Crisis, Deprivation and Provisioning in Xanthi, Northern Greece: Ordinary Ruptures and Extraordinary Continuities

  • Phaedra Douzina Bakalaki

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis entails an ethnographic exploration of the Greek economic crisis. In particular, I address the signification, materialisation, and contestation of the Greek economic crisis in a soup kitchen, a clothing bank, and a social clinic. Drawing from material gathered in the Northern Greek town of Xanthi between March 2014 and 2015, I treat alternative provisioning as an avenue to mutuality, collectivity, and egalitarianism. Moreover, I posit that the discrepancies between idealised discourses and everyday practices of provisioning offer privileged insights into perceptions and experiences of profound social transformation. Through detailed analysis of local media representations and interview transcriptions, I argue that idealised articulations of collective action and social assistance coalesced in the figure of the 'volunteer'. The subjectivity of the volunteer was defined by free will, autonomy, agentive interiority, and magnanimous intentionality. The efforts of the volunteer were framed in terms of civic consciousness and disinterested altruism. In sharp contrast to the idealised figure of the 'volunteer' however, the volunteering 'selves' that operated the soup kitchen, the clothing bank and the social clinic were enmeshed in conventions, obligations and reciprocities. I address these through thorough ethnographic attention to material gathered from participant observation. In particular, I trace the performative relocation of domesticity in the soup kitchen and argue that its cooks transformed into symbolic mothers. I consider the cooks' quests for symbolic and material remuneration, and posit that the framing devices of employment served to reconcile the domains of waged labour and reproduction. I follow the market conventions that guided the clothing bank, and suggest that its volunteering attendants engaged in performative shopkeeping. Finally, I describe the bureaucratic surveillance that operated against the uninsured patients of the social clinic, and argue that its volunteering authorities practiced 'stateness'. These insights were yielded at a time when the agonistic discourses and practices of horizontality, counter-hegemony and solidarity enjoyed unprecedented national prominence. Yet, rather than striving for an alternative society, my own informants appeared determined to restore and perform the rapidly dismantling provisioning routes of the past. Thus, the soup kitchen, clothing bank and social clinic served to reproduce the ordering and provisioning frames of household, market and state. Courtesy of its extraordinary background, this performative normality was bound to be a precarious and incomplete response to the workings of rupture. Hence, the crisis was revealed as a composite site of extraordinary continuity and ordinary rupture. Departing from the 'methodological exceptionalism' that often guides studies of crisis and social transformation, this thesis hopes to illustrate that performances of order and continuity serve as important loci of both resilience and convention, as well as change and invention.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMadeleine Reeves (Supervisor) & Michelle Obeid (Supervisor)


  • Greece, austerity, solidarity, philanthropy, charity, gender, household, state, marker, performativity, ethnography

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