The methodological framework of the project is comprised by three axes:
- Historically informed and in-depth ethnography.
- Comparative analysis
- Critical geography’s understanding of scale
Researchers focus on the in-depth observation of households and working spaces in selected field sites in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. The chosen sites involve industrial settings, mixed agricultural-service-manufacturing regional economies, service workers, and low rank civil servants many of whom have increasingly precarious jobs and incomes. Scale is understood as a three-dimensional tool producing the meaningful frameworks where people’s actions (individual, collective) take place. The scale-framing of social interaction defines an experience scale, an institutional scale and an analytical scale. However, we expect to elicit emerging scale-frames from the ethnographic data.
Research work is organized around these three dimensions. The first is a comparative assessment of ordinary people’s practices in pursuit of a livelihood, including projects for economic improvement. The second dimension will analyze regulation of livelihood pursuit processes by State or other institutions and instruments. The third dimension will address present-day folk and expert economic models, trying to ground their emergence both historically and in social, cultural and political environments. Empirical grounding on ethnography will disclose the interaction between opportunities, meanings, projects and practices in people’s pursuit of livelihood and wellbeing. In order to be able to make critical theoretical contributions, however, comparative analysis of the four selected countries will provide the elements for assessing the relative weight of specificity and commonality and explain historical logics.
NOVEL AND/OR UNCONVENTIONAL METHODOLOGIES
This project’s main method for eliciting information about everyday livelihood strategies and expert and lay ideological constructs is long-term in-depth ethnographic fieldwork, a classic approach in social anthropology. Paradoxically, this classic approach is novel in the understanding of economic processes which have systematically relied on statistical data or, alternatively, on psychological individual drives to understand macro and micro behavioral patterns.
Our approach embeds multisite in-depth ethnographic observation in a scalar methodology that looks at the various frames that configure ordinary people’s social relations (proximate everyday interactions, institutional frameworks, and abstract models). This multi-scalar perspective places ethnographic material beyond mere description and shows how social relations produce different forms and scales of space that express struggles over resources and power, and configure the possibilities of human interaction. Likewise, scale-frames produce the meaningful frameworks where
people’s actions (individual, collective) take place through ‘naming’, ‘attributing responsibility’ and ‘claiming’ processes.
The other relatively novel methodological aspect of our research rests on the implementation of a systematic comparative process between the ethnographic material gathered from the various sites.
While comparison is not novel per-se in social anthropology, it is seldom built into the ethnographic process as a collaborative endeavor. Our project has developed fieldwork protocols and sharing tools that support the comparison between sites all along the ethnographic fieldwork and promote the incorporation into the local observation processes of insights and issues gleaned from other sites.
This ethnographic collaboration is extremely unusual for anthropology and completely transforms the character of the fieldwork material through the tight integration of ethnography and comparison.
We anticipate presenting this research method as an innovative approach to anthropological research in a future publication.
INTER AND CROSS-DISCIPLINARY DEVELOPMENTS
This project is inherently cross disciplinary as it attempts to understand economic processes and models in terms of the discipline of social anthropology. Economic models developed within the discipline of economics and their popularization through the media and IT networks are defined as objects of observation. At the same time, the social practice that creates expert knowledge on “the economy” is analyzed, paying attention to its translation into an authoritative discourse and its political expression through policy. This cross-disciplinary aspect, however, should develop into an inter-disciplinary exchange in a second phase of the project. Indeed, theoretical results following the analysis of the research material are to be debated with academics and experts that self-define as economists.
Inter-disciplinary exchange is built into the project through the meetings with the Steering Committee (SC) comprising an economist, a geographer, a sociologist, and an anthropologist. The SC reacts to the materials and analyses presented by the GRECO team from their various disciplinary perspectives, providing a critical approach that challenges emerging anthropological findings and analyses along the project. This has already proven extremely fruitful during the various phases of he project.
In addition, the methodological use of scale in the project supports an interdisciplinary focus that articulates critical geography’s understanding of scale with anthropological thoughts about the politics of space, and sociological use of the micro-meso-macro social dimensions.
Finally, different members of the team, although trained in the ethnographical method and anthropological theory, come from a wide variety of disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences, including sociology, history, archaeology, geography, philosophy, and cultural studies. This multi-disciplinary background provides a wide scope for creative critique and the generation of innovative insights during fieldwork and in the internal seminars of the team.