Inside Current Anthropology: Why Are the Greeks So “Indignant” about Austerity?


image courtesty Wikimedia Commons

The April issue of Current Anthropology is out now. Here’s a press-release preview of The University of Kent’s Dimitrios Theodossopoulos’ ethnographic study of Greek citizens during the financial crisis of 2011 explores the causes and consequences of the rhetoric of discontent.

The austerity measures introduced as a response to the financial crisis in Greece have inspired a wave of discontent among Greeks. A new Current Anthropology paper explores Greek “indignation” with economic austerity in the general context of the financial crisis.

In 2011, a protest movement was born that was pointedly critical of politicians’ handling of the economy. The protesters were not alone in their indignation: an overwhelming majority of Greek citizens at the time, regardless of political affiliation, claimed they were angry, outraged, infuriated, and exasperated with the way the situation had been handled by those in power, as well as the general conditions of austerity.

While much of the coverage in the international media has been concerned with the public manifestations of the protest, this article is primarily interested in the perceptions and interpretative trajectories of ordinary Greek citizens, and their views about accountability for the country’s economic woes. Paying close attention to local conversations in Greece during the anti-austerity protest, Theodossopoulos argues that the interpretive tactics of local citizens do not merely represent an attempt to evade culpability, but also demonstrate a desire to reinterpret and renegotiate responsibility and blame.

Theodossopoulos found that local commentary often centered on the causes of indignation. In some cases, responsibility was traced to external causal factors, such as inefficiencies in the political system, as well as inequalities in the global financial system. While on the surface these blame tactics may seem self-serving, the author contends that they represent a persistent attempt to explain a massive crisis in locally meaningful terms. In everyday life, where social obligations matter, character evaluations provide more persuasive explanations than abstract economic concepts. Seen from this point of view, engaging in conversations about the crisis and the austerity measures can be seen as an empowering act—even allowing protesters to dare to imagine alternative solutions to current economic and political problems. In this respect, indignation with the causes of the crisis may lead to explanations that question established political and economic theories.

Theodossopoulos’s ethnography provides a fascinating look into the ways Greeks view themselves and others in the shadow of the crisis, and shows what an anthropological approach to contemporary economic issues can add to the international discussion by highlighting the complexity and meaningfulness of local responses to the crisis.

Current Anthropology, published by The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.