RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


274 Encountering Austerity (1)
Affiliation Social and Cultural Geography Research Group
Economic Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Ruth Raynor (Durham University, UK)
Esther Hitchen (Durham University, UK)
Chair(s) Ben Anderson (Durham University, UK)
Timetable Friday 02 September 2016, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Session abstract This panel seeks to explore the multiple and networked relations of austerity (however conceptualized) by considering how austerity is encountered in everyday life. What are the specific relations between austerity and partly connected social-spatial formations and processes for example family and friendships, banking and debt, housing, organisations of paid and unpaid work? How is the spatiality of the everyday made and remade in relation to austerity, in parks, staff rooms, homes, a twitter feed, through an atmosphere or mood and so on? And how might we engage with how austerity is felt or (or not) as a series of encounters across multiple spaces? How does austerity effect (interrupt, suspend, intensify or disassemble) existing infrastructures, ideologies and processes that meet and fold into everyday life? When do the effects of austerity fail to register as austerity in or beyond their scene or moment of encounter and why? By paying attention to austerity’s entanglement with other processes and formations in the everyday, this session will explore its multiplicity, its incoherence, its moments of consolidation, its temporal, rhythmic and affective life. Relatedly, we consider how anti-austerity activism works or attempts to work as a strategy of consolidation to produce shared encounters with austerity. If austerity is entangled in other formations and processes, how to practice critique in relation to it? How to research and/ or represent austerity even as it is lived as a series of fragmented and fragmenting forces, as it constitutes and sometimes hides the unravelling of existing sites or scenes, becoming, for example, an empty staff room, a pre-emptive strategy that wasn’t enacted, or a form of continuation amidst privatisation? Conversely, when and/or how is austerity related to in everyday life as a shared event, as a political ideology, and/or as a centrally implemented fiscal strategy? What happens when it produces sites and scenes, for example food-banks, abandoned development projects, or queues outside of financial institutions?
Linked Sessions Encountering Austerity (2)
Encountering Austerity (3)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Austerity Fashion: the impact of frustrated consumption in London (1942-1952)
Bethan Bide (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
The official 'austerity' policies of 1940s British governments reshaped the nation's understanding of what it meant to perform austerity through dress. Austerity fashion was no longer confined to the demonstration of a personal self-discipline through sartorial restraint, but a shared experience of imposed limitations on the non-essential frivolities of fashion. Much attention has been paid to the details of these limitations, cataloguing the number of buttons and pleats allowed, but little thought is given to how these government dictates impacted upon everyday experiences of fashion. This paper draws on material sources from the Museum of London, retail archives and oral history interviews to tell the story of how austerity impacted upon the way people consumed fashion in 1940s London. Recognising that fashionable consumption plays an important role in the negotiation of personal and collective identities and the experience of place, it asks how austerity fashion shaped society and the city. By revealing the class and gender hierarchies perpetuated by austerity regulations, this paper exposes the mythology behind the presentation of austerity as an egalitarian, democratising force on fashion. Recognizing that sartorial experience is not just about what a person wore, but equally what they desired and knew they couldn't have, this paper concludes by tracing the long lasting emotional legacies of austerity fashion, stretching over decades and even generations. In doing so, it reflects on how we can use this historical knowledge to consider the deep and often hidden impacts of current austerity policies.

Thrifty time: Encountering everyday thrift
Helen Holmes (The University of Manchester, UK)
Thrift, austerity and frugality are terms used interchangeably, permeating contemporary society, economics and politics. Operating in a liminal zone between the frugality of 'making ends meet', romanticised recollections of war time austerity, and a recent resurgence in self-provisioning activities, thrift in its various forms has unprecedented currency in contemporary research agendas, the media and political discourse. This paper will present the initial findings of a project focused on everyday thrift –'Makers, make do and mend: a newly thrifty consumer'. Many studies in this field focus on the rise of austerity discourse, exploring how thrift and austerity are often positioned as the antithesis to over-consumption. Others have examined the impact of austerity measures on families and imaginings of the future. Alternatively, this study approaches thrift through the juncture of temporalities, materialities and practices as they intersect in the nexus of the household. It explores the household division of labour required to be thrifty and the skills needed to be flexible, organised and to make, mend and lend. The time of thriftiness is central - how rhythms, frequencies and tempos of work and home enable and constrain thrift. Likewise, a focus on objects reveals issues of durability and value. Materials are extended, mended, made or shared in the name of thrift, with decisions about decay and waste being pivotal. Thus, whether out of necessity or as part of a lifestyle choice, thrift is depicted as a central feature of the political economy of the contemporary household.

Indebted entanglements: researching intensity and experience in the intimate spaces of debt
Leila Dawney (University of Brighton, UK)
Rosie Walker (University of Brighton, UK)
This paper contributes to an understanding of the complex temporalities and in particular, spatialities, through which debt emerges in the experiential and embodied lives of debtors. In paying attention to this, we investigate the intimate spaces of debt, focusing on firstly the body and secondly the home, as spaces through which personal debt becomes known and felt. We pay attention to what goes unsaid in the experience of indebtedness, and the ways in which debt comes to mould and channel affects and make itself known and felt through bodies and homes: the dull throbbing pressure of obligation; the paralysis of conflicting demands; the inability to articulate the problem; the incursion of the technologies of the debt industry into domestic spaces, and the processes of deferral, disowning, dissociation and fantasy through which indebted lives are played out. In its concern with the embodied timespaces of indebted experience, we address the problem of developing methodological approaches and ways of attending/attuning that are able to attend to the complexities, contradictions and messy entanglements that give shape to financial lives without reducing them to "just" finances. Drawing on experimental approaches with "live" methods including storying and critical mapping, in research conducted in the South-East of England, we discuss how to bring these modes of experience and intensity to visibility, paying attention to ways in which the messy entanglements of everyday formal and informal debt relations play out through and between bodies, spaces and relations with family, friends, formal creditors and credit ratings organisations. In conclusion, we reflect on the politics of incorporating the intimate spaces of the body and home into accounts of debt and indebtedness. Through bringing to visibility the flows of affect in and through these spaces, we argue that such methodological approaches enable a fuller account of indebted experience. This can then enable us to consider the extent to which affective experience is central to the workings of the debt industry and to a debt economy. In doing so, the paper seeks to do justice to the experiential lifeworlds of debt, and in doing to contribute to a more embodied politics of economic life.

Austerity Futures (Holding things together and what falls apart…)
Ruth Raynor (Durham University, UK)
Cruel optimism: when something you desire is an obstacle to your flourishing. Cruel Optimism need not always feel hopeful. This future-present relation may be disaffected, worried, enthusiastic, disavowed and so on. But it persists and to some degree sustains a particular trajectory. I draw on Berlant's 2012 work to think more about relations between political economy, culture, affect and emotion in everyday life in a context of austerity. I draw on time spent with women on benefits in the North East of England and ask, what kind of futures did they imagine in the shadow of austerity? Some are single parents, some have other care responsibilities, all use public services, all work hard to get on and get by despite precaritisation through the erosion of infrastructures that support this reproductive labour. Do they invest in promises that austerity might offer a better future by 'stabalising public finances'? Were they pessimistic enough about its impacts to desire or demand some kind of change? I found orientations to the future that were fractured and in conflict. As women attempted to hold things together a regularity of change threatened to pull not just communities and infrastructures apart but individual subjects too.
Encountering austerity: the coexistence of loss in libraries spaces, North-East England
Esther Hitchen (Durham University, UK)
Drawing on ethnographic research in library spaces, North-East England, this paper seeks to explore the multiple forms loss takes. As the cyclical reductions to government spending continues in the UK, austerity is becoming increasingly visible throughout everyday life. The multiplicity of encounters with austerity emerge as we go about day-to-day practices: the replacement of a local librarian with a volunteer, the reduced opening hours at the leisure centre, the grass that is not cuts as frequently. What these encounters have in common is that they are all experiences of loss. Yet, it is the particular relationship with and the form of loss that can differ amongst encounters with austerity. This requires greater geographical attention, due differing individualized experiences of austerity, as well as austerity's uneven effects. This paper will interrogate three forms of loss that have been experienced across different library spaces throughout my fieldwork. Firstly, loss as 'the creep' – experienced as the slow, steady retrenchment of different parts of the library service occurring over time. Secondly, loss as event, such as a protest against library closures; here the event does not simply represent loss, but creates the feeling of loss itself. And thirdly, expected loss – the continual feeling of being on the cusp of loss that individuals employed in the library experience, shaping and restricting capacities to act. This paper focuses on everyday practices, moments and objects in order to show how these different forms of, and mode of relations with, loss are central to how austerity is lived in the library.