Watering Down Austerity: Scalar Politics and Disruptive Resistance in Ireland

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Across Europe, resistance to austerity takes place in the household, the local community, and the everyday. Disruptive practices of refusal and subversion leave elite domination incomplete in the age of austerity. Under what conditions disruptive resistance affects national and international policy-making is less clear. The article uses the analytical concept of scalar politics to engage this question. Exploring anti-water charges/anti-austerity protests in the Republic of Ireland, I highlight the importance of the scalar dimensions of materiality and culture in making disruptive resistance partially successful in this case. Economic crisis allowed Irish elites to transfer water reforms onto international and European political scales. The physical conditions required for reform meant that sustained local disruptions rendered implementation impossible. Irish history and culture provided semiotic signifiers to mobilise against an overwhelming force of domination. Scalar politics constitutes a useful theoretical frame for analysing the social embeddedness of the economy beyond the Irish case. If political economists acknowledge the social construction of scalar arrangements, we can investigate how political actors use dimensions of scale strategically to pursue their goals. We can also pay analytical attention to how certain normative preferences come to dominate certain policy domains through processes of scalar contestation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Political Economy
Early online date5 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Austerity
  • resistance
  • scale
  • culture
  • Water


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