Illuminating austerity: Lighting poverty as an agent and signifier of the Greek crisis

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Series Details Volume 25, Number 4, Pages 360-372
Publication Date October 2018
ISSN 0969-7764 (print) | 1461-7145 (online)
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Light – whether natural or artificial – plays multiple roles in the home: both as a material enabler of everyday life and as a device for exercising a variety of social relations. The post-2008 Greek economic crisis has endangered those roles by limiting people’s ability to access or afford adequate energy services.

This paper focuses on the enforced lack of illumination in the home, and the strategies and tactics undertaken by households to overcome this challenge. I connect illumination practices and discourses to the implementation of austerity, by arguing that the threat of darkness has become a tool for compelling vulnerable groups to pay their electricity bills.

The evidence presented in the paper is based on two sets of interviews with 25 households (including a total of 55 adult members) living in and around Thessaloniki – Greece’s second largest city, and one that has suffered severe economic consequences as a result of the crisis.

I have established that the under-consumption of light is one of the most pronounced expressions of energy poverty, and as such endangers the ability to participate in the customs that define membership of society. But the emergence of activist-led amateur electricians and the symbolic and material mobilization of light for political purposes have also created multiple opportunities for resistance.

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