Building resilience in between the cracks in the economy

It’s difficult to know what’s worse: expecting not to have the things your parents had, and preparing yourself for alternatives to getting a job, a house or even a degree – or assuming everything’s going to be OK, until you realise that your dreams have been privatised, getting yourself into debt to even grab a slice of them back.

How we cope with this shock will affect not just how we can build a better future, but whether we can conceive of a better future at all. As a generation, we don’t all cope in the same way. We move interchangeably between egocentrism, altruism, apathy and even alienation. This is why the social contract is so brittle in our hands.

We forget that the concept of a social contract was based on a more visceral relationship that people had with the economy, with politics and with their communities. People knew where they stood and where they’d end up. Our generation, on the other hand, has always been taught to climb the social ladder higher than our families had ever been before…with school a waiting room to prepare us for the workplace. But “there is little or no workplace to “enter” and we’ve fallen further down the ladder than we started off.

For many of us, our “spending power” has been sufficient enough to avoid any need to produce. It has disguised the fact that the structures of power controlling consumption have strangled the capacity for local production - and our market-driven education has suffocated our capability to repair, re-use and reinvent goods rather than just buy new products.

How do we redefine cultural identities to help us create meaning?

This contrasts with a Baltic pride in home-grown resources as a source of inspiration for industries as diverse as food, energy and even design, an education system built around developing wellbeing & trust and a make®-do approach to being self-sufficient and looking after nature. These are all manifestations of deeply embedded cultural identities across the Baltic region, albeit having gone through very different social histories. But in an era where our generation wear multiple identities – how much do these cultural identities still exert a magnetic force on how we see the world?

Indeed, as consumers, we’ve built our identities out of the brands that we identify with. We get tempted to publicise our private emotions and relegate our family and friends to cameo roles. We try to act out a role, convinced that what we consume defines how successful we are; how worthy we are of attention.

In some ways it feels like the only response possible. We prefer the conformism of running the rat race like a hamster on a spinning wheel. We prefer the quick fixes of consuming, because we fear the “eyes of others” looking down on us as we drop off the ladder of social mobility, because we fear not knowing what to “get out of bed” nor how to “pay the rent” when we don’t know how to make a successful transition into adulthood.

But what is a successful transition? Given the cultural identities across the Baltic region, might these foreshadow forms of transition that go beyond the degree-job-house-marriage-children formula?

We are family? Folkemmet2

The Edgeryders Guide to the Future analyses how important families are in helping young people cope with new ways of making a living, and how peer networks are taking on the characteristics associated with families, epitomised by the unMonastery project. In Mediterranean countries, the family has always been the primary form of support and now that the emerging welfare state has crumbled away, it is all that is left. However, in the Nordic region, the concept of the family itself was redefined through the concept of Folkhemmet, where the “entire society ought to be like a small family, where everybody contributes”. This set in stone a social contract based around decentralised and collective risk-sharing between institutions to support individuals & communities – what we know as the Nordic social model.

As a generation who’ve been taught that we live in a society where there are no risks and as a result, find it more difficult to cope with the challenges we’re faced with and bounce back, how valuable would a social contract be that was bound around decentralised & collective risk sharing? Of course, we shouldn’t confuse the institutions that embodied the “people’s home” – from the state to organised labour – with the social goods they produce(d). But we do urgently need social infrastructure that builds collective resilience that knots together communities, networks and individuals. The concept of folkhemmet and the social infrastructure that grew out of it was born of its time – almost 100 years ago. What should this look like? Edgeryders have looked to Parralel Polis which looks to parallel institutions; Nadia highlights structures that build resilience.

From “on your own” economics to resilient structures

But it is difficult to make the jump into this brave new world: “After two generations of “you are on your own” economics, it is really hard for people to ask for and receive help from their neighbours…The pressure and the responsibility of creating a new economy felt overwhelming, even paralyzing, and what I was doing felt silly and small.” (@resiliencircles).

This provides a background for the challenge that @dougald sets for us to make the transition to a regeneration of meaning. Christopher urges us not to forget social institutions and what we ask of them. There is a risk that groups unintentionally self-exclude themselves from formal support and their voices become silent and silenced. Precarity affects how we pay the rent, how we get out of bed and how we’re seen in the eyes of others, but it also exhausts us psychologically and physically - affecting our capacity to think and act politically.

Will we see a world where those with the greatest power, it industries, sectors organisations, will co-opt & suck up all the value the new business models being developed by informal groups? People developing these new models collaboratively, transparently and most importantly unpaid may become disillusioned, and will either accept nondisclosure agreements with those co-opting their ideas to survive or will venture further away from the formal economy and trust fewer and fewer institutions.

Or will we see a world where people start learning from the dynamics of the informal economy, and by doing so learn from traditionally marginalised communities for whom this is the default way of making a living? What we might ask then of social institutions are the resources that help us cope with trying to make a living – like a basic income suggested by Nadia.

Creating “in-between spaces”

Another challenge @dougald poses is how these initiatives can coalesce into something serious. Scaling up is difficult to achieve because the social maps of the adopters will always be different from those who’ve invented the concept that is being scaled. But how about scaling across – where we knit & knot together complementary activities (@tessybritton) that sit at the intersection between the formal and the informal economy?

Should we value the spaces in between the formal & informal economy to rehearse behaviours and ways of living that foreshadow alternatives. After all, “fiction becomes reality when people choose to invest in it” (@leashless or quoted by him!).

Just as gangs create new codes to define themselves, we too need to think of new ways to define ourselves as a generation. If ‘fast food’ could change the script for having a meal, or if campaigners on disability rights could develop a social model that’s transformed the way we see the relationship between public services and its users, if the Scandinavians could redefine the concept of the family to embed a new social contract, could we create scripts to change the way we expect to make a living?

How would you redefine the embedded cultural identities in your countries to create new meaning for informal and formal social structures to work together? What examples exist of informal & formal social structures working together in practice?

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What about specs?

Well stated! That, indeed, is the problem. What we need now is candidate solutions. Even Folkhemmet (I was not aware of it, thanks!) is, the way you put it, just a rather vague ideology, not unlike the one put forward by Menenius Agrippa in his famous fable to soothe revolting Roman plebs in 494 B.C… But modern-day Folkhemmet  (just as Republican Roman ideology, or any ideology that comes to inspire an actual societal arrangement) works through insititutional mechanisms, in this case high income tax rates paired with high-quality (and expensive) welfare services. This is exactly the model that does not seem to be working so well anymore – though it might still work well in Scandinavia, I am hearing contrasting reports.

So, the next step is technical specifications for candidate solutions – even embryonic ones. Are you aware of any interesting initatives in theis sense in the region?

What favors scaling?

Noel, I don’t know much about Scandinavian context in terms of present day obstacles to a sense of meaningfulness and protection. To make sure I got it right, you use a lot the terms “we”, “our generation” as if we (the rest of Europe) grew up with slightly different expectations than those in the North context. so from your post I understand the assumption is: in redefining our social contracts, Northern countries are one model to consider, or look up to? mostly in terms of vision, rather than institutional arrangements, as Alberto points out.

I’m curious about models scaling across, rather than scaling up. I read Tessy’s very insightful post on the need to connect businesses with local social innovations. I wonder if she, or you can develop a bit on what are the factors in the communities that foster multiplying such mixed models? What role the local business mindset plays in all this? Is it about a laxed fiscal environment, is it about propensity of communities to volunteer or have a specific value set that makes them more giving towards others? I ask this especially regarding the Northen models and how they can differ from continental approaches. 

Factors

Hi Noemi

Thanks for your kind comment and interesting questions.  I think the answer is that we are still in the process of working out what factors are necesary for successful integration on the scale described.  But some of the crucial elements we believe include: systematic and imaginative exposure to these new types of ideas and models to capture people’s imagination + the creation of practical new opportunties for local residents and businesses to connect in these new ways.  It has to be a deliberate strategy --> to create the necessary amount of density --> to have enough impact.

Thanks for your comments. Alberto, I agree that concepts like Folkhemmet can be seen as vague - all cultural identities are and perhaps need to be broad-based enough for everyone to feel ownership of them. That said, it was a turning point in redefining the concept of the family and of society which provided the launchpad & infrastructure for individual solutions over the years introduced by the social institutions. But more importantly, it provided the legitimacy and trust over a new way of living. The same happened with “fast food” and look how widespread that’s become not just as a way of consuming food but as a way of consuming everything fast. This had a greater impact than the introduction of the first McDonalds restaurant.

In terms of candidate solutions, think the examples here around bringing together informal and formal groups to work together to start introducing these new ways of making a living.

Noemi, you’re right, we always have to define who we mean by we (see what I did there!). Young people living in each country may each feel similarities between their experiences, but these are deeply shaped by the cultural identities which they inhabit. As an English-French binational I experienced this from a very early age, just in terms of the cultural identities that shaped each of my parents and how it played out in how they brought me up and then moving from English school to French university and then Spanish, young people had very different expectations. And these are countries which are neighbours. So as Edegryders collaborating transnationally, it seems really important to understand how these cultural identities have shaped our own expectations of how we transition into adulthood and what we can learn from other cultural identities to embed these new ways of living - in this case the Scandinavian or Baltic model.

And this works at a local level as Tessy highlights, that informal groups can learn from more established institutionalised organisations and vice versa - that “systematic & imaginative exposure” is key. People often focus on the welfare aspect of the Scandinavian model but it’s also very decentralised, so perhaps that helps also make social institutions feel closer to people’s lives and closer to being exposed to more informal social groups?