INSIDE RELATIONAL CAPITAL


Francesca Forno, Cristina Grasseni & Silvana Signori [in collaboration with the Italian Solidarity Economy Network]

Il capitale delle relazioni.jpgIt is increasingly argued that the environmental and social problems afflicting industrialized societies cannot be resolved without a change in citizens’ lifestyles and consumption practices. In recent years, the inability (or unwillingness) of institutions to propose solutions and implement policies to address these issues has stimulated the development of various new social movement organizations which, while raising general awareness of the social consequences of different consumption practices, have also favoured the emergence and spread of forms of provisioning based on direct relationships and solidarity between consumers and producers.

This research has focused on some new grassroots initiatives promoting alternative forms of consumption as a way to protect the environment and the right of workers in Italy. First appearing in 1994, ‘Solidarity Purchase Groups’ (or ‘Gruppi di Acquisto Solidale’) represent a particularly important case study to unveil the collective processes through which groups mobilize not only to exercise ethical or critical consumption but to co-produce common good, intervening in local food provisioning chains and reintroducing issues of social and environmental sustainability in regional economies, sometimes with explicit ambition to participate in the governance of the territory.
Research strategy
The research has analyzed qualitative and quantitative results to contextualize such dynamics in the theoretical framework of sustainable citizenship and social practice, highlighting how sustainable consumption may be not only the objective, but likely the result of engaged practices of direct democracy.In 2011–2013, detailed data concerning GAS groups were gathered in the northern Italian region of Lombardy through two level questionnaires, combined with qualitative insights from participant observation.
Lombardy, with about ten million inhabitants, is the most densely populated Italian region and the region of Italy estimated to have the highest concentration of GAS groups in the country. The informality that characterises these groups, as well as their rapid spread over the last decade, required first to generate an accurate map of these organisations as a prerequisite to the implementation of a survey.
The mapping of Lombardy-based GAS groups was made possible due to a close collaboration between the research team and individual GAS activists. An internal “facilitator” was identified for each of the twelve provinces of Lombardy (Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Mantua, Milan, Monza, Pavia, Sondrio and Varese). Under the supervision of the research team, a member of the GAS movement compiled a list of groups in his/her own province on the basis of personal knowledge and access to peers. Local “facilitators” not only helped to build an accurate register of the active groups, but also made first contact with each GAS group in his/her province to explain the objectives of the research and to stimulate participation in the online survey.
Data collection took place via two online questionnaires. A first survey was designed for completion by the representatives of each individual GAS and was aimed at gathering information about the operational characteristics of the group such as its internal organization, logistics, and means of communication. Another questionnaire was intended for individual members of each group. The main objective of this part of the survey was to collect information about the features and motivations of gasistas (i.e. the members of the GAS), such as their socio-economic profile, educational and professional background, reasons for joining, and perceived achievements.
Main pubblications:
Sociologia del lavoro.jpg2013 Grasseni.pngputting sust in pract.jpgzed book.png