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Social Innovation and Democratic Leadership

Communities and Social Change from Below

Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats

This book explores new forms of democracy in practice following the 2011 global uprisings; democracy that comes from below, by and for the ‘have-nots’. Combining theories of social innovation and collective leadership, it analyses how disadvantaged communities have addressed the effects of economic recession in two global cities: Barcelona and New York.
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Chapter 8: Sants: seeking autonomous self-management from below

Marc Parés, Sonia M. Ospina and Joan Subirats


Sants is a traditional working-class neighbourhood. With its character of a small town within a city, Sants has retained a strong sense of belonging among its residents and its social organizations. The area has accumulated the experience of numerous historical struggles and an extremely high level of political activism has developed. Social innovation in Sants is not something new. It is not a response to the post-recession situation in the area, but rather the result of a tradition of collective action from below that is historically rooted, diverse and politicized. Thus, in Sants we can see a tradition of cooperativism, self-management and self-organizing. This is a tradition of alternative action flourishing in the local civil society, which is both distinct from the state and outside of the market. After the Great Recession, new initiatives emerged that have merged old and new grassroots movements and have taken advantage of all the knowledge accumulated through older initiatives in the area. Moreover, the neighbourhood is home to an economically precarious but culturally important class of young, well-educated, politicized people with ideas that go beyond the mainstream. This class of people is playing a significant role in developing some of the social responses.

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