Theodoros Rakopoulos, one of our post-doctoral fellows, has departed for a 12 months ethnographic fieldwork to work in the neighbourhoods of Thessaloniki, the second largest city of Greece. Below is an abstract of his intention in regards to expanding the understanding of the concept of egalitarianism in two directions, concerning activisms around the practices and notions of solidarity and around ‘truth’ activism.
By Theodoros Rakopoulos
The goal of my project is to investigate divergent egalitarian responses to life conditions produced in and by the current economical crisis, which dominates so much of everyday life of the Greek people. The work will focus on lower-middle class and working class individuals and the intention is to explore analytically how differently positioned actors organise what can be described as a radically diverse, yet at times overlapping, grassroots social responses to hardship.
The nature of the project necessitates that I develop my research in two directions in order to investigate different forms of egalitarian activism. These two trajectories are seemingly parallel, yet seem also to be at times interlocked.
I have been pursuing an ongoing ethnographic research (since 2013) around the range of activities branded as ‘solidarity economy’ in Greece, and that comprises of the grassroots organised provision of social services. The main set of informants in this work include people working within what they call ‘the anti-middleman movement’. This entails establishing and activating alternative routes of food distribution in the city, which side-line market middlemen. When formulating makeshift markets, urban activists organise the distribution of foodstuff directly from farmers to consumers, way below common retail prices. They see their movement as a political education and engagement and speak of ‘movementality’ (kinimatikotita), which is a conferring of food concerns to social mobilisation pursuits. By exploring this set of undertakings as a vibrant grassroots response to the crisis, my intention is to expand this investigation into reciprocity’s conceptual boundaries, by extending it to include solidarity, as a local concept that is rampant in crisis-ridden Greece.
Parallel to exploring solidarity as a native concept from an anthropological point of view, I also intend to do research on ‘truth-activism’, which is a range of social practices that are often sloppily labelled in the rubric of ‘conspiracy theory’. By unpacking this unhelpful notion, my goal is to explore how such a production of knowledge-seeking methods (‘theory’) can be associated to understandings, which are radically different from the “popular” and hegemonic readings of crisis most commonly presented in global media.
This aspect of the project centres on people who are often loosely organised in activist groups, and who arrange the -very popular, especially in Thessaloniki- dissemination of what they call crisis counter-narratives and what constitutes ‘strange truths’ or ‘unchartered paths to truth’. By questioning the methodological materiality of political economy and politics, these individuals engage in cognitive pursuits of knowledge-seeking and whose aim is to reveal or investigate ‘truths’ that are ‘hidden from the public’. I focus especially on the dissemination of such truth-activism pursued by authors, journalists and bookstore owners interested in the notions of the strange and the paranormal, as well as some politicised pundits. The ideological constitution of the particular formations of common sense and that arise in the midst of crisis, lie at the heart of this problematic.
The key notions for the project’s development then, are ‘solidarity’ associated with practical engagement with food activism on the one hand, and common-sense and activism around ‘truth’, on the other. While radically different, these two pursuits can be integrated in a comparison of egalitarianism-related activisms on two grounds of commonality: they both see themselves as being movements of political education, and they are both exacerbated and inspired by the crisis. The solidarity economy of food activism seems material(ist) and progressive: its intellectual trajectories are endogenous to political economy and politics, although subversive towards them. The truth-activism of ‘common-sense’ is inspired by a political cosmology of radical difference, and its constitution is allocentric: its truth lies ‘out there’. As the project explores the local deployments of ‘solidarity’ and ‘common sense’, the aim is to see how these notions feed into egalitarian routes, as well as how they are historicised within the realm of the crisis.