Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
When scholars analyze the role of corporations in populist politics, they mainly focus on grassroots reactions to corporate power (e.g. Kapferer 2017). Building on 24 months (2013-2018) of ethnographic fieldwork in a dairy cooperative in Sardinia, Italy, I investigate how populist politics play out within organizations. I base my analysis on a contentious decision at the cooperative to buy 1,000 hectares of land and build a biodigester to convert manure into burnable biogas. Managers of the cooperative lauded the project’s benefits for developing environmentally sustainable modes of farming, while also providing new revenue streams. The combined price tag of 20 million Euros alarmed the membership, however, and a vocal minority began raising concerns over the project. When the vote was held over a year later, the membership resoundingly denied the plan by a margin of 2-1, despite management’s insistence on the project’s economic viability. In this paper, I analyze the populist sentiments that built up to this vote and how they intersect with broader economic and political discontent in Italy and in Europe more generally. During the run-up to the cooperative’s vote, my interlocutors explicitly linked the vote and its ramifications to the rising threat of authoritarianism in Europe, the growth of the Movimento 5 Stelle in Italy, and the political consequences of Brexit and the Italian constitutional referendum. I focus my analysis on the questions surrounding expert knowledge and the growing inequalities within the membership base that framed debates around populist sentiments in Sardinia and Italy more generally.