Crisis Spaces: Structures, Struggles and Solidarity in Southern Europe

Crisis Spaces: Structures, Struggles and Solidarity in Southern Europe


Reviewed by David Featherstone, Óscar García Agustín, Sara González and Penny Koutrolikou

First Published:

12 Dec 2020, 1:01 pm


Crisis Spaces: Structures, Struggles and Solidarity in Southern Europe

London and New York: Routledge, 2018; 218 pp.: ISBN 978-1-1381-8450-3, £105.00 (hbk), 2019; ISBN 9780367360139, £39.00 (pbk)

Commentary I

by Dr David Featherstone, Senior Lecturer, School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, UK

In Crisis Spaces, Costis Hadjimichalis argues that the ‘European “debt crisis”’ was ‘mainly a political problem, the result of the specific ordoliberal organisation of the Eurozone’ (p. 71, emphasis in original). For Hadjimichalis, this positions the ‘so-called debt crisis [as] not only economic but also deeply political and geographical’ (p. 71). Through locating the geographies of uneven geographical developmental dynamics as central to the European crisis and politics, Crisis Spaces makes a fundamental contribution to understanding the dimensions of this crisis. It also draws attention to the sustained failure of neoliberal European politicians and officials to recognise these issues as significant. Through so doing, Crisis Spaces is an important challenge to dominant accounts which have tended to position the 2008 crisis in ways which abstract it from broader historical and geographical dynamics.

From the outset, Hadjimichalis’ account is animated by a concern with the difference that positioning the Southern European crisis in relation to uneven socio-spatial articulations of uneven development makes to understanding the crisis. Thus in the introduction he argues that one of the ‘many myths about the crisis in SE [Southern Europe] is that it all started in 2008 to 2009 without any reference to the past’ (p. 5). The book is particularly effective in demonstrating how the structuring neoliberal assumptions of the Eurozone project made practices of uneven development central to its operation. As a result, he contends that it is an ‘economic and political project without spatial considerations’ based on a market logic which explicitly denies the ways that ‘markets are always geographically determined’ (p. 60, emphasis in original). Hadjimichalis’ account is not, however, a dispassionate tracing of such socio-spatial divisions.

His core project is to demonstrate how a focus on such histories and geographies of uneven development can enable a re-articulation of the dominant accounts of the crisis. Not least, this challenges political strategies and accounts which are uncritical of the ways the Eurozone has institutionalised uneven development/relations and then blamed the poorer regions whose inequalities were exacerbated through the crisis. In this regard, while the book draws primarily on relatively recent research, it is informed by a lifetime’s commitment to thinking about uneven geographical development in Southern Europe and, crucially, the implications of such questions for left strategies.

In this sense, a core contribution of Crisis Spaces is the way in which it usefully positions the left in relation to these uneven histories and geographies, rather than positioning the left as merely responding to the conditions of the crisis. A particular concern here is with forms of centre-left politics which were directly complicit and strategic actors in relation to processes of depoliticisation of uneven development. One of the things I really appreciated about Crisis Spaces is the ways in which Hadjimichalis’ account uses an engagement with such centre-left administrations to trace specific spatial practices and processes of depoliticisation. I found the attention to specific practices here a useful contrast to some of the more abstract and axiomatic tones that have informed much of the literature on post-politics. This offers a real sense of the geographical imaginaries used to shape depoliticisation, but crucially it also gives a strong sense that such processes can be challenged – and re-articulated.

In this way, Hadjimichalis’ account is alive to the ways that Southern European actors/politics have agency in relation to these processes. Thus he critiques accounts of the Greek crisis, such as the work of Lapavitsas et al. who Hadjimichalis argues have employed models where ‘the core dictates to the periphery its role and function, and the periphery remains dependent’ (p. 62). In this regard, a key theme of the book is the failure of the left to construct ‘strategies to resist the escalating undemocratic organisation of the EU and the Eurozone’ (p. 186). Crisis Spaces makes a powerful case for how much a nuanced and geographically informed engagement with the European project can inform contemporary political debates about the European Union.

In the concluding chapter, Hadjimichalis draws attention to the contradictory way in which the EU has been simultaneously despised and desired through the Eurozone crisis. His analysis refuses to draw out easy answers or strategies in relation to the European project. Scrutinising the catastrophic effects of enshrining uneven (neoliberal) development at the heart of the Eurozone, he draws attention to some of the tensions of the pro-EU left, arguing that it was ‘ill-prepared to face the popular sovereignty issue in a crisis situation’ (p. 186). But he also argues that ‘the destruction of the EU’, rather than being a progressive moment, ‘would leave free space for monsters to roam in’ (p. 182). Writing from a context where Boris Johnson has recently won a landslide election on the back of an utterly disingenuous campaign to leave the EU, positioning the UK as part of ‘an international wave of nationalist authoritarian-populist politics’, this observation feels particularly prescient (Clarke, 2020: 119).

Hadjimichalis’ account also offers a number of key insights that have been remarkably absent from the current debate in the UK, and arguably elsewhere. Firstly, it situates the EU in relation to specific histories and geographies which shape how it is experienced, perceived and articulated. It also signals that the EU has been a deeply ambiguous and contested project from its inception – in that it was shaped by a constitutive anti-communism and strong capitalist logic, while some of these limits have been at times exceeded through its commitment to peace-building. Secondly, by adopting a relational perspective to the EU which mobilises a concern with processes of uneven development, it moves beyond simplistic accounts of relations which construct ‘Brussels’ in antagonism with the peoples of Europe. It uses this as a way of engaging with the broader processes and political questions of socio-spatial inequalities and divisions. Thirdly, it also takes seriously some of the spatial politics of thinking about alternatives to the EU rather than easy slogans which counter-pose internationalism with the defence of popular sovereignty.

This last problematic is particularly significant for elaborating left alliances and strategies in the current political conjuncture. Writing in New Left Review in 1980, Raymond Williams argued that there was a ‘congruence, within that spectrum of opinion which we can describe, broadly, as the Labour Left, between economic, political and peace campaigns which are all, in a general sense, unilateralist’ (Williams, 1980: 36). For Williams, central to such campaigns, which included opposition to the then European Economic Community, was ‘a radical overestimation of Britain’s capacity and effect in independent action’ (1980: 36). He argued that while there were possibilities for the ‘process of actual mobilisation’, there ‘does seem to be an evasion in the simple rhetoric of “go it alone” ’ (1980: 36).

The kind of ‘congruence’ that Williams draws attention to here, and the ‘nationed’ articulation of notions of popular sovereignty that it was based on, have strong resonances with some of the narrow Lexit positions adopted in relation to Brexit. These have tended to foreclose nuanced engagement with the EU as a political project. They have also tended to exert pressure on the articulation of forms of transnational left organising that might help challenge the entrenched forms of uneven development which are challenged in Crisis Spaces. For Williams, what was ‘necessary, and possible’ in such cases was to argue for ‘a radical negotiation’ which could ‘only really be undertaken on a European rather than simply a British scale’ (Williams, 1980: 37).

The work needed to make these connections across the uneven, fractured terrain of contemporary Europe, and to think Europe with broader global uneven geographies, is a key political challenge for the left. To construct such alternatives, it is necessary to learn from some of the tensions of recent left populist projects in Southern Europe, notably those associated with Podemos and Syriza. Particularly significant here is the emergence, particularly in Greece, of an intensifying disconnect between the vibrant solidarities and social movements and Syriza’s left variant of populism, particularly in relation to questions of migrant politics (see Karaliotas, 2019). In this respect, Crisis Spaces notes the challenges of combining strategies of left populism with attempts to construct hegemonic left projects, and indicates some of the political geographies that might be necessary to do so. As Hadjimichalis notes in the final pages of the conclusion, the Portuguese experience where alliances have been constructed between social democrats, the Communist Party and the Left Bloc in opposition to austerity has arguably shaped an actually existing alternative to austerity in Southern Europe.

In sum, Crisis Spaces demonstrates the difference that an analysis attentive to unequally constituted geographical divisions can make to understanding key events/processes such as the 2008 crisis. It also demonstrates the importance of ongoing political commitment to left organising, especially one that refuses easy slogans and strategies.


Clarke, J (2020) Building the ‘Boris’ bloc: Angry politics in turbulent times. Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture 74: 118–135.
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Karaliotas, L (2019) Geographies of politics and the police: Post-democratization, SYRIZA and the politics of the ‘Greek debt crisis’. Environment and Planning C. Epub ahead of print 19 September 2019. DOI: 10.1177/2399654419876650.
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Williams, R (1980) The politics of nuclear disarmament. New Left Review 1(124): 25–42.
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Commentary II

by Óscar García Agustín, Associate Professor, Aalborg University, Department of Culture and Learning, Denmark,

In the first lines of his book, Costis Hadjimichalis offers an interesting reflection about how to read his work. Hadjimichalis tells that in 2013 he gave a talk in Brussels, invited by the European Union (EU) Directorate General for Regional Development. The talk was first received with silence, then turning into aggressive comments in the later conversation between the author and the participants. Hadjimichalis notices that the statements were moral judgements rather than comments based on regional science and economic geography. Crisis Spaces: Structures, Struggles and Solidarity in Southern Europe is, among other things, an articulated response to the moral claims about the Southern European countries being the only ones responsible for their crises. It emphasises two aspects: the need for academic knowledge, particularly economic geography, to explain the crisis, its reasons and contestations; and the importance of academic knowledge being part of the public debate and dismantling the commonplaces within which the dominant discourses are grounded. In this regard, Hadjimichalis’ contribution is not only relevant but also an exceptional example of academic intervention, combining rigour with a clear position against the increasing inequality within the EU.

Whilst many interpretations of the crisis in Europe identify the debt as the main, and almost sole, reason, Hadjimichalis considers the debt as one of the effects and points to a different cause: the long-term uneven geographical development in Europe and the uneven and undemocratic Eurozone structure. The main problem of the EU is, in the end, the very EU structures, which generate inequality between regions and maintain asymmetric power relations. The book is structured in three themes: the uneven geographical development before the Euro (Chapter 2) and through the Eurozone (Chapter 3); the dominant geographical imagination, imposed by blaming the Southern countries (Chapter 4) and by depoliticising uneven development (Chapter 5); and the socio-spatial justice and solidarity in resistance to the neoliberal model. The first part focuses mainly on the economic structures and the remaining two show the struggle for enabling geographic imaginations, which legitimate the system or question it. In his analysis, Hadjimichalis deploys the economic and political geography framework and recovers especially the most socio-spatial version of Antonio Gramsci to shed light on current events in the EU.

Hadjimichalis refuses to interpret the financial and economic crisis in 2007–2008 from a current perspective or from a purely economic one. He underlines many times in the book that the main problem of the EU is the uneven geographical development between North and South which relies on capital accumulation articulated with politics, cultural differences, institutions and the role of the state, and the historical and socio-spatial roots of the conjuncture. The accession to the EU of three of the Southern European countries in the 1980s entailed important economic consequences, which deepened in the 1990s through the Single Market, the Maastricht Treaty and the institutionalisation of neoliberalism. Unequal development expanded to the Eastern countries. Ordoliberalism (promoting state intervention to secure competition and the free market) became dominant: regulatory and institutional powers were transferred to the EU and the Southern economies suffered from the loss of small to medium industrial enterprises, after the EU eliminated some of the trade protections. Thus, Southern European states were already economically weaker than the Central European ones. This uneven development became worse with the Eurozone. The EU failed as a political and economic project for not including spatial considerations and ignoring that markets are geographically determined despite the EU commitment to a single market. Hadjimichalis refers quite rightly to the Eurozone as the production of a new hybrid uneven space/scale, which serves to reproduce the European capital and the interests of the economic and political elites. Following Lefebvre’s terminology, the Eurozone is a representational space only of a currency where the sovereign space at the same scale (with a spatial practice and spaces of representation) is missing. Therefore, the author concludes that, beyond the democratic deficit, the core problem of the Eurozone is the lack of relationship between the sovereign state with sovereign powers and sovereign citizens (not only capitalist but people with sovereign right to socio-spatial justice).

The second theme draws initially on Gramsci’s idea of the geographic division between North and South as exposed in ‘Some Aspects of the Southern Question’ (Gramsci, 1994 [1926]) to show how Northern politicians and media legitimise totalitarian neoliberal austerity by shaping a certain geographical imagination of the South. With the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain) metaphor as the most obvious example, the negative images of the Southern European countries and their people (irresponsible, corrupt, lazy) have been used to reinforce the neoliberal hegemony without questioning the ‘austerity consensus’. The division between North and South is naturalised through prejudices, stereotypes and generally the culturalisation of such division. The displacement of political and economic debates by cultural representations is connected with the larger phenomenon of depoliticisation. Markets are presented as depoliticised, and consequently neutral, so the bourgeois class in cooperation with the power elites can work against the national representative governments. Here the view of Hadjimichalis is very subtle: the lack of spatial representation of the citizenry within the Eurozone implies that there is no such thing as ‘Europeans’ but only Germans, French, Greeks, Spaniards, etc. It is not by chance that the crisis led to nationalistic attitudes, increasing prejudices and geographical imaginations of the ‘proper and responsible European’, meaning the Northerner, against the ‘irresponsible European’, the Southerner. Behind this division, social class, and the possible alliances that Gramsci pointed out, vanish and are reduced to cultural differences. Furthermore, the coexistence of the interests of internal and external classes remains hidden.

The picture changes totally when Hadjimichalis accounts for resistance and solidarity in the Southern European countries. Despite the neoliberal offensive, spatialised democratic politics reject the cultural representations and depoliticisation (as an attempt at demobilisation by the elites) and choose everyday life as a space of struggle, in opposition to the Eurozone as mere representational space. During and in the aftermath of the crisis, many social movements flourished and their socio-spatial struggles claimed the end of austerity politics. The urban spaces become politicised and the laboratory to produce alternatives to neoliberalism. There are three factors which make cities the core of solidarity and resistance: the formulation of claims, framed as the right to the city, anchored in everyday life and social production; the space of social alliances between new subjectivities (the precariat) and old ones (unions), together with other activists with or without any political affiliation; and the importance of communication to connect groups and individuals digitally. From the massive mobilisations of the Indignados in Spain or aganaktismeni in Greece, to solidarity movements such as food ‘without intermediaries’, self-organised social clinics in Greece and the ‘refugees welcome’ movement, civil society has showed many examples of how to organise and challenge the falsely labelled ‘irreversible’ logics of neoliberalism and the ‘austerity consensus’. Although mentioned in the book, it would be very relevant to further explore how to up-scale these social and spatialised struggles and how they can contribute to new institutional models like in the case of municipalism.

In the final chapter, Hadjimichalis returns to Gramsci and reflects on the dichotomy between the politics of hope or the time of monsters, the optimism of the will or the pessimism of the intellect. The book becomes then almost programmatic and shows its potential to intervene in the political debate on the EU. The author does not find solutions in pure theory but in thinking in terms of class and space the already ongoing social and political realities. The ideas offered in this chapter are very useful to reflect on how the left-wing project can become relevant in the future: up-scaling bottom-up radical alternatives, strengthening the connection between social movements and political parties, placing the people at the core of the EU, rethinking popular sovereignty and, maybe the most important and necessary, shaping a pan-European radical left solidarity movement. However, it is inevitable to think about the difficulties in challenging the uneven geographical development. The cycle of protests from 2011 made for a political cycle both at the national (notably with the electoral victory of Syriza) and municipal level. The political cycle is showing the exhaustion of the progressive impetus and the radical centre frames itself as the best option against the increasing far-right wing. In this context, the structures still look stronger than the struggles. But as Crisis Spaces shows, if we want to make sense of the European project, we should start from those existing struggles (spatialised, class-based, (extra-)institutional, municipal and national) to shape an alternative which gives the power back to the people. Hadjimichalis’ contribution is, in this sense, essential for exploring those alternatives without forgetting what we stand against.


Gramsci, A (1994 [1926]) Some aspects of the Southern Question. In: Gramsci, A (1994) Pre-Prison Writings (1994), edited by Bellamy, Richard and translated by Cox, Virginia . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Commentary III

 by Dr Sara González, Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Leeds, UK

Costis Hadjimichalis’ book is a magnificent work of craft. It combines the magic ingredients of a critical political economy analysis of the Eurozone and its uneven geographies, the unpacking of cultural representations of Southern European countries and the documenting of resistance and solidarity practices by citizens across Southern Europe (SE). The result is a complex, yet very clear diagnosis of the injustices inbuilt in the EU elite project and the Eurozone which have led to the misery of millions of people across SE.

The book has a clear argument: that debt in the Southern European countries was not the cause of the crisis in those countries since 2008 but the result of a much more complex and long-term process of uneven geographical development in Europe. Costis Hadjimichalis smashes the popular belief that the crisis of Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy was due to lazy southerners who lived beyond their means.

The book has distinct parts. In Chapters 2 and 3, Hadjimichalis develops his main hypothesis that uneven development is at the root of the Eurozone crisis and the subsequent harsh austerity regime in Southern European countries. To me this was the best part of the book and where I learned the most. In particular, I was interested in the very geographically situated construction of the Eurozone and the Euro single currency. Hadjimichalis shows how the flat geography of a single currency was superimposed upon a deeply and long-divided uneven economic geography. What is more, this was done without any kind of political or democratic project to oversee it. The analysis is particularly illustrative in how the Eurozone was designed to suit the particular political economy of the German model and the German version of neoliberalism; that is, ordoliberalism, which emphasises the state’s intervention to guarantee competition and the role of an independent central bank concerned with monetary stability and low inflation. These neoliberal ideas became embedded too in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which prioritised fiscal stability by policing and disciplining countries going over the limit of budget deficit to 3% of GDP and without the European Central Bank being able to rescue regional or national economies getting into trouble. Austerity policies therefore were implemented by European member states. Spain, for example, under the labour government of Felipe González from 1982 to 1996, oversaw cuts to social welfare and privatisations of many state and public entities. It also meant the dismantling of the heavy manufacturing sector, the so-called ‘industrial reconversion’, which was concentrated in Asturias, the Basque Country and Valencia. I can just about remember the workers occupying major roads in Bilbao in protest at these radical measures. In the place where now sits the famous Guggenheim Museum, the workers of a threatened shipyard blocked the bridge connecting the two sides of the city.

Hadjimichalis shows clearly how in the construction of the EU institutional scaffolding, the variegated nature of the economic realities of Europe was not taken into account, entrenching regional disparities. In particular, the book signals several characteristics of the Southern European economies: the prominence of small-size enterprises with low technology and difficulties in adapting to changes, the importance of the informal sector with associated problems of precarity, the particular role of the extended family as a cornerstone of social reproduction, and the prominence of the tourism and construction sectors which are characterised by temporal and seasonal employment. In addition, the Southern European economies entered the European integration process as trade partners with Central and North European economies, but with globalisation and the expansion of the EU towards the East, Southern European economies lost their competitiveness. Hadjimichalis’ analysis shows how the processes of European integration, globalisation and de-localisation and the advance of neoliberal policies had a very different impact on these kinds of economies vis-a-vis the German model.

The intricate analysis developed in Chapters 2 and 3 is complemented by an examination of the cultural representations of the Southern European countries by the media and European elites. Inspired by Gramsci, Hadjimichalis subtitles this chapter the ‘Southern Question’. Although the SE countries are all different and have very significant regional differences, Hadjimichalis traces the construction of totalising stereotypes and regional imaginaries prior to the Troika intervention. The images of Southern European people as lazy, living beyond their means, wasting money and living off the state were useful in dampening any potential resistance to these interventions; ‘othering’ people in SE as different from ‘us’ in the Centre and North of Europe impeded interclass solidarities between ordinary people in different parts of Europe.

Chapter 5 develops a theme that runs through the book: the role of academics and academic concepts in perpetuating and even fuelling this unjust uneven geographical development. Hadjimichalis explains how many mainstream academics and policy makers have not paid enough attention to the complex particularities of Southern European economies. For example, he stresses the infatuation by many academics, many of whom might consider themselves as progressive, with the industrial districts of the so-called Third Italy with highly networked small-sized firms that were able to react and be flexible in the context of the crisis of Fordism, while other heavily industrialised regions across SE collapsed. However, the emphasis on these ‘superstar’ case studies has neglected what Hadjimichalis calls the more ordinary places in SE characterised by informality and pluri-activity, for example between small-scale agriculture and the construction sector. Hadjimichalis shows how lessons derived from the ‘superstar’ regions have become institutionalised into EU regional policy. The emphasis has moved from redistribution policies and regional development to a ‘growth first’ approach where all cities and regions are on a level playing field and just have to create the right business environment to attract investments.

Chapter 6 smashes the myth of the lazy and passive southerner and presents a rich picture of the multitude of initiatives across SE resisting the effects of austerity and self-organising into solidarity initiatives. What was particularly insightful in this chapter was Hadjimichalis’ categorising of these movements and showing the path dependencies with previous ones as well as the innovations. The book notes that most academic research has focused on the newness of the square movements and has brushed aside the fact that in many cases the mobilisations were led by the unions.

All in all, I found the book a pleasure to read. Very esteemed colleagues in a separate book review symposium published in European Urban and Regional Studies have pointed at some ways in which Hadjimichalis might have been able to refine his analysis, and his response suggests that he would be willing to take up some of these challenges in future work. Given his openness, I would like to humbly add to this wish list. The analysis of the solidarity and resistance practices was a key element in this book, but I am a little disappointed that it was dealt with separately from the uneven development analysis. A great analytical achievement, in my view, would be to relate in a dynamic way the long and intricate uneven development of Europe with the resistance and grassroots initiatives. Taking a cue from the autonomist traditions, this research would be extremely interesting for understanding how capital in Europe has shifted, adapted and changed in reaction to workers’ and citizens’ organisations against injustices and exploitation, and how this dynamic has affected uneven geographical development.

A final reflection is that while reading this book in the Spring of 2019 I could not avoid thinking about Brexit. The Eurozone crisis and the lack of accountability of the EU project that Hadjimichalis details in the book definitely had an impact on the debates prior to the Brexit referendum and the long fallout. Both Brexit and the Eurozone can be seen as ill-conceived projects from powerful actors that do not have at heart the resolution of socio-spatial inequalities affecting millions of Europeans. To end in a humorous way, a Twitter exchange between the President of the European Council and Yannis Varoufakis in February 2019 perfectly demonstrates this point. At the height of the Brexit discussions between the EU and the UK and within the British Parliament, Donald Tusk vented his frustration by saying: ‘I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted #Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.’ To which Varoufakis replied ‘Probably very similar to the place reserved for those who designed a monetary union without a proper banking union and, once the banking crisis hit, transferred cynically the bankers’ gigantic losses onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers.’

Commentary IV

by Dr Penny Koutrolikou, Associate Professor, Urban and Regional Planning, National Technical University of Athens, Greece

At the moment this review was written, Europe was reflecting on the results of the 2019 European elections; elections that come in the aftermath of (not) Grexit, (remains-to-be-seen) Brexit, refugee migration to Europe, a decade of austerity-driven administration and a continuously rising far right. Although the title of the book refers to South European countries, it is as much about them and the dispersal of the ‘economic integration and convergence’ myths as it is about Europe as a whole. Or actually, on how Europe has become …

While reading the book, particularly if one has lived in South Europe during the past 10 years, an implicit – or at times explicit – feeling of anger arises. In many respects, this resonates with feelings that abounded in these countries, from various sides and towards several directions, especially in the first years of the Eurozone crisis. However, this is not an expression and/or interpretation of the crucial affective aspects of the lived experience of the crisis-induced ‘remedy’. Rather, it can be considered as a counter-argument and a defence – in moral, judicial and political terms – towards what has been the hegemonic ‘regime of truth’ (Foucault, 1977) of European leaders and international technocracies. And it does so by presenting alternative, genealogically rooted analyses and interpretations of data, as well as by discerning the hegemonic ideological and theoretical ideas that have driven the framing and the ‘resolution’ of European crises. Bearing in mind that the majority of widespread literature is still dominantly North-centric, this book can be read as a necessary counter-argument from the South; from a ‘subaltern’ Southern voice that is often prohibited from speaking for itself – particularly in the terrains of European economics and politics.

But let us start from the beginning. Costis Hadjimichalis brings geography to the forefront as a significant, albeit often omitted, aspect of both uneven development and crises. He sets the tone of the book by looking at the characteristics, processes and policies that led European countries to divergent and (highly) uneven developmental paths. He does so by outlining the development trajectories in South European states before the introduction of the Euro (Chapter 2) and after (Chapter 3). The 1980s was a seminal decade for South European states since, with the exception of Italy which was one of the initial members, they joined the European Union as preferential partners of North Central economies. This partnership opened South European economies up to international capital as well as to international labour divisions, significantly challenging their small and medium enterprise economic base.

As the author states, and despite stereotypical representations that (re)emerged during the high times of the recent economic/financial crisis, one cannot assume that the European South is a homogenous entity. Instead, there are significant differences resulting from histories and political trajectories; but there are also similarities that, although not unique to these states, have been more profound there. Among these, he identifies their relative difference from the Fordist model of development, the prevalence of small and medium firms, the importance of the informal sector (p. 19), the role of family structures, the significance of the tourism and construction sectors, as well as the institutional (national, regional and local) arrangements.

Since economy is intrinsically related to politics, the beginning of the 1990s marked a crucial point for the European Union, both geopolitically and economically. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of Germany, as well as the war in former Yugoslavia and the emergence of the new states, crucially altered power relations within Europe as well as internationally. Moreover, the broader post-1989 political transformations opened up new (and cheaper) labour markets and facilitated the mobility of capital and the de-localisation of production. At the same time, the deepening and institutionalisation of neoliberalism pushed forward agreements and treaties (such as the Maastricht Treaty) that would mark future developments in Europe by introducing extra-statal (European) monitoring institutions, and regulatory frameworks of permanent austerity that represented particular ideologies and national interests. As the author highlights, this intermingling of geopolitics and the economy posed ‘the question of which political force would lead the project of European integration: conflict-centred neoliberal imperialism or Euro-stakeholder capitalism searching for negotiated solutions’ (p. 23). Our present leaves little room for questioning which political force led this project.

The introduction of the Euro found member states unevenly developed and with limited powers to rectify this. Hadjimichalis identifies five crucial developments that contributed to the infamous debt crisis of the Eurozone: ‘the deeper transformations of capitalism towards financialisation and rent-seeking activities’, ‘the real-estate boom-bust’, ‘the omission of certain spatial, economic and political preconditions for an optimal currency union’, ‘the uneven intra-European terms of trade flows’ and ‘the undemocratic and authoritarian multi-scalar governance of the EU and the Eurozone’ (p. 45).

Thus he argues that debt is not the outcome of ‘irresponsible citizens’ and corrupt states, but is rooted in the long duree of their uneven development within the European Union. Moreover, debt is not solely an economic problem that needs to be addressed in technocratic ways. On the contrary, it is a political problem of hegemonic ideologies and uneven development, but a highly convenient one to use as a tool to discipline and direct the whole of Europe towards a way preferred by some.

As he does throughout this book, Hadjimichalis here brings geography and space back into the question of the unevenness of the Eurozone by discussing the Eurozone as a hybrid geographical and political space/scale that in essence does not really exist as such. He states that it lacks democratic representativeness and accountability, challenges (some) states’ sovereign powers and is disconnected from the citizenry, thus becoming ‘unqualified’ for addressing questions of socio-spatial justice. Yet it simultaneously exists not only by imposing economic regulations and crisis-management policies, but also by – implicitly or explicitly – advocating for certain rights and wrongs in regards to states’ policies and for prioritising its interpretation of public benefit – namely debt repayment on specific terms.

While this might be a better-known story nowadays, this was not the case at the beginning of the Eurozone crisis when the blame was directly and totally attributed to South European states, with Greece as the outstanding folk devil. Hadjimichalis discusses the dominant narratives of the crisis that prevailed at the beginning of the crisis (2010 onwards) as they were delineated by the politics and moralities of debt, processes of blame, inferiority and superiority and lasting geographical imaginations. The specific hegemonic narratives framed older (yet not forgotten) geographical imaginations and population stereotypes about the European South with discourses of debt (and its causes); stereotypes about the sunny yet lazy, corrupt and (institutionally) backward South that lived beyond its means as opposed to the frugal, hardworking and prudent North that was constantly asked to bail out the irresponsible South.

These re-emerging stereotypes, coupled with predisposed interpretations of data, formed the basis of a legitimation strategy (Reyes, 2011Van Leeuwen and Wodak, 1999) regarding the causes of debt and the ‘best practices’ of crisis governance. Nevertheless, these prevalent stereotypical representations of national populations en masse, along with the European North’s unwillingness to share ‘their wealth’ and with increased insecurities regarding welfare and a ‘good life’ springing from decades of imposed neoliberal austerity, created a highly divisive European context. In light of ongoing and new crises, the cumulative effect of these (and possibly more) factors strengthened a divisive ‘us’ and ‘them’ which, in turn, further facilitated the re-emergence of nationalisms.

One could argue that within such a divisive context and with the foundational problems of the European Union and Eurozone increasingly evident, a strategy of us-and-them facilitated the solidification of a coherent European identity which was also in crisis. In addition, as Hadjimichalis and others point out, an underlying politics of denial over the failures of the Eurozone structure might have driven such politics of (national) blame. Even more so, it framed the rationale for disciplining unruly subjects and for entrenching specific politico-economic ideologies.

Hadjimichalis precisely points out that the struggle over ideologies and resources of all kinds entailed ‘de-politicising uneven development and socio-spatial justice’ (p. 108) alongside depoliticising the bitter ‘remedies’ presented as the only solution for dealing with the debt. As he writes, ‘de-politicisation imposes a set of unspoken rules, which silently but powerfully determine what can and what cannot be said’ (p. 108) and provides specific interpretations over notions such as modernisation, restructuring, social security and solidarity. Similarly, a depoliticisation of inequalities is also taking place, detaching them from political decisions and structural problems and, at best, turning them into a ‘spectacle’ of suffering (Chouliaraki, 2013) that works as a signifier both of our morality of empathy and of the imminent danger of our (possible) ‘fall’.

Hadjimichalis very successfully spatialises Dorling’s (2010) five key tenets of injustice as follows (pp. 117–118):

We can perceive the dogma ‘elitism is efficient’ in policies promoting a few super-model regions and cities as ‘intelligent regions’ or as ‘creative cities’, ignoring the majority of ordinary places. […] The ‘naturalization of prejudices’ finds application in geographical imaginations of ‘the Other’, native to peripheral areas, as subaltern. ‘Greed’, the unspoken principle in all business and management schools, ‘is good’ when it mobilises capital’s motivation to de-localise factories and production, banks to accumulate super-profits through the securitisation of housing mortgages and rich individuals to become billionaires, acquiring property from fire sales and from dispossessions of public land and former public utility companies and turning them into assets providing rents. And of course, ‘despair is inevitable’ in foreclosures when localised unemployment increases or when people lose their pensions and social security, as in SE.

This spatialisation forms one of the basic threads that run through the book, relating socio-spatial inequalities, socio-spatial (in)justice, discursive politics and impositions of hegemonic politico-economic worldviews to how the Eurozone crisis emerged, unfolded and was governed. Moreover, as the author argues, it contributed to the establishment of a differential justice system that treats South European citizens as less-deserving subjects due to their alleged exception (p. 135).

Despite this bleak picture, Hadjimichalis moves towards the end of his book to a more optimistic, albeit also critical, view when he discusses resistance and solidarity in the past 10 years and the diverse emerging forms of social and political action. These forms of mobilisation have been widely discussed and researched in the past years, as promising examples of militant particularisms networked at a more-than-local level, as claims to different futures and or as coalition-driven formations vis-a-vis established political configurations. The extent of their legacy in the political and geographical imagination remains to be seen.

As mentioned at the beginning, Costis Hadjimichalis’ book is as much about dispelling prevalent stereotypes concerning the European South and ‘its’ crisis as it is about Europe as a whole. The disintegrated Europe that Eco talks about in 1992, the Europe (once again) split along national lines in recent years, comes alive in the pages of this book, as do some of the morbid symptoms of the interregnum that Gramsci talked about, vividly manifested in European cities making the lives and bodies of many. Crucially, the impact of many of these morbid symptoms is more profound outside the European territory – in the Mediterranean and in the territories of Africa and near Asia where the European migration and security imperatives have been externalised. For Gramsci, the interregnum seemed to have an end. At present, this interregnum often seems rather permanent – or ‘normalised’.


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Author Response

by Costis Hadjimichalis, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geography, Harokopio University, Athens

I write this response in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new world crisis with severe political, economic and social consequences, which will surpass those of the 2008 economic crisis. I found it difficult to respond to reviewers’ positive comments while, on TV, on social media and in friends’ emails, terrible news arrived constantly. Along with deep sorrow, I once again have feelings of anger and resentment about neoliberalism and austerity destroying social protection and particularly public health systems everywhere; about class-specific government policies and the insane strategies of big pharma; about the lack of solidarity between EU countries; and, finally, about the prospect of an authoritarian and indebted future in which radical politics may be a reminder of the last century. I remember having similar feelings of anger while writing Crisis Spaces, for which the editors of Urban Studies and the book reviews editor Lazaros Karaliotas are kind enough to organise this symposium. I would like to thank them as well as each of the four reviewers for taking the time to read the book and write a review. As is customary (in academic circles?) at similar symposia, I must write a few words despite the depressing conjuncture.

The reviewers’ responses are broadly positive, as were the ratings in a similar book review symposium organised by the journal European Urban and Regional Studies (EURS) in 2018. I shall start with Penny Koutrolikou who understood well my feelings of anger due to my lived experience of the crisis, because of my personal involvement, of my being there. To this I would like to add that, during my several visits to all four Southern countries – in some regions doing fieldwork as well – I encountered similar anger in discussions with many colleagues, friends and comrades. In this respect, Koutrolikou’s point about my ‘“subaltern” Southern voice’ echoes not only myself but these friends as well. Allow me a short footnote here: for the last 40 years, as an academic in a Greek public university, I was able to travel across SE using research and university funding. My many contacts there derive from this privileged position, which also provided time and knowledge to write Crisis Spaces and other books. I must acknowledge this since not everyone has enjoyed such an opportunity.

Koutrolikou, together with the other reviewers, highlighted my radical uneven development framework in understanding political and socio-spatial processes. However, as Óscar García Agustín and David Featherstone noted, my research into uneven capital accumulation articulates with politics, cultural and gender differences, institutions, the role of the state, the conjuncture and the role of social agency. As I wrote in my reply to the EURS reviewers, besides studying classical processes of capital accumulation, value motion and capital labour conflicts, my approach gives homologous attention to what could be called the ‘residuals’ of the grand narrative. These include, among others, the informal economy and small firms; statism, clientelism and patronage; extended families; the role of land and land rent, on the one hand as a family asset and, on the other, as a target for dispossession by capital; and above all, space as a social construct, always uneven and built into everyday life. This is my lesson from Antonio Gramsci, from a particular radical ‘southern’ sociological and historical school of thought, from doing fieldwork for the areas I am writing about and from my involvement with Southern European politics.

Speaking of politics, unlike García Agustín’s comments, some German friends were critical of the use of ordoliberalism, in describing the particular version of German liberalism, imposed on EU institutions and the Euro. I would insist on using ordoliberalism because it is inscribed in the philosophy of the German elite’s economic policy, which blocks constructive solutions with its resistance to either using European Central Bank funds or creating sufficiently large rescue mechanisms for indebted countries and banks, all while insisting on pronounced austerity. The German elite’s reaction is deeply political, an aggressive class and culturally determined permanent austerity, heavily criticised by other Germans, mainly on the Left. I shall return below to this point.

The four reviewers underlined how the ruling classes, by depoliticising uneven geographical development, co-opted progressive spatial theories and ideas to make them inoffensive/insipid and to include them in their own austerity policy at the local/regional and EU scale. Contrary to the reviewers of Crisis Spaces, I had several critical reactions concerning my argument on this point from established scholars, some of whom are also good friends. In the book, I discuss the case of the misconception of social capital and its role in industrial districts, and here I would like to add a short history behind this debate. By the end of the 1980s and well into the 1990s, after the discovery of the Third Italy by Anglo-American scholars, flexibility and social capital became ‘les enfants gâtés’, in Anglophone economic geography and regional/local development. These friends focused exclusively on the technical and institutional flexibilities of small industries in adapting themselves to market fluctuations and in social interactions between entrepreneurs. Together with a few other Southerners, we criticised them for ignoring class-, family-, gender- and informal economy-based flexibility; and emphasised that social capital depends on low-cost labour, unpaid family work, tax evasion and the state’s highly protective environment. In short, we criticised the ignoring of politics in the wider sense (see Hadjimichalis and Vaiou, 1990). The crisis in Southern European industrial districts after the late 1990s supported our thesis.

Sara González, parallel to her generally positive comments, suggests combining in future work the analysis of resistance and solidarity social movements with the analysis of uneven development. Her point is well taken, and I can see now that my remarks on the differences between movements in the four countries were, perhaps, not enough. It is true that numerous capital strategies such as delocalisation away from SE, footloose capital investment in peripheral areas and/or large infrastructural and extra-activist projects generated strong social movements that could easily have found their place in Chapter 6. Nevertheless, in this book, I consciously chose to deal with movements related to the crisis conjuncture, while in previous work I made explicit reference to how capital uses geographical unevenness to move around, playing with or avoiding/exploiting the relative immobility of labouring people and their attachment to place (see Hadjimichalis, 1994Hadjimichalis and Vaiou, 1977).

David Featherstone points to the importance of locating the 2008 crisis conjuncture within wider processes of historical and geographical dynamics. For the extent to which this is achieved in Crisis Spaces, I would like to acknowledge my inspiration from the historical and geographical materialism of Fernand Braudel and the French Annals School. Geography as a social discipline arrived as late as in the mid-1990s in Greece and many Greeks now doing geography, including myself, began their higher education with other degrees. History was the dominant discipline, and I discovered social space first through Henri Lefebvre and later through geography, thanks to Ed Soja at UCLA. Braudel’s view of ‘geographically differentiated capitalisms’ and his distinction between ‘longue durée and conjuncture’ were and remain of key importance in my thinking. Featherstone also underlines my longstanding commitment to thinking about uneven geographical development and its implications for left-wing strategies. I would like to thank him for this comment but also to say how ineffective this effort was and remains. I don’t remember how many times I found myself isolated in left political meetings when I raised the issue of everyday life and multi-scalar socio-spatial unevenness as fruitful arenas for left politics. I do remember, however, a conversation with David Harvey in Athens who said that it was easier to introduce Marxism to geographers than to introduce geography to Marxists or to the Left in general. In fact, few leftist politicians and activists show interest in spatial issues, and their understanding of everyday life and uneven development remains largely an a-spatial economic and social affair. The same can be said for heterodox radical economists. They failed to understand the importance of space in economics and to see uneven development through the lenses of geography. In this respect, they have difficulty in understanding radical geography’s use of Marxist political economy as different from their own approach (see the positive review of Crisis Spaces in Antipode by Fouskas, 2019).

The indifference to space and its importance for left-wing politics by politicians and scientists who consider themselves open to the Left is ironic, because by politicising spatial contradictions in everyday life, the Left could more easily contact people than through its usually abstract and axiomatic jargon. This was realised by Antonio Gramsci in his pioneering analysis of the Italian Mezzogiorno. The same is true for the relation between social movements and left-wing political parties. My experience with Syriza in Greece is highly disappointing. Although many social movements supported, directly or indirectly, the Syriza government during its first months in office, subsequent policies related to migrants, housing protection and the environment turned support to political distance. I elaborate these issues further in a more extended version of Crisis Spaces with new data in Greek (in which I take on board the constructive comments by the reviewers in EURS), and in another book dealing with the crisis and land dispossession in Greek and German (see Hadjimichalis, 201420162018).

I hope that at the time of publication of this symposium the COVID-19 crisis, so dominant and aggressive while I write this reply, will be under control. Looking at the pandemic around the world demonstrates a fascinating illustration of geographical unevenness between countries, regions and cultures, regarding the state’s realisation of its role and degree of responsibility towards society, the extent of citizens’ trust in the state’s institutions, the tension between individualistic and communal values, the social and civic motives versus business and economic interests, etc. Now, the pandemic is landing like a bomb on the political economy of global neoliberal capitalism and finds the European Union under a major test for its unity.

As expected, the pandemic hit European countries, regions, cities and social classes unevenly. It came 12 years after the Eurozone crisis and found southern regions under an anaemic recovery, with destroyed public health systems, weak productive structures and high debts. Although, at the time of writing, Greek and Portuguese regions seem to show greater resilience compared with Italian and Spanish ones which turned into epicentres with high death rates, the situation in SE as a whole is, again, much worse compared with the rest of Europe, with the exception of Belgium and the UK. One indication of this is the number of intensive care beds per 1000 people: Germany has 6.02, France 3.09, Italy 2.62, Spain 2.43, the UK 2.11, Portugal and Greece 2.10 (Eurostat, 2019). The figure for the UK reveals the extent to which provision in the NHS has been eroded by a decade of Tory and coalition austerity politics. One of the first epicentres in Italy was the region of Lombardy, governed for the last three decades by right-wing alliances, including the racist Lega Nord. Lombardy has greatly privatised public health facilities, had reduced the number of intensive care beds and promoted excellence concentrated in a few hospitals while previously a territorially decentralised system was in place. The regional governor and the strong local industrialists’ association opposed the lockdown strategy due to the many international fairs taking place in Milan and the strong regional industrial sector. The result is known, sad and terrifying: at the time of writing, Lombardy has the highest number of deaths per 1000 people in Italy and one of the highest in Europe.

Unfortunately, initial reactions from EU institutions and from some political leaders echo the lack of solidarity we faced in the south during the Eurozone and refugee crises. As many others argue these days, if a deja-vu division between countries and cultures prevails, the pandemic will be more destructive than the 2008 bailouts, migration and Brexit crises combined. The EU faces today a threat to its unity that could be destructive and, as I noted in the last chapter of Crisis Spaces, if that happens, ‘ … the destruction of the EU would leave free space for monsters to roam in’ (p. 182). The case of Orbán in Hungary is a good example.

Today, the monsters enter through the front door and have a name: nationalistic cynicism. It makes sense for national leaders to care primarily about the health of their compatriots. It is nightmarishly unfair, however, to act based on the doctrine of ‘their death, our life’. How else can I describe that while Italy and Spain begged for aid, the European Union appeared to delay and fumble, with member states ignoring calls for solidarity. The United States, for its part, chose to try to cut itself off from Europe entirely. Germany and France restricted the export of medical supplies, in violation of the European single market, and Austria and the Czech Republic quickly banned travellers from Italy, in violation of the principle of free travel. Eventually, however, all EU countries closed their borders to control the virus’s geographical spread. Furthermore, it was reported that German authorities illegally detained Chinese medical supplies which had landed at a German airport for Germany’s own citizens’ use, while they were bound for Italy, Spain and Greece. Solidarity, instead, was left to Cuban doctors and nurses who arrived immediately to help, and to China and Russia who sent planes full of medical supplies via direct flights to Milan and Athens.

The initial cynical reactions from politicians in these countries, supposedly in solidarity with others in Europe, softened later. But the fault was there, and in a video conference with ministers and heads of state that took place in late March 2020, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark opposed strongly the idea of ‘Euro-corona bonds’. It was an idea supported partly by the European Central Bank, France and the four southern countries to help the European economy already in recession. The final statement did not mention the Eurobonds, and Italy vetoed it as very inadequate for the current extreme condition. As in the 2008 crisis, German economists and politicians once again did not move away from their ordoliberal principles and they blocked any financial support apart from loans. Their inflexible position, however, received heavy criticism from across Europe including the German press, something we had not seen during the 2008 financial crisis. Tensions between countries escalated when the right-wing Dutch finance minister accused Spain (i.e. the current left coalition between PSE and Podemos) of inadequate budgetary capacity to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Portugal’s socialist prime minister, António Costa, reacted strongly and has described as ‘repugnant and absolutely thoughtless’ the above statement by the Dutch minister. In his words:

If we do not respect each other and if we do not understand that, in the face of a common challenge, we have to be able to respond together, then nobody has understood anything about what the European Union is […] [I]f any EU country thinks it will solve the problem of the virus by leaving the virus loose in another country, it is very much mistaken. (Euractiv, 2020)

Costa spoke with a subaltern Southern voice, echoing the anger of all of us in Europe. Although later the Dutch government tried to reduce the tension, the phantoms of the 2008 crisis appeared again and reopened the evil box of prejudices about the lazy, irresponsible and constantly partying southerners. The political and cultural distances between the different parts of Europe remain, and escalate at times of crises. Nevertheless, following the EU’s June 2020 compromise proposal for a generous support package for the countries and regions of the South, European solidarity may be saved at the last minute.

Albert Camus, the Nobel Prize-winning French-Algerian leftist writer, published in 1947 his novel The Plague (in French: La Peste). It is a story of a plague sweeping the Algerian city of Oran, a town of 200,000 people, during French colonisation. In this masterpiece, he asks a number of questions relating to the nature of human fear and he notices that the fear for one’s life is selfish, closes people into themselves and leaves no room for love and solidarity: ‘We have to admit that the plague has taken away the power of love and even friendship and solidarity. Because love and solidarity demand a little future, and for us there were only moments’ (Camus, 2001: 168).

The monsters of nationalistic cynicism draw strength from fear and they hate exactly what all Europeans need: love, solidarity and the demand for a future. It is important that the survivors, when the evil has passed, not be ashamed of their attitude and their political decisions during the time of the new crisis. For those of us who believe that a European future is still possible, like myself, the road ahead requires struggle and solidarity at all scales. Nothing will be the same, and it is urgent to realise the need to change tactics and to think about with whom, how and where we will struggle together, to cope with the dramatic negative and uneven social and political implications of the pandemic.


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