Austerity, the state and common sense in Europe. A comparative perspective on Italy and Portugal

Antonio Maria Pusceddu
  ampusceddu@gmail.com
  
Antonio Maria Pusceddu
  ampusceddu@gmail.com
  Universitat de Barcelona
Patricia Matos
  patricia.r.m.a.matos@gmail.com
  Universitat de Barcelona

Abstract

This paper seeks to understand the reshaping of people’s practices and worldviews in the wake of the austerity-driven reproductive crisis in Southern Europe. We want to address the development of austerity as a joint economic, ideological and political project in a comparative perspective. Gramsci defined “common sense” as “the most widespread conception of life and morality”, while underlining its stability in parallel with its continuously changing character. We believe that the various stratified layers internal to common sense enable capturing both the giveness of social life, but also its contradictions. The making of austerity as “common sense” needs to be linked both to historically determined fields of forces of contemporary capitalism in Europe and to concrete experiences and practices of earning a livelihood within a particular structure of capital accumulation.
Following the financial crisis of 2008, transnational institutions of governance, such as the International Monetary Fund or the European Commission, and European states favored the theory of “expansionary austerity” as the main policy towards economic recovery. In European countries, austerity has often been described as a deepening of long-term neoliberalization processes that started in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the historical and context-bound character of austerity projects together with the nature of people’s agency capabilities need to be further explored and theorized.
Drawing on a comparative data from Portugal and Italy, this paper will problematize how the austerity project has been imposed through a combination of coercion and consent. That is, how common sense is reshaped by state interventions, which is always a contested terrain among differentially positioned social agents. We emphasize the mobilization of diverse ideological elements and historical-grounded devices, which render the austerity project acceptable. We aim to expand the theorization of austerity as a hegemonic project, capable of capturing and changing the state-form, and as a field of contradictions endemic to the very making of common sense.

austerity - state - common sense - Europe