Grassroots economics: Meaning, project and practice in the pursuit of livelihood [GRECO]

Our project proposes a bottom-up approach to economic dynamics. It is dedicated to give theoretical value to non-academic intellectual models that guide economic practice and to explain their significance for understanding the large scale economy. Four Southern European countries –Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain— have been strategically selected as research sites due to their relevance in the current European crisis.

In Southern Europe promises of wellbeing and social mobility have become increasingly elusive since 2008. As a result of structural adjustment measures and recession prospects, the middle class horizon of social mobility as a project of the laboring classes has grown improbable. Economists and policy makers have provided analyses and advised on political action to end the economic crisis, but this has resulted in greater precarity and inequality producing social protest as well as nationalistic and xenophobic reactions. The ‘technical’ models that inform these policies show little grounded knowledge about how real people make decisions within social and cultural environments that set the conditions of possibility of their actions. The Grassroots Economics project proposes a major shift in perspective in the understanding of economic processes, one that takes into account real life designs for making a living. It aims to transform the present awareness of the fragility of mainstream models into an opportunity to explain the logics of the crisis by taking into account the meanings, projects and practices that ordinary people engage in while pursuing their livelihood. We will explore the relationship between models of the economy disseminated in the media and informing policy, and grassroots practices and understandings. Research questions respond to the premise that if ordinary people are not just reactive subjects adapting their will and agency to the designs of experts and policy makers, then we need to understand how their projects and those of the economic elites and institutional power holders are co-determined. Crucial questions guiding the project are: What meanings and value frameworks sustain economic practice? How are mutual responsibilities and trust produced? What sorts of livelihood projects are designed by diversely situated people? How are resources assessed, evaluated, accessed and distributed? What can we learn from the knowledge produced in the creative practice of getting by?