2015 | Dec
In Greece, especially in Athens, alternative social and economic practices pertaining to practically every key social and economic activity: health, education, food, primary and secondary production, services and trade, are growing at a rapid pace. The map (under construction) shows social clinics and pharmacies, social supermarkets, actions without intermediaries, collective kitchens, education spaces (after-school classes of various types, music classes), alternative networks (time banks, currencies, alternative bazaars), urban gardens, eco-communities, cooperatives, collectives and social collective businesses, mainly created by citizen initiatives and not official institutions, such as prefectures and the church.
The causes of this “explosion” can be traced back to the economic and humanitarian crisis. Does this indicate that these are simply survival strategies in the demanding circumstances of the crisis or that these survival strategies co-exist with various social, economic or political goals?
Over the last two decades, the theoretical discussion and empirical research on alternative social and political organisation principles has developed greatly. Within this context, the social and political significance of alternative spaces has been widely discussed in academic work internationally, and has produced a wide range of answers. These answers vary in their degree of optimism with regard to the potential of alternative spaces to contribute in forming a different economic, social and political reality.
The most pessimistic approaches tend to consider alternative spaces as marginal phenomena, ephemeral actions or as supplementary support mechanisms of the dominant system of social organisation, which could not possibly threaten the dominance of capitalism. For example, Schreven, Spoelstra and Svensson (2008) argue that the alternative nature of these spaces, or in other words, the attempt to dismiss the existing organisation of society, economy and politics is of a rather ephemeral nature. They argue that these alternative attempts tend to become part of the status quo later on. On the same wavelength Amin, Cameron and Hudson (2003) raise questions regarding the integration of alternative projects, arguing that alternative spaces may be considered as complementary to the welfare state and thereby contribute more to stability than to questioning capitalism.
In a more sophisticated approach, Jonas (2010 and 2013) and Fuller and Jonas (2003) support that the view of alternative spaces must rise above the simplistic bipolar approach (alternative/dominant). They focus on the reasons and the practices of participants in alternative spaces and consider it impossible to study those spaces independently of their degree of participation in dominant spaces. They also argue that social relations and geographical imaginations of alternative spaces have to be looked at in relation to their benefits for individual and social welfare as well as their effects on the environment. In this context, they suggest the term alterity, which reflects the need to measure the transformation strengths and allows for a categorisation of alternative spaces along those lines. In particular, they have grouped alternative spaces into three basic categories based on their alterity levels: opposed, substitute and additional spaces. Opposed spaces are where participants are actively and consciously alternative, embodying diversity both at operational as well as at a moral level, while simultaneously rejecting the dominant system. Substitutes are alternative spaces whose function substitutes institutions that either ceased to exist or operate ineffectively for some reason. In cases of acute economic or social crises, these spaces appear to be the only survival solution. Finally, additional spaces simply offer an additional choice to already existing ones, without adopting values or practices that oppose the dominant values of the state or the market.
- Amin A, Cameron A and Hudson R (2003) The alterity of the social economy. In: Leyshon A, Lee R, and Williams CC (eds), Alternative economic spaces, London: Sage London, pp. 27–54.
- Fuller D and Jonas AEG (2003) Alternative finanncial spaces. In: Leyshon A, Lee R, and Williams CC (eds), Alternative economic spaces, London: Sage London, pp. 55–73.
- Gibson-Graham JK (2006) A postcapitalist politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Gibson-Graham JK (1996) The End of Capitalism (as We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Jonas AEG (2010) Alternative’this,‘alternative’that. interrogating alterity and diversity. 1st ed. In: Fuller D, Jonas AEG, and Lee R (eds), Interrogating Alterity: Alternative Economic and Political Spaces, Farnham: Ashgate Farnham Surrey, pp. 3–27.
- Jonas AEG, Zademach H-M and Hillebrand S (2013) Interrogating Alternative Local and Regional Economies: The British Credit Union Movement and Post-Binary Thinking. In: Zademach H-M and Hillebrand S (eds), Alternative economies and spaces: new perspectives for a sustainable economy, Bielefeld: Transcript-Verlag, pp. 23–42.
- Schreven S, Spoelstra S and Svensson P (2008) Alternatively. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization, Ephemerajournal 8(2): 129–136.