Workers’ Responses to the Argentine Crisis: The Case of a Cartonero Co-operative

Lynne Chrisp

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This research is located in the aftermath of Argentina’s economic collapse in December 2001. In broad terms, it questions how subaltern or marginalised populations contest disadvantage in an environment of economic meltdown. Following the economic crash, unprecedented levels of unemployment, poverty and social marginalisation generated a variety of organic ‘survival’ responses. These initiatives took various forms and adopted differing approaches, including confrontational activity of piquetero organisations, whilst more institutional or structured actions of co-operative projects formed from workplace recovery. A further response was cartoneo, the practice of gathering and selling recyclable waste. Working as a cartonero, or waste gatherer was generally adopted as a last resort strategy by desperately poor, marginalised individuals from predominantly informal and semi-formal settlements in peripheral areas of the Greater Buenos Aires Province (GBA) and other urban areas nationally. Possibly taking their lead from the broader trends in co-operative organisation, numbers of waste gatherers, or cartoneros, banded together to form co-operatives. The subject of this thesis is one such project, the Tren Blanco co-operative, established in Villa Independencia, an impoverished shanty town in José León Suárez, San Martín department, GBA.

The topic was selected on the basis of the opportunity it afforded to present a subaltern study and bottom–up account of the event from the perspective of the protagonists. Appropriate to this aim, the focal aspect of the study was obtained by a qualitative oral approach of informal and semi-structured interviews combined with ethnographic observation conducted between July and August 2007. Secondary resource materials, including academic literature and other media sources, were used to provide a contextualisation of the event within both the broader context of Argentina’s socio-economic history and the more specific context of late twentieth-century and early twenty-first-century history. Literature on the subject of social responses to Argentina’s economic crisis is limited. Research into the specific phenomenon of cartonero co-operatives is even sparser. As such, this study contributes to the body of Argentine socio-economic history in both the broad and more specific sense. This work is valuable in that it provides an alternative reading to traditionally top-down recording common to some historiographical traditions and accounts. However, the core value of this research is that it provides an original contribution to knowledge by considering the meaning and human relevance of work and co-operative organisation in a marginal community in the chronological and geographical context of early twenty-first-century Argentina.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Northumbria University
  • Conde Solares, Carlos, Supervisor
  • Jenkins, Katy, Supervisor
Award date31 Jul 2017
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jul 2017


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