context, creating new and innovative forms of civil society-based provisions that in some ways sought to replace the necessary functions of the welfare state that were being eroded as a result of the austerity measures imposed upon the country. Kirsteen Paton (University of Leeds) presented her work with Vickie Cooper, The Open University, on ‘Everyday Evictions in the 21st Century’, highlighting the way in which housing provision is being contested and politicised as a result of the heightening problems associated with declining stock of social housing and a concomitant decline in the availability of affordable housing.

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The fourth session featured a series of papers exploring different ways and forms through which resistance can be studied. Olatz Ribera Almandoz (UPF, Barcelona) presented her research into both the PAH in Spain and the Focus E-15 Mothers in London, in a paper titled, ‘Resistance from Below: The Household’s Role in the Contestation of the Multilevel State’. Nicholas Kiersey (Ohio University) outlined his attempts to consider ways in which activists are currently engaging with the state and the formal process of political participation, drawing on some of the recent thinking by Hardt and Negri and the way in which they seek to theorise this process.

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Finally, the first day of the seminar ended with a series of group discussions around different themes of the event. The session began with an overview of some of the key issues of importance, led by Angela Wigger (Radboud University), who talked about some of the alternatives forms of social cooperation that are emerging during the crisis context, Luke Stobart (University of Hertfordshire), who spoke about some of the innovations in political participation that we can witness, for instance with the development of Podemos, and Nikolai Huke (Marburg University) talked about some of the attempts that have been made to repoliticise the workplace and to find alternatives to trade unions when these institutions appear unable to provide a suitable means through which to represent workers’ demands. Following this introduction section, the seminar participants broke into three separate groups, to discuss one of these three themes, before returning to the plenary discussion to present back the debates that they had taken part in.

The second day of the seminar began with a presentation by photojournalist Luca Neve and Laura Melcion (book project manager, writer and artist). They presented a slideshow of images captured over the last six years, depicting this key period in British and European history through the lens of an independent photojournalist in London. From politicians to protestors, economists to journalists, these images form part of the project “Austerity INC”, a long term photobook project that begins with the explosive student protests in 2010 and ends with the question mark that now hangs over us all, following the Brexit referendum of 2016. They also included a discussion of how they have been battling with mainstream media censorship and the “confusion” of the Internet.

Following this Pollyanna Ruiz (University of Sussex) presented her research into the campaign against the attempt to privatise urban space in the case of the South Bank skate park, titled, ‘On (not) Speaking YouTube; The communicative strategies of campaigners and policy makers in the public sphere’. This highlighted some of the key ways in which campaigners are able to harness social media in order to facilitate their expression of demands and the pursuit of protecting public space, alongside a discussion of the difficulties faced by corporate interests in their attempt to do likewise.

The second session of day two looked at a range of campaigns that had emerged during the crisis context with regard to housing issues. Bill Perry and Claudia Firth of the Radical Housing Network highlighted campaigns that they had been involved in through their Network, and the ways in which they had sought to contest the recent Housing and Planning Act 2016. Albert Jiménez (Universitat Pompeu Fabra/PAH Sabadell) discussed his research and participation in the group for people affected by mortgages (PAH), which had been a major and successful campaign for those seeking to oppose evictions in Spain. Galvão Debelle (UAB, Barcelona) talked about the way in which squatting had been adopted by some direct action campaigners in their attempt to contest the issue of housing provision, and in turn how this had experienced attempts at criminalization. Finally, Arnost Novak (collective Autonomous social centre Klinika/Charles University, Prague) highlighted the experiences of the social centre, Klinika, in Prague.

In the third panel of the day, the participants turned to consider recent attempts to theorise forms of democracy, participation and resistance. Simon Tormey (The University of Sydney, Australia) and Ramón Feenstra (Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, Spain) discussed the developments that had led up to the creation of both 15-M and Podemos and other forms through which the political party was being experimented upon by what we might consider to be “digital” activists. Elio Di Muccio and Darcy Luke (University of Birmingham) outlined an open Marxist account of, and argument for, the party form, in their presentation titled, ‘The communistic reproduction of the Marxist party-form as exigency for a revolutionary response to contemporary political pressures for change’. Finally, Josep Maria Antentas, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, drew on his experience of Spanish party politics and the developments within Podemos to outline what he saw as some of the key opportunities and constraints facing the new populist left party.

Finally, the seminar closed with a panel dedicated to considering the link between democratic participation and public policy outcomes. Georgina Blakeley (The Open University) discussed the 15MpaRato campaign’s challenge to impunity and corruption in Spain. Gregory White (University of York) gave an overview of his doctoral research into what he referred to as ‘post-crisis social movements’, the way in which these had generated a form of anti-austerity activism, and their impact upon social policy in the UK. Joshua Blamire (University of Liverpool) also drew on his doctoral research in order to contrast some of the current anti-austerity initiatives in Liverpool with earlier comparable forms of political developments in different contexts.

The seminar enabled the cooperation and dissemination of information between a wide range of political scientists, sociologists, political activists and housing and poverty campaigners.

Democratic responses and political pressures for change
Johns Hopkins University - Universitat Pompeu Fabra Public Policy Center
Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Ciutadella campus
Barcelona, 14-15 July 2016

Programme

Thursday 14 July

9.45 Introduction

  • Professor Vicenç Navarro, Director, JHU-UPF Public Policy Center

10.15 What hope for democracy in the crisis stage of neoliberal capitalism?

  • Jerome Roos (EUI/ROAR)
  • Followed by a response by Mònica Clua-Losada (University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley) and David Bailey (University of Birmingham)

11.45 Against austerity: understanding the wave of anti-austerity protest

  • Cristina Flesher Fominaya (University of Aberdeen)
  • Pierre Lapin (Boycott Workfare)
  • Kelly Rogers (National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, NCAFC) Anti-austerities: the Student Movement and the Struggle Against Library Closures
  • Onder Sevimli (Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey) The Medium and the Message: The Dynamics, Politics and Future of Gezi as Event

14.15 The struggle for social reproduction

  • Alejandra Araiza and Robert González (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo, México) La Mainada:  caring, collectivization and shared upbringing in front the post-austerity municipal policies in Barcelona
  • Marilena Simiti (University of Piraeus)
  • Kirsteen Paton, The University of Leeds and Vickie Cooper, The Open University Everyday Evictions in the 21st Century

4.00 Studying resistance

  • Olatz Ribera Almandoz (UPF, Barcelona) Resistance from Below: The Household’s Role in the Contestation of the Multilevel State
  • Nicholas Kiersey (Ohio University)

5.30 Panel: reflections on strategies and experiments for change

  • Led by Angela Wigger (Radboud University), Luke Stobart (University of Hertfordshire), and Nikolai Huke (Marburg University)

Friday 15 July

10.00 Communicating grassroots struggles

  • Luca Neve - photojournalist - www.lucaneve.com, Laura Melcion -  book project manager, writer and artist - www.lauramelcion.com. Luca and Laura will present a slideshow of images captured over the last six years, depicting this key period in British and European history through the lens of an independent photojournalist in London. From politicians to protestors, economists to journalists, these images form part of the project “Austerity INC”, a long term photobook project that begins with the explosive student protests in 2010 and ends with the question mark that now hangs over us all, following the Brexit referendum of 2016. They'll discuss battling mainstream media censorship and the “confusion” of the Internet.
  • Pollyanna Ruiz (University of Sussex) On (not) Speaking YouTube; The communicative strategies of campaigners and policy makers in the public sphere

11.00 Comparing housing movements

  • Bill Perry and Claudia Firth (Radical Housing Network)
  • Albert Jiménez (Universitat Pompeu Fabra/PAH Sabadell) Organized resistance to housing financialization in Spain: The Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH)
  • Galvão Debelle (UAB, Barcelona) The criminalization wave of squatting in 2006 and the differentiation of the housing and the squatters' movement in Barcelona
  • Arnost Novak (collective Autonomous social centre Klinika/Charles University, Prague) Klinika between the politics of act and the politics of demand

13.30 Theorising resistance and the role of the party

  • Simon Tormey (The University of Sydney, Australia) and Ramón Feenstra (Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, Spain) From street to party politics: a redefinition of participation and the political party form by “digital” activists?
  • Elio Di Muccio and Darcy Luke (University of Birmingham) The communistic reproduction of the Marxist party-form as exigency for a revolutionary response to contemporary political pressures for change
  • Josep Maria Antentas, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Podemos, Strategy and the Spanish political crisis

4.15 Linking protest to policy and politicians?

  • Georgina Blakeley (The Open University) Political pressures for change: the 15MpaRato campaign’s challenge to impunity and corruption
  • Gregory White (University of York) The return of the left? Post-crisis social movements, anti-austerity activism and social policy in the UK
  • Joshua Blamire (University of Liverpool) “Just Simply Not Credible”?: Exploring the Transformative Political Potentialities of Anti-Austerity Resistance in Liverpool

5.15 Closing discussion: how to influence, who to influence, should we be aiming to influence?

More information

Find out more about the ESRC Seminar Series: Understanding the Post-Crisis Landscape.