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Journal ArticleDOI

‘In the end you adapt to anything’: responses to narratives of resilience and entrepreneurship in post-recession Spain

22 Aug 2021-European Journal of Cultural Studies (SAGE Publications)-pp 136754942110341

AbstractResilience – 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...

Topics: Psychological resilience (57%), Recession (51%)

Summary (3 min read)

Introduction

  • 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.

On resilience

  • 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.

Methodology

  • 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.

P5 [agrees]

  • 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.

Conclusions

  • 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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This is the Accepted Manuscript of an article published by SAGE in the European
Journal of Cultural Studies on August 22, 2021 and available online:
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/13675494211034168
‘In the end you adapt to anything’: Responses to narratives of resilience and
entrepreneurship in post-recession Spain
Mercè Oliva, Óliver Pérez-Latorre and Reinald Besalú
Universitat Pompeu Fabra, 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 flexible, have a positive attitude, and take care of themselves
in a context of heightened inequality and precarity. 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 middle- and 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). The results of our analysis show that participants tended to praise change and
adaptability. The ‘complacent citizen’, who seeks security and refuses to adapt to the
current precarious and unstable environments, emerges as a ‘bad citizen’, and security
and stability are pathologized. There were differences between the middle and working-
class groups: while the former clearly adhered to the neoliberal discourse that sees

2
flexibility and self-improvement as a moral obligation, the latter showed a more
ambivalent response to these discourses.
Keywords: resilience, neoliberalism, Great Recession, economic crisis, class,
entrepreneurship, flexibility, precariousness, popular culture, audience
Introduction
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. The economic crisis
was particularly severe in Spain, where its effects lasted for years, with a rise in
unemployment from 8.57% in 2007 up to a peak of 25.73% in 2013, along with alarming
numbers of home evictions and increasing poverty and inequality (Angulo Egea, 2018).
The working class in particular experienced higher unemployment rates and income
losses (Martínez, 2014).
After 2010, the Spanish government began to implement austerity measures and
legislative reforms to increase the job market’s ‘flexibility’ (Fernández Rodriguez and
Martínez Lucio, 2012; López Andreu, 2017). After the 2012 bailout, these policies were
further tightened with pressure from European institutions (Mateos and Penadés 2013).
These measures were legitimized by a deepening of neoliberal discourses, which depicted
austerity as the only sensible policy, arguing ‘that you cannot spend more than you earn’,
an idea repeated 93 times in the speeches by Mariano Rajoy (Spain’s prime minister from
2011 to 2018) (Borriello, 2017: 248). Moreover, Spain was included in the acronym PIGS
(Portugal, Italy/Ireland, Greece and Spain), which was connected with a ‘narrative [that]
suggests that the origins of the Eurozone crisis are to be found in the fiscal profligacy of
PIGS countries, particularly southern European ones, which are accustomed to live

3
beyond their means and work less than other Europeans’ (Ntampoudi, 2014: 6). From this
vantage point, the crisis is framed as a moral corrective which should facilitate the
creation of entrepreneurial, autonomous citizens.
In this context, resilience is presented as a fundamental value when coping with (and
taking advantage of) the precariousness and uncertainty in post-recessionary Western
societies. As Barudy (2016) claims, resilience ‘is a fashionable word. Politicians, athletes
and self-help gurus use it’. In a broad array of spheres, from popular culture to politics,
the idea that hardship is an opportunity to grow and better oneself has flourished and
merged with other core neoliberal values, such as entrepreneurship, flexibility and self-
improvement.
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. Although there has been a surge in studies on how the
recession and austerity culture have been represented in the media across different
national contexts in recent years, how audiences respond to these narratives remains
understudied.
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. The economic
crisis has been framed via metaphors such as natural catastrophe or accident (Bickes et
al., 2014), ‘eliminating any responsibility’ and ‘instilling fear and resignation in the face
of what is depicted as inevitable and universal’ (Cortés de los Ríos, 2010: 85). Recent

4
post-apocalyptic narratives (Pérez-Latorre et al., 2019; Boyle and Mrozowsky, 2014;
Sugg, 2015) also draw from these metaphors, while advocating individualized solutions
and somewhat romanticizing austerity. This romanticization of austerity can also be found
in ‘retreatist’ narratives (Negra and Tasker, 2014). Even though these imaginaries can be
seen as avowals of anti-consumer values, claiming that there is more to life than material
wealth (Bramall, 2013), they are often used to ‘reify (...) the new normal of deteriorated
working conditions’ (Kidder, 2016: 316) and morally justify austerity policies. Popular
culture encourages individuals to ‘absorb greater risk and take up positions of heightened
precarity’ (Negra and McIntyre, 2020: 76), and to become entrepreneurial and
independent individuals who scrimp and save (Allen et al., 2015).
In Spain, popular culture during the years of the crisis consists of an amalgam of national
and international (mostly Anglo-American) fiction and non-fiction contents, as well as
local adaptations of international TV formats. Thus, it shares traits with what has been
identified in international scholarship while having its own particularities.
The crisis was portrayed as an equalizer, a catastrophe that affected everyone equally,
hiding the increasing inequality; this is evidenced in comedies such as the TV series La
que se avecina, Con el culo al aire and Aída; the films La chispa de la vida and 5 metros
cuadrados (Ruiz-Muñoz, 2015; Allbritton, 2014); narratives of ‘broke celebrities’ (Oliva
and Pérez-Latorre, 2020); and Anglo-American and Spanish post-apocalyptic stories (TV
series such as The Walking Dead and El barco and video games such as The Last of Us).
Moreover, these narratives fostered the idea that you have to do ‘whatever it takes’ to
survive (such as take any job without complaining) (Pérez-Latorre, 2019, Oliva and
Pérez- Latorre, 2020).

5
The consequences of the crisis were also depicted in the press through the life stories of
three figures: the unemployed, the evicted and the precarious young adult forced to
emigrate to the prosperous North (Angulo Egea, 2018, 2020; Labrador Méndez, 2012).
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).
Likewise, during the crisis years, contestation against welfare cuts (Castells, 2012)
appeared alongside media texts that introduced neoliberal imaginaries which fostered
individualized ways of coping with the precarious context: from individual
entrepreneurship to charity and solidarity among Spaniards. Entrepreneurship as a value
was not introduced in the Spanish imaginary until a few years before the crisis started.
From 2006 to 2010, successful local adaptations of international reality TV formats such
as Supernanny or Soy lo que como (Honey, We’re Killing the Kids) (Oliva, 2012)
promoted the creation of autonomous, entrepreneurial and self-governing citizens,
legitimizing a neoliberal ‘reinvention of government’ that began in the UK and the US in
the mid-1990s (Biressi and Nunn, 2008; Ouellette and Hay, 2008). In Spain, where the
welfare state was traditionally legitimized (García, 2010), these formats introduced new
imaginaries that further developed after 2008.
During the crisis, the figure of the young (male) entrepreneur is openly praised in Spanish
news, factual entertainment and reality TV (Código Emprende) as a virtuous citizen: ‘if
there are no jobs available, they invent them’. Also, local adaptations of Anglo-American
talent shows such as La voz (The Voice) and Master Chef and popular TV series reinforced
these values. For example, the series Velvet and El tiempo entre costuras portrayed
entrepreneurial women who achieved upward social mobility thanks to their ‘talent (…)

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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 ). 

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.