RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


304 Encountering Austerity (2)
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) Julia Heslop (Durham University, UK)
Timetable Friday 02 September 2016, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
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 (1)
Encountering Austerity (3)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
The Personal is the Political: Gendered Encounters of/in Austerity
Sarah Marie Hall (The University of Manchester, UK)
Geographers are beginning to more fully consider the ways in which austerity can be felt at and across a range of social spaces, from the very personal to the regional and cross-national. However, as yet little is known of how austere politics play out in the spaces and relationships that make up everyday life. In this paper I contribute to these burgeoning discussions by considering the impacts of austerity on families and communities in the UK. Drawing on feminist theories around the spatialities, ethics and politics of care, I explore gendered responsibilities, familial and personal relationships, and the role of social infrastructure in neoliberal economies. More specifically, I discuss the ways in which female members of families and communities are bearing the heavy burden of recent and deep cuts to public spending and welfare in the UK; that austerity is a socially uneven process and condition. Using findings from two years of ethnographic research with community groups and families in Greater Manchester, I explore how managing the fall-out from austere policies, whether it be managing budgets, performing care-work, or providing emotional support, in families, communities and everyday encounters, is very much a gendered responsibility. I close with a consideration of the gendered politics of carrying out this fieldwork as a female researcher, and the burdens/responsibilities this might also present.

'Shameful subsistence': Encountering lived experiences of austerity at the food bank
Samuel Strong (University of Cambridge, UK)
One would be hard-pressed of late to miss the escalating usage of food banks in the United Kingdom and their link to policies of austerity in a burgeoning media coverage. According to latest figures from the Trussell Trust, the largest operator of food banks in the country, over the past
12 months alone more than one million packages of three-days worth of emergency food were handed out to people in need. Drawing on fifteen
months of in-depth ethnographic fieldwork in a set of food banks in the South Wales Valleys, this paper will begin to conceptualise the broader
significance of their operation. It will firstly examine the decisions between abandonment and survival which emerge at ground-level within the
spaces of the food bank and the different actors and technologies seeking to govern and regulate these spaces. Secondly, it will engage
with the testimonies and everyday experiences of the hungry bodies which populate the food bank, and the significance of feelings of shame
amongst clients using the service. Finally, this paper will explore the relationship between shame, food banks and policy, discussing the extent
to which they are indicative of forms of austere statecraft and a broader cultural politics of austerity. It will conclude that there is a
vital need for further examination of austerity as a lived experience, and the emergent spatial politics that it engenders.
Austerity and the shifting landscapes of paid work and caring labour
Sarah Holloway (Loughborough University, UK)
Helena Pimlott-Wilson (Loughborough University, UK)
In Britain the Coalition and subsequent Conservative administration have pursued a self-styled age of austerity. This paper explores how state austerity comes together with a bifurcated economy and social shifts around parenting norms to transform: (i) the landscape in which mothers with primary-school-aged children balance productive and reproductive work; and (ii) what they want from the state in terms of childcare provision. Drawing upon quantitative and qualitative research with those in and out of paid work, and from middle and working-class backgrounds, the paper makes two contributions to our understanding of austerity. Firstly, it shows how the one-and-a-half breadwinner model insulates middle-class mothers against the risks of economic insecurity. A combination of poor employment opportunities and traditional gendered moralities mean this model has little analytical purchase for working-class women who are more likely to mother full-time in state-dependent family households. These women fear the implications austerity has for their ethic of care. Secondly, the paper concentrates academic attention on the sweeping expansion in the state's role in social reproduction through the provision of wraparound childcare (breakfast and afterschool clubs) in primary schools. Middle-class women demand choice and feel entitled to state-sponsored provision which underpins the feminisation of the labour force. Working class women value provision for others, but fear being coerced in the context of austerity into using childcare instead of mothering in the home. Their responses reveal competing understandings of what counts as equality for women, and stark variations in different women's abilities to achieve this.

Scarcity, austerity and the Hobbesian trap: The case of the "false imprisonment" of Irish Tánaiste Joan Burton TD
Mark Boyle (National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland)
At the heart of Jean Paul Sartre's existential Marxism is the claim that human praxis unfolds in a 'mileux of scarcity' and that it is 'scarcity which propels our history'. For Sartre, whilst universal, scarcity can be both absolute and relative most often it is cast historically and is almost always contingent. The austerity programmes which are periodically visited upon a number of advanced capitalist societies brings the problem of scarcity and its status as a progenitor of history into sharp relief. The virtues of Sartre's rendition of scarcity is the attention he pays to existential struggles in everyday life and the ways in which these struggles totalise into potentially/historically significant events. Hobbesian in tenor, Sartre's focus is upon the proclivity of scarcity to render people vulnerable to mistrust, suspicion, insecurity, estrangement, alterity, irreducible conflict, and even fratricidal violence and therein to sabotage their more ethical dispositions towards creating bonds of solidarity, reciprocity, inter-subjectivity, mutuality and cooperation,. Infact it is from 'molecular existential struggles' at the individual level and the aggregation of these, that societal wide responses to austerity crystallise. I develop this argument by considering the case of Irish austerity 2008 to present and the case of the Irish water protest movement. Specifically, I provided a range of readings of perhaps the most controversial incident in the politics of Irish austerity to date, the case of the 'false imprisonment' in November 2014 at An Cosán College in Jobstown, County Dublin, of TD Joan Burton, leader of the Irish Labour Party, and Minister for Social Protection and Tánaiste in the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.