The Moral Economy of Indignation: From Individualized Despair to Collective Action in the Spanish Housing Crisis.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 18 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Christoph SCHWARZ, Philipps-University Marburg, Germany
Owning property was a central feature of the informal social pact in Spain under Franco and after the transition to democracy. Moving out of one’s parents’ house for millions of young Spaniards was tantamount to taking out a mortgage for one’s own flat or house. The state and banks heavily encouraged borrowing; at the same time, debtors unable to pay their mortgage were confronted with an extraordinarily severe mortgage law. Thus, the Spanish housing crisis since 2008 has not only destroyed hundreds of thousands of economic existences, but moreover resulted in severe psychological consequences for the affected. Suicide rates have been soaring, and often suicides were directly related to evictions of the victims from their homes, which now belonged to the banks. Those who lost their homes often describe their situation in drastic emotional terms as unbearable despair, shame, and depression.

In this situation the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, PAH) was founded in Barcelona: In their meetings they have combined aspects of juridical and psychological counseling and consequently collectivized the experiences of thousands of individuals who had just lost their homes. Most importantly, they translated these experiences into political action of non-violent protest. Sometimes they occupied banks’ branches, or did escraches, in which they publicly and spectacularly accused individuals implied in the mortgage industry, to put pressure on them and ease the conditions for the respective debtors. By now, PAH has become a powerful nation-wide network, and in 2015, Ada Colau, one of its founders, was elected mayor of Barcelona.

This paper will analyze the role of emotions and their transformation in the political strategies of PAH, based on the accounts of their action and on the life story interviews conducted in 2015 with PAH activists from different social backgrounds.