Money as cultural infrastructure: alternative economic practices in Valle di Susa, Italy.

Projektstart: September 2019

The Valle di Susa in the Western Italian alps has been the site of an intense political dispute for almost thirty years. This dispute started with the announcement of the new Turin-Lyon high-speed rail link (commonly known by its Italian acronym TAV) in the early 1990s, and it is still a major site of struggle to this day. On one side, the local community has consistently opposed the project, arguing that there is no substantive need for a new tunnel under the Alps, and that the risks associated with this project far outweigh the projected benefits. On the other side, successive national and regional governments have continued to promote the TAV and enforce its development, arguing that this rail link is a key stepping stone towards greater development and modernisation for Italy as a whole.  
 
The TAV is a major infrastructural project that has drawn consistent opposition from a local social movement in the Valle di Susa, known simply as No TAV. Since the announcement of the TAV project in the 1990s, and especially since 2005, when there were the first violent clashes between the police and No TAV activists, the movement has gained national relevance, bringing together a broad coalition of local activists, civil servants, researchers, and supporters from across the country and abroad. In Italy today, the Valle di Susa has almost become synonymous with the No TAV movement and with the environmentalist, ‘slow’ politics championed by activists in the movement.
 
Within  the  valley  itself, a distinct ‘Valsusino’ identity has started to emerge, denoting a sense of belonging not only to the Valle di Susa, but also to the places, stories and collective
memories of the No TAV movement. As the movement grew, so did its attachment to the territory of the Valle di Susa. In the process, a new aspect of the movement started to develop, where the attention was focused on developing alternative economic networks in the valley. Given the diversity of landscapes, cultures and identities in Italy, these local networks are a widespread phenomenon, and they have helped to give more value to the local territory, both in economic terms, but also in social and cultural terms.  
 
In the Valle di Susa, as elsewhere, these networks have been fostered on the basis of solidarity, participation, eco-sustainability and degrowth, but also with a more clearly economic aim to promote equity and redistribution among the local population, especially as far as young and precariously employed people are concerned. Among other initiatives in the valley, a local currency form was developed, called the “Susino”, and this local currency will be the central topic of my research. Through long-term ethnographic fieldwork, this project aims to explore how people in the Valle di Susa understand “value”. What does this territorial, cultural, local and participatory notion of value consist of? How does the Susino local currency form embody this grounded definition of value, and can it be said to create some kind of local sovereignty, either territorial or monetary?
 
Furthermore, what are the regimes of value that govern the TAV project? If, as the No TAV argue, the TAV is an immense waste of time and money, what else governs the value of this infrastructural project? Is it just a straightforwardly economic definition of value, or are their cultural, political and territorial dynamics at play there as well? Both the TAV rail link project and the local alternative economic networks of the Valle di Susa are “valuable” in their own right. What makes this case study distinctive is that these two projects are unfolding virtually in the same place. This makes it possible to explore in depth the friction that exists between these two definitions of value. Through participant-observation and qualitative ethnographic research in and around the valley, this project will seek to contribute empirically and theoretically to the fields of economic anthropology and the sociology of money.