All or nothing , Alison Sanchez-Hall, book review

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All or nothing , Alison Sanchez-Hall, book review
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  2019 | A NUAC . V OL . 8, N ° 1, GIUGNO  2019: 251-253 R ECENSIONI AlisonS ÁNCHEZ  H ALL  |   All or none: Cooperation and sustainability in Italy’sred belt  , New York, Oxford, Berghahn, 2018, pp. 300. This is a political book in a twofold sense, in that it provides a thoroughinvestigation of a socioeconomic phenomenon that sprung out of a strong political culture and that its main aim is to suggest alternative paths to ourcurrent predicament. These paths are alternative but not utopian; in fact,much of the book’s argument is a practical thesis rooted in the historical andethnographic empirics of an achieved alternative to the dominantconceptual dependence on free-market fundamentalism. The empiricalreality of the rural areas of Romagna -the agricultural hinterland of Faenzaand Ravenna- provides, shows the author, a powerful argument for thepossibility of constructing a cooperative life that mobilizes an agrarianpopulation in ways that are both sustainable economically and cohesivesocially. The force of that argument is in its detailed description of how thecooperative movement in Emilia-Romagna, traditionally a “red” area of thecountry, managed to ensure a dignified life for its rural inhabitants, who hadbeen through long periods of repression and exploitation. The argumentation is done in implicitly comparative ways – sometimesless subtle than others. The author endorsed the social experiment of herRomagnol interlocutors in two waves of engagement with them: the firsttime was in her 20s, during fieldwork in 1972. Having hit “red” Italy afterbeing raised in California, she notes in hindsight: “I came to feel like thefirst anthropologist in the history of the discipline whose informantsthought she came from a backward culture to study their most advanced ways” (p. 2). The second time she did fieldwork in Romagna was in thecourse of several trips between 2010 and 2014, to attest to the “persistenceof the cooperative spirit” (p. xvi), and revisit many interlocutors from hersrcinal fieldwork. This book is therefore srcinal in that it draws from both This work is licensed under the Creative Commons © Theodoros Rakopoulos2019 | A NUAC . V OL . 8, N ° 1, GIUGNO  2019: 251-253.ISSN: 2239-625X – DOI: 10.7340/anuac2239-625X-3796  252A LISON  S ÁNCHEZ  H ALL  | A LL   OR   NONE the first and the second fieldwork (40 years in between), as well as fromextensive secondary historical material. In that way, here we appreciate aholistic phenomenon in at least three tiers – an immediate ethnographicone, one attempting a comparison between two different ethnographicmoments and one taking on the long history of the region’s fertile geography that led to interesting developments in agrarian sociology, of which thecooperative system was the culmination.We come to appreciate this long historical narrative in chapters 4, 5 and 6, which constitute the bulk of the book’s empirical discussion, leaving theethnography proper to chapters 1, 7 and 8, while chapters 2 and 3 providethe geographical, sociological and political economic exegesis of the regionand its cooperative movement. The first chapter narrates the author’s long engagement with the area and mobilizes the main argumentation pattern of economic cooperation as a myth-busting phenomenon for mainstreameconomics’ obsession with rational choice and selfish maximization. Theextended case is presented in detail in the second chapter where Ravennaand its area are discussed across the 40 years of the two fieldworkengagements. Chapter 3 then delves into the political aspect of the “politicaleconomy” of the area: the “red” element in the cooperative development inthe Emilia-Romagna miracle. Chapter 4 offers the long historical outlook,from the early Middle-Ages to just after the Risorgimento; chapter 5, underthe telling title “Land to those who work her” treats the period from 1861and thereabouts to 1922 – providing an excellent review of the tensionsbetween property, labour organization and the development of the collectivetenure management from mutual aid societies to modernized farms. Inchapter 6, we encounter another tension: that between bottom-up andgrassroots solutions to collective farming, in the years of the ventennio , theLiberation and the Marshall plan. The author then ethnographically presentshow the “bottom up” agenda came about with such success in the last twochapters, where she discusses how cooperatives managed to “make work” forthe Romagnols. It is of timely importance, as the Left has been collapsing in Italy, toconsider such books that stand as social scientific reminders of the recentachievements of red cooperation in the country. The monograph does notonly criticise the massive problems of the homo economicus  concepts, the way almost all economic anthropology books do, but actually presents anethnohistorical realm of the possible – a positive example that Italy cansuggest to the world. The choices of the author in showcasing her case-study, are admittedly done with most probably a US audience in mind. In 2019 | A NUAC . V OL . 8, N ° 1, GIUGNO  2019: 251-253  A LISON  S ÁNCHEZ  H ALL  | A LL   OR   NONE 253 many moments in the book there is a tone of incitement and suggestion; onethinks that the major aim of the book is to motivate and inspire, with thecritical analysis coming as a secondary goal. This is not to say that there isnot a very careful discussion of the literature and the wider sources –especially in the three historical chapters.The main postulation of the conceptual apparatus for the book, however,could have possibly benefited from a tad deeper discussion of the mainproblem it addresses, that is how we can deconstruct the presentation of profit-seeking as a natural pursuit and the downscaling of cooperation’spotential of. This discussion (done especially in the preface, in chapter 1 andin the conclusion) draws extensively from specific sources (for example,Charles Erasmus), as does the discussion of cooperation (from Michels,Vöchting), while the emancipatory prospect of the commons and collectiveeconomies draws from theory mainly outside anthropology (Chomsky,Ostrom) and less so from within it (e.g. Graeber). As economic and politicalanthropology is an exercise in realistic alternative life scenarios, the array of anthropological inspiration could have been wider. That said, the book doescontribute substantially both to these domains and to the burgeoning current Anthropology of Italy. Theodoros R AKOPOULOS University of Oslo trakopoulos@gmail.com 2019 | A NUAC . V OL . 8, N ° 1, GIUGNO  2019: 251-253
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