Between Resistance and Resilience. How Do Italian Solidarity Purchase Groups Change in Times of Crisis and Austerity?
Riccardo Guidi, University of PisaMassimilano Andretta, University of Pisa
SPGs are among the most organized, widespread and popular political consumerism practices in Italy. They especially act on the ‘positive’ side of political consumerism (Micheletti 2003) and can be typically considered alternative consumerism Sustainable Community Movement Organizations (Forno, Graziano 2014). Although the crucial features of Italian SPGs are already known, how they are changing under the pressure of economic crisis and austerity policies is still to be in-depth investigated.Scholars have mainly framed contemporary global political consumerism into post-materialist hypotheses (Inglehart 1990). The recent economic crisis and the consequent austerity policies should lead us to reconsider such pattern. Nevertheless, to hypothesize how crisis and austerity affect Italian SPGs is anything but easy. Six hypotheses based on the literature on political consumerism and social movements are proposed:

  1. ‘less economic resources, less SPGs’ hypothesis: middle-class political consumers have less economic resources, thus SPGs decrease
  2. ‘cultural path dependency’ hypothesis: the strength of alternative consumerism culture is unaltered and SPGs follow their own path independently from crisis and austerity.
  3. ‘increased opportunities’ hypothesis: crisis and austerity created positive opportunities for socio-economic experimentations, thus SPGs develop
  4. ‘isomorphism’ hypothesis: crisis and austerity lead SPGs modes to resemble conventional economy
  5. ‘civic traditions’ hyphothesis: SPGs are more widespread in regions with the strongest civic traditions and that the destiny of SPGs mainly depends on the changes of these
  6. ‘resilience’ hypothesis: in current adverse contexts SPGs have a leading role within community food networks (Renting, Schermer, Rossi 2012) through which an impoverished middle-class and marginal producers of organic food support each other.
At national level, an explorative analysis on data was conducted. At regional level (Tuscany), we conducted both a quantitative/qualitative survey and a participation observation. Although our regional investigation has been thorough, all our analyses must be still considered explorative and our results only provisional.
According to our results, hypotheses based on cultural and political processes seem to be promising. They may point to the resilience capacity of those groups. Post-materialist values resulting from economic well-being might have produced organized practices of political consumerism, but once it gets organized - this is our tentative argument - not only does it resists to external shocks but also it transforms itself and adapts to fit the new conditions (of crisis), that is, it becomes ‘resilient.’ We argue that the concept of resilience can be usefully applied to SPGs to understand how they may originally support economic, social and political changes at micro and meso level after an economic shock through (food) consumers/producers networking.
The ‘resilience hypothesis’ has however to face some social cleavages: not surprisingly, the most deprived and agricultural area of Italy is at the same time the worst equipped to tackle the crisis through alternative collective forms of resilience mainly based on food networks, while in the most economically and socially equipped regions, SPGs are more able to adapt to the crisis and transform their functions accordingly.