Exploring the Economic and Social Crisis – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Exploring the Economic and Social Crisis

With this year’s Fisher Center theme, “Engendering Crisis,” having developed from the current economic predicament facing the U.S. and much of the world, Wednesday night’s event was particularly resonant.

Delivering their lecture, “Neoliberal Crisis, Gender and Self-Management,” to an engaged, attentive Geneva Room crowd, Graciela Monteagudo and Marcelo Vieta discussed the precursors and fallout of the 2001 economic collapse in Argentina.

In his introduction, Cedric Johnson, associate professor of political science and director of this year’s Fisher Center series, defined crisis as “a period of intense challenge, as well as a moment of incredible opportunity,” citing 21st century crises such as Hurricane Katrina and the situation in Argentina.

As a community artist, scholar, and intellectual, born and raised in Argentina, Monteagudo lauded Johnson’s take on “crisis,” referencing the late 20th century history of Argentine politics and economics, the resurgence of capitalism and advent neoliberalism, the high rates of unemployment that hit the country when the economy collapsed and the unanticipated effects of these events.

“Women in the workforce, voting rights and labor laws were all unintended consequences of neoliberalism in Argentina,” she said.

When the banks began to refuse to give people money in their accounts, Monteagudo said, the populous began protesting and blockading roads to get the attention of the government.  Women took on leadership roles, and workers, abandoned and forgotten by their employers, began to “recover” the failed businesses where they once worked, as last week’s Fisher Center film, “The Women of Brukman,” documented.

Vieta, who teaches in the Division of Social Science and is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Programme in Social and Political Thought, both at York University, delved into more detail about the Empresas Recuperadas por sus Trabajadores (ERTs), or worker recovered enterprises, examining questions such as “what justifies workers taking over a business” and “how does capitalism and neoliberalism affect individual people.”

Stating that ERTs “prefigure new modes of working life and social change,” Vieta said that they also challenge the capitalist mode in its relation to just wages, worker’s dignity, business competition and the integration of work into the community.

While ERTs pose challenges for the workers in Argentina-like the indifference of the government and out of date machinery-Vieta said that they promote social innovation through creative responses to challenges in production and finances and intensifying market competition.

Before a lively question and answer session, Monteagudo detailed the recovery of a balloon factory in which workers recovered the factory after their former boss fired them, declared bankruptcy and attempted to reopen the factory with the same equipment elsewhere, all of which is illegal.  Many of the workers were women, poorly educated and poorly represented, but they have rebounded and reopened the factory under their own collective management-which she called an example of “politics by other means,” which, she said, “creates social change.”

“This lecture and last week’s film really relate to our class, where we’re talking about capitalism and inequalities between classes, among workers and between genders,” said Zinnia Gill ’10, referring to Johnson’s course, Urban Politics and Public Policy.

“It’s inspiring how workers bounced back,” Isaac Gilman ’10 said.  “It’s great to see that the factories have really become more democratic with the workers in charge.”

The next Fisher Center event, co-sponsored by the Religious Studies Department, is titled  “John Dewey’s Vision of Radical Democracy” by Richard Bernstein on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the Geneva Room.  Bernstein is the Vera List Professor of Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy of the New School for Social Research.  His recent book publications include “Radical Evil: A Philosophic Interrogation” (2002) wherein he critiques the appeal to evil as a political tool that obscures complex issues, blocks thinking, and stifles public discussion and debate; “Freud and the Legacy of Moses” (1998); and “Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Question” (1996).  He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University with a dissertation on “John Dewey’s Metaphysics of Experience.”  In addition to the Graduate Faculty at the New School for Social Research, he has taught at Yale University, Hebrew University, Haverford College, Catholic University of America, University of Pennsylvania, and Frankfurt University.  He was chair of the philosophy department at the Graduate Faculty of the New School from 1989 to 2002.

The Fisher Center was endowed with a $1 million gift from Emily and the late Richard Fisher, whose son Alexander graduated from Hobart College in 1993. Creation of the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men reflects a perfect intersection of the Colleges’ coordinate history and trends in the study of gender throughout academe.