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In the context of economies referred to as diverse or different, Alternative Economic Practices (AEP) are actions that, alternative to capitalism in varying degrees, aim to fulfil people's basic needs. The Great Recession of 2008 gives a new incentive to their theoretical and empirical analysis as a result of the new meaning given to alternative economic and political spaces, particularly in an area hit hard by the crisis-Southern Europe. This paper examines an aspect hardly represented in academic literature: the profile of the social basis of alternative economic practices and its operational significance. By means of the frameworks provided by institutional economic geography and contributions made by the theory on urban social movements as well as social mobilisation, it explores the characteristics of the social basis of Spanish AEP using that which prior studies highlighted from the profile of the participants in Greek practices as a point of comparison and reference. We suggest that the contextual conditions determine the attributes of the key actors and the strategies to challenge the existing social institutions and structures and mobilise the social forces to support collective projects that contradict the dominant relations. The result is that of nominally identical AEP, belonging to a common alternative repertoire yet composed of social bases with clearly distinct profiles. This means that both are built upon different values, discourses, motivations and identities, leading to their varied geographical significance and potential to transform.
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ISSN: 2035-6609 - Copyright © 2021 - University of Salento, SIBA:
PArtecipazione e COnflitto
ISSN: 1972-7623 (print version)
ISSN: 2035-6609 (electronic version)
PACO, Issue 14 (1) 2021: 458-479
DOI: 10.1285/i20356609v14i1p458
Published 15 March, 2021
Participation and Alternative Economic Practice: Discourses, Identi-
ties and Imaginaries of Change
Henar Pascual
University of Valladolid
Juan Carlos Guerra
University of Valladolid
ABSTRACT: In the context of economies referred to as diverse or different, Alternative Economic Practices
(AEP) are actions that, alternative to capitalism in varying degrees, aim to fulfil people's basic needs. The
Great Recession of 2008 gives a new incentive to their theoretical and empirical analysis as a result of the
new meaning given to alternative economic and political spaces, particularly in an area hit hard by the crisis
Southern Europe. This paper examines an aspect hardly represented in academic literature: the profile of
the social basis of alternative economic practices and its operational significance.
By means of the frameworks provided by institutional economic geography and contributions made by the
theory on urban social movements as well as social mobilisation, it explores the characteristics of the social
basis of Spanish AEP using that which prior studies highlighted from the profile of the participants in Greek
practices as a point of comparison and reference. We suggest that the contextual conditions determine the
attributes of the key actors and the strategies to challenge the existing social institutions and structures and
mobilise the social forces to support collective projects that contradict the dominant relations. The result is
that of nominally identical AEP, belonging to a common alternative repertoire yet composed of social bases
with clearly distinct profiles. This means that both are built upon different values, discourses, motivations
and identities, leading to their varied geographical significance and potential to transform.
KEYWORDS: Alternative Economic Practices, Greece, social basis, social movement, Spain.
Work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non commercial-
Share alike 3.0 Italian License
Pascual, Guerra,
Participation and alternative economic practices: discourses, identities and imaginaries of change
1. Introduction
The literature on alternative economic practices (hereinafter AEP) is abundant, diverse in ap-
proaches and rich in disciplinary connections (Sánchez-Hernández, 2019). It has covered their theo-
retical definition, description (values, discourses, functioning and governance models) and econom-
ic, political, social and spatial significance through different prisms and theoretical frameworks.
However, it is rare to find empirical and practical studies that identify the actors promoting the
practices beyond an initial outline or studies that profile the social bases which underpin AEP; or
studies that, concluding the analysis, re-read them based on their participants.
We believe there is a considerable absence of these kinds of approaches. In this respect, we argue
that the actors and social bases of AEP must be identified given that the socio-territorial contexts in
which they emerge and the personal microcontexts in which they develop determine that, apparently
similar, collective forms of organisation can have different levels of significance, approaches and
political projects. Using the Great Recession of 2008 as a time reference and the wave of protests
that its political handling triggered from 2010, we compare the relations established between the so-
cial basis and the profile of the alternative practices in two culturally close countries, Greece and
Spain, to subsequently profile the social basis of the latter in greater detail.
From a theoretical and methodological perspective, we take two approaches: on the one hand, that
of institutional economic geography and, on the other, that of the theory of urban social movements
(hereinafter USM) and of social mobilisation. The former indicates that the institutions are informal
patterns of social interaction that respond to the mutual expectations and values of the actors in-
volved in each specific situation. The second highlights, by means of rich and abundant theoretical
and empirical research, the contextual value of the analysis of the social basis.
2. Methodological strategy for empirical research into the actors and the social
bases of AEP in Spain
Research papers regarding the actors and social bases of AEP form part of a wider project whose
objective is the multidimensional analysis of the spaces and AEP in Spain.
The scope of the project
focuses on eight Spanish cities. The sample selected covers the Spanish urban hierarchy levels (Ta-
ble 1) in order to extend the map of research available, dominated up to then by work on larger cit-
ies (Madrid and Barcelona). In addition, the cities selected are located in different regions (inland
Spain and north and Mediterranean coasts), in order to avoid too much cultural affinity in the sam-
ple (Sánchez-Hernández and Glückler, 2019).
Espacios y prácticas económicas alternativas para la construccn de la resiliencia en las ciudades
espolas(PRESECAL), prepared between January 2016 and June 2019. Spanish National Programme for
Research, Development and Innovation. Ministry of Economy and Finance.
Partecipazione e conflitto,
14(1) 2021: 458-479, DOI: 10.1285/i20356609v14i1p458
Table 1 - Population of the cities included in the research
Alcalá de Guadaíra
Spanish National Statistics Institute Municipal Register of Inhabitants.
Of the extensive range of experiences identified as alternative, those that lack a headquarters or a
regular meeting place were ruled out to put the focus on local AEP that involved on-site operation.
This enabled the direct observation of their activities and the identification of their institutions,
norms and organisational mechanisms linked to direct participation; facilitated the task of compar-
ing their number, size, diversity and interrelations at different geographical scales; and made it pos-
sible to chart some hypothetical local alternative circuits, composed of networks of complementary
AEP, positioned at different stages of the cycle and capable of defining a local economy.
Of the repertoire of local AEP, the most frequent categories were selected, with a presence in a
higher number of cities and which represent all of the phases of the economic circuit; further addi-
tions were self-managed social centres, usual meeting point of many people linked to these AEP.
The research method coordinates a series of techniques that make it possible to identify the ac-
tors, objectives and discourses of these experiences. It is a multi-technical collaborative method that
groups together different tools for gathering qualitative information and data.
The semi-structured interview was the main methodological strategy for the qualitative research.
In total, 71 interviews were conducted with members and representatives of 67 AEP from the eight
cities. The files resulting from the transcription of the interviews were processed using the software
Nvivo 11 Pro (QSR International, 2015), in order to categorise, organise and prioritise the infor-
mation. Before reviewing the texts, the primary codes were formulated, based on the questions
guide as well as on the results obtained in the questionnaires and the field observations. The quali-
tative information was processed using thematic analysis particularly useful for exploring the self-
representations of the collectives by means of discourse, as well as for examining the perspectives
of the participants of AEP and the majority of the qualitative information was obtained by means
of this analysis (Moro and Lamarque, 2019).
In addition to the information obtained in the interviews, more was contributed by the question-
naires conducted with the participants of AEP. The quantitative information for this research results
from the table of data from 468 questionnaires for an estimated total of 5,261 participants in the 67
Lastly, the multi technical nature of this research is completed with participant observation in the
social spaces of AEP. This observation was replicated in the virtual spaces by means of the system-
atic review of the websites and social media of the collectives analysed.
3. AEP and their social basis: a theoretical approach
Pascual, Guerra,
Participation and alternative economic practices: discourses, identities and imaginaries of change
The notion of practice is used in economic geography to designate specific actions that serve to
reproduce the values, attitudes and objectives of the economic actors, whether individual or collec-
tive (Jones and Murphy, 2011). In turn, certain practices, immersed in different degrees of alterna-
tion to capitalism and whose ultimate objective is the common good by fulfilling people's basic
needs, sometimes come to form a coherent set of experiences with economic functions, whether the
production, distribution or consumption of goods and services. In the context of economies referred
to as diverse, different or alternative (Gibson-Graham, 2008), academic literature recognises a wide
and growing catalogue of practices, some of which have a long tradition, to which it attributes the
aforementioned characteristics: social and local currencies, time banks, markets of producers, con-
sumption groups, urban community allotments, co-housing and collective housing, swap networks
and markets, free shops, local credit cooperatives, seed banks, collaborative educational communi-
ties, fair trade, free software communities, cooperative repair workshops, etc. Alongside the criti-
cism of capitalism as a connector, prior studies identify other common traits in this repertoire of
economic practices: rotating and equal completion of tasks required for its functioning; direct de-
mocracy and deliberation in decision-making, reciprocity in the exchanges that arise among them;
prevalence of voluntary and local work as a preferred level of intervention (Berndt & Boeckler,
2011; Gibson-Graham, 2008, 2014; Jones & Murphy, 2011)
The incentive for their theoretical and empirical analysis, as a result of the new meaning given to
alternative economic and political spaces with the Great Recession of 2008 (Fuller et al., 2010), fo-
cuses on varied objects of academic interest, some of a wide radius such as the context and degree
of the alternative nature of the practices, and others of a more operational nature, such as the terri-
torial conditions that facilitate their development as well as, to a lesser extent and in many cases
within other objects of study, the characteristics of their social bases.
Regarding the latter, contributions have focused substantially on the study of the social basis of
Alternative Food Networks (AFN) and highlighted aspects central to understanding the discourse
and values of AEP as well as their potential and limitations. In their research on decision-making
processes, Pelletier et al. (1999) for the north of the state of New York and Allen (2010) in different
cases of the United States, highlighted how the differences in terms of the class, race, gender and
origin of the participants widen or limit the values they work with. Equally, other papers also fo-
cused on the United States have highlighted certain common traits in AEP: prevalence of the white
population, high levels of education, full-time employees and a higher than average income level
(Nicolosi et al., 2018); some regularities that, for example, are reproduced in the Italian food initia-
tives of the Piedmont (Corsi and Novelli, 2018). In the French case, Ros (2012) highlights the rela-
tionship established between militants of the alternative economy and their prior participation in
other areas of activism from which they transfer value systems and organisational models. Lastly,
authors such as Ozanne and Ballantine (2010) highlighted the prominence of women in certain prac-
tices that form part of the collaborative economy and with profiles geared towards care, such as
shared toy libraries in New Zealand.
Many of these traits are equally present in activism with varied objects and objectives. In fact,
AEP have been encompassed within the extensive world of grassroots community initiatives such as
molecular manifestations of social movements with a wider urban profile (Ferguson and Lovell,
2015; Nicolosi et al., 2018; Suriñach, 2017). If the evolution of the USM in recent decades is taken
as a reference, discussions regarding their definition, characterisation, organisational strategies and
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14(1) 2021: 458-479, DOI: 10.1285/i20356609v14i1p458
connection with other social and political movements provide a rich theoretical background to char-
acterise AEP (Martínez, 2003).
USM have experienced a change in the value of the ideologies within them. The unifying influ-
ence of Marxism that characterised them in the 1960s and 1970s has been replaced by approaches
focused on unique problems and by an aggregate of ideological fragments that is more free and flex-
ible than the former (Rio, 2016). In turn, each ideological cycle/protest cycle in which the USM
evolve involves innovations in their organisation and action (Della Porta, 2017; Romanos, 2018).
Whereas May 1968 led to non-authoritarian principles emerging and imagination being incorporated
into protest movements, those of the end of the 20th Century identify with mobilisations of a wide
spectrum, coordination between different movements, trust between activists and the construction of
cross-sectional identities (Della Porta and Mosca, 2007). For its part, the wave of indignation that
began in the decade of 2010 adds the value that the emotions acquire in the motivational discourses,
the occupation of the public space as a form of action, the relationship between financial crisis and
democratic crisis and the shift towards new participatory models, among which the deliberative
ones appear preferential (Castells, 2012; Tejerina et al., 2013; Gonick, 2016). In fact, while they re-
produce the liquid forms of organisation that currently characterise the USM, AEP are a good ex-
ample of the meaning that the sum of ideological aggregates plays in their current identity. The
practices combine approaches of diverse origin (decline, social and solidarity-based economy,
economy for the common good, etc.) and varied phenomena that implement them in practice (com-
munity economy, collaborative economy, responsible consumption, etc.) (Suriñach, 2017).
In combination with the foregoing, research regarding USM and the theory of social mobilisation
tested a strategy for approaching the social basis that can be transferred to the analysis of AEP: the
need to tease apart certain microcontexts (Melucci, 1999; Almeida, 2019). Key among these include
biographical availability, defined as the capacity of individuals to dedicate time and resources to
collective action (Pickvance, 1985; Oliver, 2015; McAdam et al., 1988) often connected to the
type of work available (Orum, 1974) ; the experience retained after participation in other move-
ments or past initiatives (); political ideology and the value systems of the participants, as well as
the group attachments and collective identities modelled within social movements (Portos and Ma-
sullo, 2017; Melucci, 1988 and 1989).
Transferring this disciplinary approach to AEP makes it possible to overcome their characterisa-
tion based on a universal and homogenous repertoire. In contrast, without negating the existence of
cross-cutting elements, much of the content and characteristics of the practices have a contextual
nature. The conditions introduced by the profile of the social basis superimpose a common metalan-
guage. These elements make it possible to conclude that the modalities in which AEP develop, the
operational content they have, the economic experience they provide and the meaning of their im-
pact depend on the profile of the people who join them and on the sociodemographic, time and po-
litical context in which the latter have built their identity as members of a community initiative or
of a social movement. The repertoire of practices is nominally homogenous; their content is contex-
tual and contingent.
Pascual, Guerra,
Participation and alternative economic practices: discourses, identities and imaginaries of change
4. Economic crisis and alternative practices in Southern Europe
The factors that explain the Great Recession of 2008 and their economic effects have been widely
debated and analysed from different perspectives and approaches. It is not the aim of this article to
focus on them but it is worth remembering that the economic crisis and the drastic austerity and fis-
cal discipline measures imposed by the political authorities and European financial bodies triggered
an acute social crisis. The severity of the adjustment policies triggered and intensified a process of
structural change previously initiated in the context of neoliberal globalisation, characterised by the
deregulation of markets, growing labour flexibility or the reconsideration of the feasibility of the
welfare state.
In Southern European countries, the debt crisis reached unprecedented levels after 2008 and since
2010 the austerity policies resulting from intervention processes undermined the pillars of welfare
and provoked a genuine social cataclysm. The intensity of the crisis and of the adjustment measures
that accompanied it was not the same for these countries. In exchange for loans, Greece and Portu-
gal signed Memorandums of Understanding with very detailed indications about the austerity pro-
grammes and the political instruments required to implement them. Italy and Spain, despite not hav-
ing entered into extraordinary loan procedures, were forced to adhere to strict measures to reduce
public expenditure, although the European institutions did not explicitly impose the specific poli-
cies. In any case, the labour markets generally deteriorated in the four countries in the form of wage
devaluation, employment instability and destruction as well as long-term unemployment, with the
consequent loss of purchasing power by the middle classes and groups with lower income levels.
The sharp increase in income inequality resulting from these processes was accompanied by a dras-
tic tightening of the financing capacity of social protection systems and the general weakening of
basic social services that seriously affected collective rights and contributed to the impoverishment
and exclusion of extensive social groups from the network of public coverage (Guillén et al., 2016;
Della Porta, 2018).
The economic and social crisis led to a marked drop in the general trust that citizens had in insti-
tutions, governments and the political class in general, resulting in extensive social rejection of the
neoliberal order and strong questioning of the hegemonic model in all of its dimensions (political,
institutional, environmental, in relation to energy or food and so on). A huge wave of demonstra-
tions and protests took place on the streets of the main cities in Southern Europe and culminated in
the Occupy movement in public squares (Rossio, Syntagma, Puerta del Sol and others). The camps,
which had become new symbols of the expression of social discontent, united and facilitated the
connection between highly mobilised sectors and depoliticised sectors composed of people who in-
dividually, as a family or socially had reached a breaking point in their level of unrest and decided
to become involved in these mobilisations (Errejón, 2011; Subirats, 2013; Lois and Piñeira, 2015).
The occupations of the public squares marked a key transformation in the patterns of response to
the crisis, as the mobilisations spread across several cities and the neighbourhoods of large urban
areas and decentralised in open and popular local assemblies. These settings, which had become ex-
perimental laboratories in the public space where forms of deliberative democracy and collective
learning processes are tested and practised, shaped collective action communities. The networks of
activists gave structure to the indignados, or 'outraged', movement and fuelled a much longer cycle
of anti-austerity mobilisations with a wide and very diverse repertoire of actors and strategies,
linked to specific sectoral demands (health, education, pensions, social benefits, right to housing
and others). The multiple interactions between the different collectives also escalated to the demand
Partecipazione e conflitto,
14(1) 2021: 458-479, DOI: 10.1285/i20356609v14i1p458
for elections with sights set on the victory of a hypothetical new left involving reform proposals and
drastic change in the system (Martínez and García, 2015; Della Porta et al., 2017).
This scenario of global crisis, social mobilisation and the urban sprawl of the assembly dynamics
promotes the gestation of multiple connections to build a counter-hegemonic discourse, rethink al-
ternative forms of organising everyday life and embark on collective projects that contradict the
dominant relationships.
5. Critical response initiatives and resilient alternative practices in Spain and
Greece: some common elements
The collective responses of citizens to the economic and political threats, to the weakening of so-
cial rights and to multiple inequalities manifest in alternative forms of economic and non-economic
practices promoted by citizen initiatives and community groups (Kousis and Paschou, 2017). As
open communities that arose or strengthened during the crisis, anti-austerity movements showed
vast capacity for creating their own opportunities and resources and became a laboratory for exper-
imenting everyday self-organisation and mutual assistance practices (Petropoulou, 2013; Huke et
al., 2015; Arampazti, 2017). These critical response initiatives refer to the concept of collective so-
cial resistance (Maguire, and Hagan, 2007; Keck and Sakdapolrak, 2013; Hall and Lamont, eds.
2013) to tackle the threats of neoliberal policies, build participatory democracy, develop common
empowerment and build autonomous spaces (Hughes, 2015).
The alternative forms of resilience (re)emerge with force in the regions of Southern Europe, where
the effects of the crisis are more profound, and they develop in the interstices of the cap italist urban
space (Leontidou, 2010; Kousis and Paschou, 2017; Sánchez-Hernández, 2019). In this regard, it is
interesting to note the link between the emergence of these types of practices and the social conse-
quences of the crisis. The results of the LIVEWHAT project reveal how, on the basis of a sample of
over 4,200 alternative action organisations in nine European countries, there is a substantial concen-
tration of the number of initiatives during the crisis period for the countries most affected by its im-
pact, including more than half of the practices analysed in Spain, Greece, France, Italy and Poland.
In contrast, alternative action organisations in countries not substantially affected by the crisis are
relatively older and more institutionalised given that most of them were established in the eighties
and nineties. In fact, in many European countries it is possible to identify a wide range of collabora-
tive economy practices, which act as experimental laboratories for social innovation, and that came
before the 2008 crisis (Arcidiacono et al., 2018).
In this regard, we will focus our attention on the two reference countries Spain and Greece
where AEP are the subject of increasing attention by social researchers. Noteworthy papers in this
regard are those by Dalakoglou (2012), Petropoulou, (2013) Rakopoulos (2013 and 2014), Sotirop-
oulos and Bourikos (2014); Arampatzi (2017), Calvário and Callis (2017) Papadaki and Kalogeraki
(2018) and Loukakis (2018) for the Greek case, and contributions by Conill et al., (2012), Fernán-
dez-Casadevante (2013), as well as Sánchez-Herndez (2019) for the Spanish case.
The academic literature review defines AEP as resilient actions geared towards non-capitalist im-
aginaries and underscores common characteristic elements. Firstly, with regard to the contexts that
promote their creation and diffusion. In Spain, the hatching of AEP cannot be exclusively associat-
ed with the impact of the economic crisis but the majority of them emerged from 2011 to 2015, co-
Pascual, Guerra,
Participation and alternative economic practices: discourses, identities and imaginaries of change
inciding with the cycle of political, economic and social activism generated by the 15-M anti-
austerity mobilisations and the indignados, or 'outraged', movement (Sánchez-Herndez, 2019).
Consequently, although these are not new initiatives and they do not constitute an exclusive re-
sponse to the crisis, the economic recession triggered a new emergence of alternative practices. In a
context similar to the Spanish one, informal self-help networks arose in Greece from the dispersal
of practices in the post-Syntagma period of occupation in 2011. These counteracted the impact of
the austerity policies by mobilising in relation to matters such as the distribution of basic goods and
being very active in more extensive campaigns in response to the right to housing, as well as taxes,
mortgages and evictions.
A second common aspect is that they are creative resistances of an eminently urban nature as, not
in vain, the cities assume a key role in the development of collective anti-austerity movements and
actions. Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece, and Madrid and Barcelona in Spain are where the
thickest fabrics of grassroots community initiatives were weaved, which does not exclude their
presence in medium-sized cities and small urban nuclei. The local relations between alternative ini-
tiatives, constituted spontaneously, informally and creatively, form a local urban space where re-
sources, knowledge and experiences are shared and new social connections as well as community
forms are shaped that are capable of generating micro-transformations which provide the urban
space with new meanings, contribute to the resilience of the cities and discursively undermine ne-
oliberal rationality (Sánchez-Hernández, 2019; nchez-Hernández and Gckler, 2019; Arampatzi,
2017; Leontidou, 2014; Subirats and García-Bernardos, 2015; Llobera, 2013; Blanco et al., 2015).
Thirdly, the concept of alternative forms of resilience simultaneously encompasses the whole
range of conceptual and theoretical perspectives as well as citizen practices. The diversity of objec-
tives stands out alongside the repertoire of alternative practices by means of which the citizens col-
lectively respond to these challenges. The list of solidarity-based structures and alternative actions
that have unfolded over the last decade in Spain and Greece includes the non-monetary exchange of
products and services such as swap markets, free bazaars, markets based on social currency and
time banks. There has also been a rapid spreading of alternative networks of production and critical
consumption such as the collectives that practise agriculture sustained by the community and agroe-
cological consumption groups, networks that avoid the intermediary in the production and distribu-
tion of food and the cooking collectives that provide meals and raise awareness of nutritional mat-
ters, free of charge. Together with these local practices there emerge citizen initiatives for housing,
squatter settlements that seek another form of everyday life for the participants of such, coopera-
tives for the supply of social services, shared schools, community clinics, labour collectives that
aim for types of work established on the basis of a solidarity-based relationship as well as sponta-
neous actions of resistance and reproduction of cultural knowledge in self-managed social centres
(Dalakoglou 2012; Petropoulou, 2013; Kousis and Paschou, 2017; Arampatzi, 2017; Hughes, 2015;
Rubio-Pueyo, 2016).
Lastly, it is interesting to highlight that in both countries, these collective forms of action host
diverse political approaches and cultures: neocapitalist or transformation alternatives that work with
reform-oriented and less critical guidelines; opposition or anti-capitalist alternatives that aspire to
eradicate capitalism and call for social change by expanding de-mercantilised spaces and creating
non-capitalist spaces of power (Holloway 2010); and surpassing or post-capitalist alternatives that
aim to build autonomous mutual assistance spaces with identities and imaginaries of strong and ide-
ologically committed social movements (Kousis and Paschou, 2017; Conill et al., 2012; Sánchez-
Herndez, 2019; Pascual and Guerra, 2019).
Partecipazione e conflitto,
14(1) 2021: 458-479, DOI: 10.1285/i20356609v14i1p458
6. The social composition of AEP in Spain and in Greece: identification of the
Despite the similarities observed, the compared perspective shows the presence of differential
components that are central to understanding the most profound sense of the citizen response initia-
tives. The key aspects that determine such divergences can be found in the specific microcontexts
for the promotion of these collective actions, and for the progressive recruitment and aggregation of
individuals to AEP (Almeida, 2019).
Contributions by Rakopoulos (2014), Petropoulou (2013), Kousis and Paschou (2017), Calrio
and Callis (2017), Arampatzi (2017) and Sotiropoulos and Bourikos (2014) for the case of Greece
reveal that the majority of the collectives examined are initiatives created by citizens in the public
sphere to respond to a collective need and offer alternative ways of tackling everyday challenges re-
lated mainly to urgent needs (housing, food, health, clothing, education). They are resistance
movements from below in a scenario charged with social tension and they serve as "mechanisms for
cushioning" against the collapse of public services.
Among the most extensive collective forms of organisation, the informal and anti-intermediary
food distribution networks stand out, which began to operate in 2010 and that extend throughout the
country, particularly in the large cities of Athens and Thessaloniki. From the perspective of bio-
graphic availability, the social bases are composed of people with unstructured working routines
and relative availability of time, which facilitates their participation. The participants are social
groups with medium-low income: young people with formal unstable jobs and informal jobs, stu-
dents, the unemployed and the retired. There is also notable participation by people of all ages
linked to leftist political movements and informal urban movements that took place in Greece in
prior periods, focused on the struggles against socio-spatial inequalities, environmental deteriora-
tion and the privatisation of public spaces.
The responses that have arisen in the neighbourhoods and cities of Greek metropolitan areas aim
to deal with the need for the social reproduction of impoverished groups, resist exclusion, fight
against xenophobic trends and experiment with alternative forms of organisation of social and eco-
nomic relations. Faced with assistance-based approaches by other social actors, initiatives such as
the Time Bank and the Solidarity-based Network of Exarcheia or the RAME cooperative, defy the
meaning of charity as unidirectional support for vulnerable groups to adopt a critical and participa-
tory nature involving the beneficiaries in the networks, instead of being passive receivers of goods
and services. This radical difference from other types of citizen participation relates to the idea of
coproduction posited by Ostrom (1996) and can contribute to the current debate on the participation
of fragile actors in service coproduction activities (Gheduzzi et al., 2020). Reciprocal relationships
and close connections between the people involved are therefore developed and the empowering as-
pect of solidarity as a means to activate and train the subjects of the support is reinforced, thus
avoiding the risk of being stigmatised as typical receivers of state social assistance programmes. In
this regard, the microcontexts relating to social links, organisational proximity and prior experience
in other movements identify with low income urban communities that share resources for survival
by means of a process of aggregation of new individuals who interact with activists with a long-
standing history of political commitment and social mobilisation.
In addition, solidarity-based urban spaces reveal that these spatially located practices also act as
places for activism and political struggle as they aim to extend the scope of these activities beyond
Pascual, Guerra,
Participation and alternative economic practices: discourses, identities and imaginaries of change
the exchange of goods and services, involve people in non-capitalist relationships and start to imag-
ine radically different modes of economic and social interaction (Bosi and Zamponi, 2015). There-
fore, for example, anti-intermediary food distributions are interpreted as a symbolic "battlefield" to
tear down the neoliberal agenda and open up a path towards a radical transformation of the agrifood
system and the economy as a whole (Calvário and Callis, 2017). The identity of the participant is
thus reinforced with the political experience of the participation, and the aggregation of individuals
to these experimentation spaces contributes towards strengthening individual and collective politi-
cal commitment.
Compared with Greece, the profile of the social bases that sustain AEP in Spain is very different,
as is the very orientation and the sense of these initiatives. In this case, it cannot be said that AEP
are directly related to the citizens who face the difficulties of the crisis and austerity policies. The
crisis has a tremendous impact on the lives of many people and has affected their attitudes by rein-
forcing their commitment to the search for alternatives that transform production, distribution and
consumption. Their aim is to tackle a multitude of existential and governance problems in a resilient
manner. They function as social engagement and participation spaces based on trust, reciprocity and
mutual assistance but they are rarely geared towards fulfilling urgent basic needs or aimed at social
groups who are impoverished or in a situation of particular vulnerability (Pascual and Guerra,
They are also not, strictly speaking, spaces of political debate and confrontation. The more politi-
cally oriented groups experienced a phase of high activity and growing support when the anti-
austerity movements in Spain had a greater peak and the camps and assemblies proliferated. How-
ever, this trend does not continue afterwards. Those mobilisations planted the seed for many prac-
tices but this does not necessarily mean a trend towards alternative resilience and political struggle
and they do not show an ambition to form part of a political project or a social movement with
greater scope (Pascual and Guerra, 2019).
Consequently, the papers published suggest that in Greece, the collectives at the forefront of AEP
identify with the social groups most punished by the crisis, are geared towards tackling urgent basic
needs and involve the most vulnerable and impoverished groups in their activity. In addition, the
empowering nature of these forms of collective solidarity plant the seed for new non-capitalist po-
litical imaginaries with the ambition of promoting a radical social change by means of potentially
emancipatory economic alternatives.
In Spain, the profile of the actors is notably far from these coordinates, which in turn determines
the attitudinal factors, the profound motivations of their protagonists, the self-representations of
these collectives and the perspectives of the participants of AEP.
7. The social basis of AEP in Spain: profiling the protagonists
Exploring the interviews and surveys conducted makes it possible to examine the relevant per-
sonal micro-contexts both for the characterisation of the social basis of the Spanish AEP and for the
understanding of the collective action that unfolds in them, and of the mechanisms that facilitate
their reproduction over time. These central aspects are the biographic availability of those who
promote or participate in AEP, defined both for the capacity to dedicate resources and time to work
in a practice and for the prior experiences that could condition the pre-disposition to do so; the val-
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ues and ideology that they share and, lastly, the features of the personal identity reinforced with the
experience of participating in the practice.
However, before expanding on these aspects, it seems pertinent to set forth an organisational and
formal context relevant to the examined AEP. Regardless of the subsequent evolution of each, most
share the protagonism that citizens' collectives of different types acquire in their genesis. These col-
lectives are understood as groups of individuals that are not legally formalised and connected by a
combination of cultural, ideological, spatial and militant proximity. Of the 67 practices examined,
45 respond to this category, although eight have been included that were initiated by the 15-M
movement with some similar characteristics (Table 2).
Table 2 - Actors that promote alternative economic practices
Type of promoting actor
Proportion (in %)
Citizens' collectives
15-M assemblies
Municipal initiatives
Neighbourhood Associations
Political and trade union collectives
Prepared on the basis of the PRESECAL project database
This fact shows an invariant in AEP: the low representation that, in their origins, political and
trade union organisations, the neighbourhood movement paramount in Spanish social mobilisation
since the end of the 1960s or the institutional actors potentially receptive to the alternative eco-
nomic and social constructions that the practices drive have. In some form, all of these show at least
certain difficulty to adapt to the cultural and organisational framework with which the people who
participate in AEP build their collective identity.
7.1 Biographic availability: a militant middle class
Mainly a militant, activist and qualified middle class with a set of associative affiliations culti-
vates the social basis of the Spanish AEP. The typical profile is that of a middle-aged person (47
years old), mostly women (55%), who are working (68%) and as employees. Although the range of
occupations is diverse, the most frequent jobs revolve around the sphere of public services, mainly
in the fields of health, social work and education. The occupation, employment activity and degree
of qualification can be associated with the level of income. Despite differences depending on the
type of AEP, the latter is above the Spanish average, in such a manner that the mobilisation and the
leaderships are linked to people with relative economic security and a high level of education (Ta-
ble 3).
Pascual, Guerra,
Participation and alternative economic practices: discourses, identities and imaginaries of change
Table 3 - Sociodemographic profile of participants in Spanish AEP
Proportion (in %)
Age (in years)
Studies (education level)
Undergraduate degree
Primary school
High school
Vocational training
Annual household income (in €)
Prepared on the basis of the PRESECAL project database
The biographic availability that cultivates AEP is that composed of the professional, cognitive,
monetary and time resources of individuals whose profile corresponds to that detailed. However, it
can also be argued that the attitudinal skills exercised in prior experiences in other grassroots or so-
cial community initiatives influence their mobilisation. In fact, many of the driving forces of AEP
and of those who join them later on declare their multiple militancy. Certain overlapping militancies
are well represented in the practices; for example, those that arise among the neighbourhood associ-
ations, the environmental movement with a more political profile and the feminist movement. It
does not appear that AEP are gateways to the active construction of a different society, rather they
represent an added phase in a personal profile that, given the average age of the participants, is
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marked by a long history of social activism. In fact, this average age far beyond the demographic
significance of this data in the renewal and recruitment of the social basis connects the biographic
availability of the participants with the 80s and 90s of the 20th century; a time in recent Spanish his-
tory known for the vitality of social and political participation, for the effervescence of alternative
proposals, for the strength of social movements and for the significance that youth associations had.
In connection with the above, it is possible to add another biographical element to the social basis
of AEP: the resistant nature of the people who compose it, with a great capacity to search for alter-
native niches in which to express their commitment regardless of the crisis of participation and trust
that impregnates the institutional frameworks in which, since the end of Franco's dictatorship in
Spain, social mobilisation and the construction of alternative discourses has been channelled.
7.2 Reform capitalism, improve society and trust in others: the expression of the be-
liefs, values and ideology of the participants of AEP
One thing that connects AEP in a cross-sectional manner is that they are alternative, in differing
degrees, to capitalism. This connection, expressed in most of the participants of the practices, does
not radically oppose capitalism, rather it aims to reform it by defusing its sharpest edges, the least
desired effects in terms of inequality and personal and social alignment. This option is present in
48% of the responses while those that declare a complete rejection of capitalism (28%) or those who
perceive that with AEP they make progress in the construction of a lifestyle on the margins of it and
of its individualising and mercantilising logics (25%) are in the minority (Table 4).
Table 4 - Ideological profile of the participants
Position regarding capitalism
Proportion (in %)
I try to correct the most unjust aspects of capitalism
I completely reject capitalism as an economic and social system
I work to build economic relations that allow me to live on the margin of capitalism
In my opinion
Rating from 1 to 5
New forms of participatory democracy have to be developed
You can trust most people, not just friends and relatives
Competition between people is good because it stimulates efforts and innovation
The organisation of the economy must be based on private companies
Economic growth and the creation of employment are more important than protecting the
For me it is important
Rating from 1 to 5
To look after my health and my diet
To help other people and show generosity towards them
To have autonomy to develop my own ideas
To fulfil the norms established in each situation
To have personal success and for everyone else to acknowledge my achievements
To earn money and have lots of things
Prepared on the basis of the PRESECAL project database
The AEP studied are mainly cultivated by a specific personal and emotional circle: friendships
(Table 7). It is reasonable to think that this mode of approach, as well as conditioning its composi-
Pascual, Guerra,
Participation and alternative economic practices: discourses, identities and imaginaries of change
tion, facilitates the construction of the collective identity as some of the individuals have been in
contact and interacted previously. In addition to the relative importance of virtual environments (in-
ternet and social media) for gaining knowledge of the practices, the contrasting marginal nature of
other forms of access is noteworthy. These include discovering the practices through family or
neighbourhood environments and participation in other practices.
This critical positioning, although reformist in terms of ideology, is built upon values, attitudes
and beliefs that vividly contrast with the dominant ones. The social basis of AEP reproduces a non -
hegemonic personal and social culture. If the European Values Study shows that social trust values
are low in Spain (Setién, 2010), the participants of AEP declare diametrically opposed attitudes.
With the prevalence of defensive and distrustful attitudes and the progressive increase in reserve
and caution, the experience of AEP contributes ways of feeling, thinking and behaving that connect
with the ethics of solidarity and trust as the aspects mentioned most by the people surveyed (Table
The analysis of the underlying discourses in the practices strengthens the ideological regularities,
the repertoires of values and attitudes that have been expressed. The study by Moro and Lamarque
following a coding strategy, systematised using NVivo, of the 71 interviews conducted within the
framework of the research project (Moro and Lamarque, 2019) shows how the discursive elements
related to domestic and trust values (21.6%), commitment to the neighbourhood environment and
the public space in general (17.2%), allusions to sustainability (14.1%) and reference to the auton-
omy and construction of spaces alternative to the dominant models prevail (8.1%) (Table 6). Para-
doxically, allusions to cooperation with other collectives (3.8%) do not have a substantial represen-
tation and, perhaps in line with the experiences associated with the middle class profile of the par-
ticipants, neither do explicit allusions to actions to promote equality (0.9%).
Table 5 - Content of the interviews according to the elements of the "values" category
% of interviews
% of references
Competence, market, profit,
income, prices
Community, proximity, trust
Sustainability, environment,
animal welfare, veganism
Standards, common good,
health, responsibility
Autonomy, alternative, innova-
Reputation, recognition, public
Collaboration in social causes
Efficiency, stability, reliability
Promotion of equality among
Moro and Lamarque, 2019.
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In short, it can be argued that the social basis of Spanish AEP reflect personal attitudes guided
more by a desire than by the fulfilment of a need. Although the practices are providers of goods and
services by alternative means, the 2008 crisis does not determine that these be resorted to to per-
emptorily cover basic needs as a result of the fall in income and the public services crisis (Table 6).
Other motivations and other driving ideas prevail: it is the desire to transform oneself personally
and socially on the basis of individual actions and lifestyles removed from the dominant cultural
contexts and frameworks. The reference identity of AEP is based on their potential for transfor-
Table 6 - Motivations and advantages of participation in the practice
Reasons for participating in the practice
Proportion (in %)
I contribute to improving society
I question the conventional economy
I engage with different people
I access free or cheaper goods and services
It allows me to participate in different activities
I help to transform my neighbourhood
I like to dedicate time to this activity
Advantages of participation in the practice
Rating from 1 to 5
I contribute to creating an alternative to the dominant economic system
I combat social exclusion in my surroundings
I improve my personal self-esteem
I improve the living conditions of my surroundings
I feel more integrated in my neighbourhood
I cover my material needs
I save money
I care for the environment
Prepared on the basis of the PRESECAL project database
7.3. Collective identity in AEP: proximity, deliberation and self-management
Collective identity, when applied to social mobilisation, is defined as the process by which a giv-
en actor defines their expectations, compares their possibilities and establishes the limits of their
action based on the prevailing environments that compose the microcontexts explained in the previ-
ous sections. This concept of collective identity responds, on the other hand, to three large dimen-
sions: objectives of the personal action, the way in which different individuals interact and engage
with one another and the emotional conditions that enable individuals to acknowledge themselves
(Melucci, 1988 and 1989).
In the Spanish AEP, the jump from their individual identity to the collective one does not concern
an excessively differentiated type of actor (militant activists prevail) but for its culmination it needs
the same reference elements that the literature has recognised for other cases: the systems of rela-
tionships that lead to participating in a practice, the forms of negotiation established within them
and the types of spaces created.
Pascual, Guerra,
Participation and alternative economic practices: discourses, identities and imaginaries of change
The AEP studied are mainly cultivated by a specific personal and emotional circle: friendships
(Table 7). It is reasonable to think that this mode of approach, as well as conditioning its composi-
tion, facilitates the construction of the collective identity as some of the individuals have been in
contact and interacted previously. In addition to the relative importance of virtual environments (in-
ternet and social media) for gaining knowledge of the practices, the contrasting marginal nature of
other forms of access is noteworthy. These include discovering the practices through family or
neighbourhood environments and participation in other practices.
Table 7 - Mode of approaching the practices
Proportion (in %)
Other AEP
Another form
Prepared on the basis of the PRESECAL project database
Regardless of the relational environments that cultivate the social basis, their open nature in
terms of organisational aspects is relevant in shaping their collective identity. Their capacity to
unite lessons and collective reflections that strengthen, in the sense mentioned by Psarikidou
(2015), the creation of community and the development of a participatory culture prevail in them.
This is supported on the basis of a space the assembly and a process the deliberation. The sum
of both enables a better expression of the individual identities by substituting dialogue until a con-
sensus is reached for the principle of imposition by the majorities. It regards accepting the perspec-
tives and interests of all the participants and deliberation to produce mutually acceptable solutions
as a final result.
The participants in the practices are aware that the different personal skills and opportunities can
configure internal relations of power in which certain individuals or identities are relegated, as the
literature has already indicated (Fickey and Hanrahan, 2014). However, as the interviews also sug-
gest, there is a determination to elaborate on the assembly dynamics, to gain in social experimenta-
tion and build a community leadership project that requires the militant commitment of the partici-
pants, and it is this that provides the practices with their transformative potential. Self-management
represents in the discourse of the practices an act of political impact that challenges the dominant
patterns and powerfully contributes to the construction of autonomous spaces. These autonomous
geographies (Pickerill and Chatterton, 2006) constitute the continent in which the collective identi-
ty is built with which the social basis of AEP identifies and in which the individuals project their
sense of personal usefulness.
8. Conclusions
We believe that combining the institutional and economic geography with that of urban social
movements and the theory of social mobilisation is useful for characterising the economic practices.
The former shows how alternative economic practices are the institutional framework in which the
alternative economy unfolds, while the latter makes it possible to understand the current attributes
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and characteristics of this framework. This approach to AEP places the emphasis on the explanatory
value that certain contextual elements have. The significance of the social basis stands out, whose
profile is modelled on the biographic availability of the participants, their beliefs, values, psychoso-
cial attributes, political ideology, microcontexts in which they operate, as well as prior experience
in other types of initiatives, often facilitated by the existence of aggregated militancies.
In common with the Greek, the participants of Spanish AEP share aspects of the social mobilisa-
tion metalanguage and of the repertoire of reaction instruments available in the wave of protests af-
ter the 2008 crisis: political discontent, questioning of the representative model of democracy, dis-
trust towards public administrations, crisis of the association movement of a more classic profile
and largely co-opted by institutional logics, predominance of overlapping militancies, shift in the
meaning of public space and development of deliberative models in decision-making. They also
share in common the reference space in which the practices unfold: the urban sphere. A space where
a creative and resilient energy originates with a strong emotional component that moves to ex-
periment with organisational structures of an alternative nature and that have a transformative voca-
However, the published papers regarding AEP in Greece suggest that community leadership is
based on social groups sorely afflicted by the crisis and austerity policies, and incorporates impov-
erished segments of the population into their everyday practice as the main recipients of mutual as-
sistance resources. This solidarity-based component is impregnated with an empowering desire that
aims to break away from the classic scheme of social assistance by means of the direct involvement
of the beneficiaries in the collective struggles against exclusion and in the provision of basic re-
sources to cover urgent basic needs by means of AEP.
The reasons that explain the orientation of informal networks of self-assistance from and towards
the social groups that have a middle to low income and collectives that are vulnerable or at risk of
exclusion, can be found in the reversal of the Welfare State caused by the severe adjustment poli-
cies implemented in Greece. Sotiropoulos and Bourikos (2014) maintain that, before public services
collapsed, citizens intervened to occupy that space by adopting a critical and participatory nature in
the search for alternative forms of organising economic and social life.
In this regard, we suggest that the contextual conditions determine the attributes of the key actors
and the strategies to challenge the existing social institutions and structures and mobilise the social
forces to support collective projects that contradict the dominant relations. From this perspective,
we propose that the motivations of the social bases of AEP in Greece base political action on an
emancipating perspective and maintain a critical discourse that pursues breaking with the neoliberal
order and the creation of non-capitalist imaginaries that promote alternative forms of social organi-
sation. However, AEP reflect a complex and multi-faceted social phenomenon with cultural, eco-
nomic and political dimensions that require intensive and theoretically-informed empirical work to
understand in greater detail and with more precision the profile of the participants and the benefi-
ciary groups they involve (Kousis and Paschou, 2017).
In contrast, despite the economic and social effects of the crisis in Spain, the social basis that
gathers around AEP is not the hardest hit by the effects of the austerity policies, cutbacks in public
services and the instability of employment. Their profile is not known for their risk of social exclu-
sion and the empowerment of disadvantaged classes that show a marked rejection of state social
welfare. The radicalism of their discourse is based on their own counter-cultural nature, on the re-
moteness of the values and attitudes defended compared with those socially prevailing.
Pascual, Guerra,
Participation and alternative economic practices: discourses, identities and imaginaries of change
In the case of the Spanish AEP it is not found that there is a need for immediate rupture as a re-
sult of the radical needs of the moment. This is transferred to the long term, to a process that, start-
ing with personal transformation and culminating in social transformation is based, among others,
on the experience provided by the commitment to an alternative economic practice. Among these,
the participants extend a reformist discourse, in which molecular approximations predominate (sus-
tainability, health, commitment to the most immediate environment, etc.) compared to more homog-
enous and totalising approaches of opposition to the prevailing capitalist system.
Although there are initiatives in Spain similar to the Greek ones, their lower representation means
that the regularities of the social basis of Spanish AEP connect with those that, for other locations,
academic literature has expressed as a majority form. These invariants connect all of these practices
to an extensive alternative metalanguage that albeit not universal is recurrent. However, it does
seem to somehow narrow down the values and commitments it works with, above all those connect-
ed with justice and social and spatial equality.
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