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Stitching curtains, grinding plastic: The transformation of workers and things in Buenos Aires

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journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2012, 00:00 authored by Karen FaulkKaren Faulk

More than a decade has now passed since Argentina gained international notoriety for defaulting on its crushing foreign debt. The convertibility plan, which had pegged the peso to the dollar at a 1-1 rate since 1991, collapsed in December of 2001 under the weight of its own non-sustainability. Skyrocketing unemployment and widespread poverty led to massive street protests on the 19th and 20th of that month, bringing an end to President De la Rúa’s Alianza government and, eventually, to the neoliberal economic model that it had inherited. In the years that followed, the country flourished, reducing social inequity and maintaining overall growth even during the ‘global’ economic crises that engulfed the United States and Europe a few years later. The case of Argentina has justly sparked renewed debate, particularly within Latin America, about the nature of the state and the feasibility of neoliberal economics. Questions as to the proper role of political direction in guiding economic policy have once again taken centre stage. Furthermore, the massive popular mobilization that spelled the ultimate end of neoliberalism’s legitimacy in Argentina is reflected in similar mobilizations within the Global North, as financial speculation and deregulation become increasingly identified as responsible for problems with the current economic system and its effects on those living within it. The protests that brought about such drastic change in Argentina were the product of a general dissatisfaction and frustration with political representatives and the failure of democracy to allow citizens the right of choice concerning economic policy. Yet at this critical juncture, it is worth noting that the protests were also fundamentally concerned with ideas of work, legality, moral obligation, and human dignity. Embedded in the many acts of protest and resistance that surrounded the Argentine crisis and its aftermath were discursive struggles over the nature of social life and the relationship of the state to society.


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