‘In the end you adapt to anything’: responses to narratives of resilience and entrepreneurship in post-recession Spain
Abstract: Resilience – the ability to bounce back from hardship – is a concept that has become popular during the years of economic crisis and post-recession. Contemporary citizens are expected to be flexibl...
Summary (3 min read)
- After the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the subsequent financial collapse, what is known as the Great Recession spread around most Western countries.
- Resilience is presented as a fundamental value when coping with (and taking advantage of) the precariousness and uncertainty in post-recessionary Western societies.
- Politicians, athletes and self-help gurus use it’.
- This article examines how citizens in post-recession Spain, where the crisis is officially over even though its consequences are still palpable,1 respond to the discourses and representations which have populated the Spanish media promoting the value of resilience, change and adaptability.
The imaginaries of the economic crisis
- As international scholarship has highlighted, popular culture has played an important role in portraying and legitimizing austerity imaginaries and neoliberal values.
- These stories, which highlighted the crisis’s dramatic consequences on Spanish citizens, were countered with advertisements that romanticized them, urging Spaniards to adapt to the precarious reality and discover the value of the ‘little things’ (Ruiz Collantes and Sanchez-Sanchez, 2019).
- In Spain, where the welfare state was traditionally legitimized (García, 2010), these formats introduced new imaginaries that further developed after 2008.
- They are seen in local adaptations of Anglo-American formats such as Esta casa era una ruina (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), El jefe infiltrado (Undercover Boss) and Millonario anónimo (Secret Millionaire), as well as the Spanish show Entre todos (TVE1 2013-14), in which people facing difficulties asked other Spaniards for help.
- Resilience -the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties- has been a key concept in the discourses about the economic crisis, especially in relation to the ways of coping with it.
- Resilience ‘implies the ability to withstand setbacks or even the capacity for individuals to use their problems as an impetus for positive change,’ such that it is often presented positively, since ‘it is dynamic and suggests agency’ (Harrison, 2013: 99).
- Different authors have pointed out that in analyses of individuals’ this role by caring for themselves (Gill and Ogard, 2018; Harrison, 2013; Jensen, 2016).
- This discourse has only magnified since the economic crisis, as it has been expanded and idealized in very diverse fields such as politics, psychology, education, celebrity culture and creative labor (Barudy, 2016; Conor, 2014; Gill and Orgard, 2018, Gorin and Dubied, 2011).
- Not only is entrepreneurship portrayed as a way to respond to the crisis, as the authors have seen in the previous section, but the crisis (and the more precarious environment) is also framed as an opportunity to help Spaniards to become more entrepreneurial and thus reinvent themselves.
- This article presents the results of a research project whose objective is to identify the values conveyed by popular culture during the years of the economic crisis in Spain and to see how citizens respond to these values and representations.
- The choice of focus groups as the research technique reflects a desire to examine citizens’ discourse from a qualitative viewpoint, that is, without the goal of representativeness, as other techniques can provide, yet with the possibility of detecting significant differences among social groups and obtaining elaborate discourses (Bryman, 2008).
- In both cases, the authors studied how neoliberalism and its associated values (resilience, austerity, entrepreneurship, selfdiscipline, meritocracy, individualism, flexibility, adaptation to change) have contributed to generating a predominant narrative about the crisis, and how this narrative has also permeated popular culture texts (as explained in previous sections).
- Based on this work, the authors created four written short stories that encapsulated the main features of the narratives previously studied.
- (MCW 2) Hardship is also presented by some participants (both middle and working class) as a chance to reconsider your life course, thus evoking the neoliberal ideal of the reflective worker who has the capacity to forge their own path (Atkinson, 2010): P4: I mean, I’ve seen human beings adapt to any adversity or change.
- Or just like dinosaurs you simply disappear (WCW 2) The participants assume that the environment cannot be changed by either the characters in the stories or the citizens in society today, also known as P3.
- The working-class participants’ emphasis on adaptation to change can be seen as a veiled complaint about their situation.
- But it’s almost more a cultural problem than… sometimes people are really afraid of changes, because we’re taught to… not to do it, I mean, security, security, security.
- This stands in contrast to the worker who is ‘complacent’ due to the ‘privileges’ they have gotten from the existing job protections, which is based on the imaginary of ‘Spanish workers as immobile, slow, and left behind by progress’ (Fernández Rodriguez and Martínez Lucio, 2012: 326).
- And now, it turns out you’ve lost your job, you have two children, a mortgage, (…) they’ve embargoed P3: and they’ve reinvented themselves P4: and they’ve reinvented themselves because they’ve opened a bakery, or the woman has started taking in sewing, or they’ve gone to live with their parents until things get better.
- During the recession and post-recession years, popular culture in Spain has conveyed narratives from the epic of adaptability, merging concepts such as resilience, flexibility, self-reinvention, entrepreneurship and a romanticization of austerity.
- Working-class participants were less accepting of these discourses, while defending the ability to adapt to difficult situations as an important virtue.
- As Alonso et al. (2011) point out, before austerity was appropriated by the neoliberal discourse in Spain, there was an ‘ethic of austerity in the working class’.
- Since the authors also found some instances where working-class participants mixed notions of survival, adaptation and resilience with a more direct appeal to entrepreneurship, they should ask whether neoliberalism’s appropriation of austerity and resilience has given it an additional capacity to connect with this social group.
- Funding Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness [grant number CSO2014-56830-P].
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Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What are the contributions in this paper?
The objective of this article is to analyze how citizens in post-recession Spain respond to media representations that prescribe these values. Eight focus groups were held with middleand working-class men and women ( a total of 62 participants ) who discussed four short stories written by the researchers which condensed the main concepts found in media narratives studied previously ( including TV series, reality TV, advertisements, video games and celebrity culture ).
Q2. What are the future works in this paper?
Nevertheless, these discourses coexist with a defense of welfare and public benefits and a harsh criticism of the consequences of past austerity policies, which shows the complexities of this concept and the need to further research it.