The application of Strategic Niche Management on social innovations. Towards a geographic approach using a multiple case study of cohousing and LETS in Belgium and the UK.
For every visitor to Cuba, the presence of a thriving black market is clear. For some, this is the proof that socialism fails and should make room for a more dynamic capitalism. For others, the black market is detrimental to the socialist project and should be eradicated. With a focus on Cuba’s food economy, my original contribution is to move beyond this dichotomy and to show the complex interrelations between different economic spheres. While the limited literature addressing the informal economy in Cuba is highly polarized between opponents and proponents of the Castro regime, I argue that both accounts contribute to the idea of a hegemonic capitalist market. Indeed, both approaches reduce the informal economy to logics that are more similar to capitalism and that are in a way –to the joy of some and to the fear of others– threatening the socialist formal economy. However, such a dualistic approach of Cuba’s economy is reductionist as not only does it not account for the wide variety of relationships Cubans engage in on a daily basis to produce and consume food, it also conceptualizes all market-like transactions as capitalist practices, thereby failing to account for the wide variety of markets that are possible.
Instead, drawing on Polanyi’s understanding of a heterogeneous economy, I adopt a substantive approach and place the variegated economic practices within an institutional whole. Based on empirical data collected through interviews, participant observation, and food diaries, I analyze how a complex amalgam of institutions mutually structure each other to constitute Cuba’s food economy. The results show several things. First, Cubans navigate a variety of redistributive, market, reciprocal, and subsistence institutions to access food. Household, cooperative, and state economies intersect with each other and co-produce local and national food systems. Second, the dissertation shows the socio-spatial complexity of the different economic spheres. Market exchange relations are not limited to the black market, nor are reciprocal relations limited to the household economy. The food diaries show the importance of direct producer-consumer sales, and the interviews show the presence of reciprocal relations amongst farmers and amongst agricultural cooperatives. Third, both redistributive as market spheres are – at least partly – structured by and embedded in reciprocal relations. The findings show the importance of interpersonal connections in the regulation of access to land, gift exchanges amongst farmers and amongst households, direct sales between farmers and their neighbors, and redistributive mechanisms in the producer cooperatives.
Based on these results, I argue two things. First, these interpersonal relations at the local community level are crucial in the production of an affordable food economy at the local scale. While structural scarcities lead farmers to illegally obtain their inputs in order to produce food, the presence of tightly knit local networks contributes to a feeling of responsibility from farmers toward their neighbors, resulting in affordable direct sales. As a result, the local food economy simultaneously reproduces solidarity at the local scale, while undermining it at the national scale. Second, these interpersonal relations are also crucial in the legitimization of the more abstract redistributive food economy at the national scale. Indeed, the production cooperatives act as a hub connecting local, horizontally organized solidarity relations with vertical, hierarchical relations of solidarity. As a consequence, the multiscalar formal and informal solidarity networks structure each other and extend personal feelings of affection and of responsibility from the cooperative to the farmer, and from the farmer back to the cooperative and to the rest of the country. I end this dissertation by reflecting on the importance of recognizing and supporting these local interpersonal networks, not only for their complementary role in Cuba’s food economy, but also for their role in the reproduction of national solidarity, which, if Cuba aims to safeguard the legitimization of its political project, might be crucial in the face of increased external pressure.