Saucepans, suits and getting to know the neighbours: resisting pauperisation in Argentina - the 2001-02 economic crisis and its legacies

Ozarow, Daniel ORCID logoORCID: (2013) Saucepans, suits and getting to know the neighbours: resisting pauperisation in Argentina - the 2001-02 economic crisis and its legacies. PhD thesis, Middlesex University. [Thesis]


This doctoral study explores the generative factors that help to explain how middle-class citizens respond when confronted with sudden impoverishment in the aftermath of external economic shocks. Focusing on the actions taken by millions of ‘new urban poor’ during the 2002 economic crisis in Argentina, I examine why some resisted their sudden pauperisation and potential proletarianisation by participating in the bourgeoning protest movements and collective actions at the time, whilst others confined their responses to private strategies of self-improvement or to subtle acts of individual dissent.

In this study, I undertake an extensive and critical review of the literature, together with quantitative research methods. A statistical analysis of World Bank household survey data is conducted in order to identify newly poor citizen responses in the first instance. I then explore the underlying political opinions and social attitudes that may have informed these actions using LatinoBarómetro survey data. Motivations for engagement in selected responses are analysed at both the collective group and private individual level.

First, I find that the process of impoverishment itself was not sufficient to stimulate their involvement in collective action as a response on its own and that explanations were instead multicausal. By comparing the in-group behaviour and social and political attitudes of newly impoverished citizens in 2002 to those of their cohorts during the period of neoliberal reforms in the mid-1990s and then during the macroeconomic boom years since 2005, I offer four alternative contextual processes and explanations which account for the increased tendency towards participation in collective protests or self-improvement rather than simply private responses in 2002. These include 1) that the scale of the economic crisis led to the forming of a collective identity and sense of suffering which disposed them more towards participating in resistance actions alongside others, 2) that the simultaneous crisis of representation reduced their political tolerance of their hardship and so made protesting a more likely course of action, 3) that opportunities for individual self-improvement in the labour market and macroeconomy were undermined just at the time that the spaces to engage in social movements and collective self-help experiments increased and 4) changing ways of thinking and trends in underlying social and political attitudes at the time militated in favour of partaking in actions that brought the new urban poor together in solidarity actions with other social sectors against the government. Fluctuating diachronic patterns of political mobilisation are therefore observed and using Gramsci’s theories of cultural hegemony, ideology and false consciousness as a theoretical framework, I contextualise resistance activities under the specific conditions of economic crisis and loss of political legitimacy of 2002. Patterns of change in in-group behaviour are attributed to the oscillating consent of this new urban poor social stratum to being controlled by the dominant class on the one hand and the extent to which citizens encountered a shared class consciousness as a basis for resistance with other elements of the organised working class and the unemployed on the other.

I discuss and critique a range of explanatory mechanisms, including whether the experience of pauperisation and social descent was either internalised (generating subsequent feelings of selfblame, demoralisation and alienation), or whether culpability was attributed to systemic factors, the government, other institutions and capitalist processes, whereby collective identities and grievances were more likely to form in the process. The impact of these subjectivities upon action is also explored. Then, citizens’ private considerations as individuals and as household members are examined.

I find that the resistance activities adopted by the new urban poor were shaped by several factors including the respective impacts that relative deprivation and absolute impoverishment had on protest and self-improvement actions, the combinations of responses creating a polarised sense of either activism or disengagement and one’s biographical characteristics such as their prior exposure to community organisational involvement and localised opportunities to participate in collective or individual actions.

Finally, having identified deficiencies in traditional Rational Choice, Resource Mobilisation and Political Opportunity social movement theories as explanatory models for new urban poor involvement in protest, I conclude the thesis by building on a Marxist theory of social movements. I demonstrate how the forming of grievances, targeting of anger, measuring of demands and form of resistance that these citizens adopted derived heuristically from their daily experiences of class struggle. Then, in seeking to remain true to and reinvigorate the principle of self-organisation which was at the core of their resistance to capitalism during 2002, the perceived unsustainability of Argentina’s nascent autonomist movements is analysed. Suggestions are made as to ways in which social movements could stimulate solidarity between the new urban poor, the organised working class and the structural poor, whilst at the same time increasing the durability of collective resistance through alternative mobilising vehicles and political and economic models.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords (uncontrolled): Argentina, middle class, impoverishment, social movements, pauperization, social mobility, protest, collective action, Marxism, proletarianization, economic crisis, coping strategies, household economy
Research Areas: A. > Business School > Leadership, Work and Organisations
A. > Business School > Leadership, Work and Organisations > Employment Relations group
Item ID: 12854
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Daniel Ozarow
Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2013 16:52
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2021 16:45

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