Category: innovation

The Basque Country might be benefited from economic opportunities following the Brexit

                 The hysteria and hype of Brexit (The British Exit from the E.U.) might not be over yet. Every region in the world from Tokyo to Brussels has expressed their concerns regarding the doomsday scenarios of such an epic divorce between the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU). However, like anything else in the world, a bleak situation might offer a glimmer of light that brings the unthinkable opportunity into reality. Following the aftermath of a financial crisis in 2008, many Basque scientists left their homes to find work in the UK. Close to a decade later, these capable scientists have produced major patents and have contributed to the advancement of technology in a foreign land far from home. With Brexit, the pendulum swings back again and this time around it swings to the Basque side. Many of the Basque scientists will find the UK less favorable for the progression of their careers following Brexit, as Theresa May’s Government declines to secure the working permits of highly-skilled migrants once the UK leaves the EU. Such a momentum is a great opportunity for the Basque country to lure their capable scientist home after Brexit.

The regional government of the Basque Country has dispatched Ivan Jimenez, the head of Bizkaia Talent to win over Basque engineers and scientists and bring them home by alluring them with comfortable salaries and generous research funding.  Several headhunter apps have been established to recruit Basque scientists in the UK and arrange job interviews with tech firms in the Basque Country. These experienced scientists will bring their patents and technological advancements to  Basque firms. Thus, it will cement and potentially enhance the Basque Country’s position as a leading-edge producer of science and technology-related products and services. This strategy will also help ease some of the brain drain challenges that the region’s financial hub, Bilbao, has endured due to a dire shortage of high-skilled laborers. The decision to attract Basque scientists to come back home is actually perceived as a good opportunity by the many talented Basque men and women in the UK. The UK based companies where they currently work might soon lose their privileged access to the European market which affects companies’ ability to pay workers high salaries and provide them with bright career paths. Therefore, fulfilling their civic duty at home is not a bad choice after all.

For further reading please visit:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/06/basque-country-bid-lure-spanish-scientists-home-brexit/\

 

Women chefs and their influence on Basque gastronomy: Part 2

In a previous post we spoke about the increasing public face of women chefs and their contribution to the Basque gastronomic scene.  But did you know that women played a prominent role in establishing the Basque restaurant world in the first place? In what follows, I gratefully acknowledge the information offered by both Olga Macias Muñoz and food blogger Biscayenne (aka Ana Vega) in the articles cited below. Eskerrik asko!

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Women take a stroll on the beach in Donostia-San Sebastián in 1915. Photo by Ricardo Martín. The picture captures something of the vigor and arguably even empowerment that women could increasingly express in turn-of-the-century Basque society. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Azcaray Sisters

Vicenta, Úrsula, and Sira Azcaray Eguileor were born in 1866, 1870,  and 1870 respectively, into a comfortable middle-class family from what is today the Abando neighborhood of Bilbao. Their mother, the redoubtable Felipa Eguileor (1831-1898), was already a successful restaurateur-businesswoman who had married Sebastián Azcaray, vice chairman of the Bank of Bilbao. In 1886 the couple founded what would become a thriving restaurant, El Amparo, in Bilbao, in which Felipa prepared traditional Basque dishes, but on Sebastián’s death, she was left widowed with four children to look after (the youngest, a son Enrique). The girls were thus sent to study cooking in France and prepare for careers in the restaurant business. On their return, they helped their mother at El Amparo and the resulting fusion cuisine–between what they learned from the traditional Basque cooking of their mother and their studies in France–led to the restaurant occupying a distinguished place at the vanguard of Basque gastronomy in turn-of-the-century Bilbao, a golden age for the city that was experiencing a major industrial boom and significant economic growth. The restaurant closed its doors in 1918 on the death of Vicenta Azcaray, although her sisters continued to operate a catering business thereafter. After the death of his last sister, Sira, Enrique gathered together all the notes and recipes written down by the siblings and published them in book form in 1933; a work that remains a classic today in Bilbao and beyond.

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A 1949 edition of the recipe book by the Azcaray Eguileor sisters. From Biscayenne’s food blogging site.

Maria Mestayer de Echagüe: The “Marquess of Parabere”

Maria Manuela Eugenia Carolina Mestayer Jaquet was born in 1878 in Bilbao, the daughter of Eugenio Mestayer Demelier (the French consul in the city) and his local wife, María Jacquet la Salle, the daughter of a well-known Bilbao banker also of French origin. Maria enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attending the best schools and traveling across Europe, where here parents also took her to the most famous restaurants of the day (including that of Auguste Escoffier, the renowned French chef and writer who revolutionized and popularized French cuisine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). In 1901 she married Ramón Echagüe y Churruca, a wealthy lawyer from Donostia-San Sebastián, and the couple settled in Bilbao.

Early on in her marriage, on realizing that her husband was finding excuses not to come home for lunch, she found out that it was on account of the food being prepared by the domestic staff the couple employed. She therefore decided to study gastronomy and prepare her husband’s meals herself. This she did by a voracious diet of reading everything she could about the history and culture of food. What’s more, the self-taught Maritxu, as she was affectionately known at home, found time to do all this while giving birth to eight children in the process!

Passionate about writing, she began publishing articles about food for newspapers and magazines. She also began giving cooking classes and by the 1920s she was a well-known figure in her own right in Bilbao; famously, she is reputed to have been gifted the first refrigerator to arrive in Bilbao around this time. By the end of the decade she began to use the pseudonym the “Marquess of Parabere” and published the first of her many books on gastronomy, including a work on Basque cuisine in 1935. The following year she embarked on yet another groundbreaking venture, opening her own restaurant (financed with her own money), the Parabere, in Madrid, where she settled while her husband remained in Bilbao.

An initial success, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War that same year resulted in the Parabere being requisitioned for use by the anarchist CNT labor union, with Maritxu still at the helm. There followed a somewhat crazy period of Casablanca-like intrigues in the restaurant, which was frequented by spies and agents as well as well-known figures like Ernest Hemingway in his capacity as war correspondent during the conflict.  It was while in Madrid, too, that she received news of the death of her husband Ramón during the war. With the triumph of Franco, the restaurant closed and her children moved to Madrid. There she eventually died in 1949.

Nicolasa Pradera

Nicolasa Pradera Mendibe was born in Markina-Xemein, Bizkaia, in 1870. as a young woman she entered into domestic service for the well-to-do Gaitán de Ayala family. When one of the family’s daughters married and settled in Donostia-San Sebastián, Nicolasa moved there with the woman in question to take charge of kitchen duties. There she met and married Narciso Dolhagaray, a well-known butcher in the city. In 1912 the couple opened a restaurant, the Casa Nicolasa, which also introduced a French touch into traditional Basque cuisine and quickly attracted the attention of the city’s high society. In 1932 she sold the Casa Nicolasa to Maria Urrestarazuri and opened another establishment together with her children, Andia, in the city. And in 1933 a book of her recipes was published that still sells today. Following the civil war she moved to Madrid where she opened another restaurant, Nicolasa. She died in Madrid in 1959.

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Nicolasa Pradera’s emblematic work.

Note: Casa Nicolasa, founded by Nicolasa Pradera in 1912, continued to be one of the main reference points of the Donostia-San Sebastián restaurant scene through much of the 20th century. In 1996 the renowned Basque chef José Juan Castillo took over the restaurant, which he ran until his retirement in 2010. The site, an emblematic feature of the city center, was subsequently converted into the Casa Nicolasa guesthouse.

Publications

All these women were connected not just in the innovative techniques they introduced and the prominent roles they occupied in championing and developing Basque cuisine–one could even say in laying the foundations for the international reputation of Basque cooking–but also in their didactic or instructive influence on the gastronomy of the country.  The recipes of the Azcaray sisters were first published posthumously in 1930 as El Amparo, sus 685 platos clásicos (El Amparo, its 685 favorite recipes). Likewise, Maria Mestayer was a prolific author who published many works, among them La Enciclopedia Culinaria: la cocina completa (The culinary encyclopedia: Complete cooking) in 1933 and Platos escogidos de la cocina vasca, Entremeses, aperitivos y ensaladas (Selected dishes of Basque cuisine, appetizers, snacks, and salads) in 1934. Finally, as noted, Nicolasa Pradera’s La cocina de Nicolasa (Nicolasa’s kitchen), first published in 1933, is still a well-loved book today.

A Long List

These are just some of the important women in the history of Basque gastronomy, but they are by no means the only ones, so I list here a few more names by way of at least recognizing their contribution as well (all the establishments named here were in Bilbao): (María) Dolores Vedia de Uhagón (b. 1809) from Bilbao, author of Libro de Cocina a propósito para La Mesa Vizcaína (1892); Brígida de Murua Izaguirre, owner of and head chef at the Hotel Boulevard; Elvira Arias de Apraiz (1856-1922) from Vitoria-Gasteiz, author of Libro de cocina (1912); Pura Iturralde Gorostiaga (1898-1984), who owned and ran the famed Shanti El Marinero restaurant; Antonia Idígoras, owner of the Hotel Antonia (the first Bilbao hotel to be included in the Michelin Guide, in 1927); Josefa Aloa Ugarte, chef at the hotel-restaurant Ocerinjaúregui inn; Clarita de Armendáriz, joint owner and chef at the Armendáriz; Tomasa de Asúa, chef at the Chacolí de Zoilo restaurant; and the sisters Luisa and Escolástica Goikoetxea who ran the Las Navarras inn.

By way of conclusion, I’ll cite part of the prologue to the first edition of La cocina de Nicolasa, written by Gregorio Marañón–one of the towering figures of Spanish intellectual life in the 20th century–who wrote of Basque women’s influence on their national cuisine:

attentive and intelligent cooking dates back, without any doubt, hundreds of years in these provinces; because one does not improvise in just a few generations the profound disposition, almost specific to these people, toward the gastronomic art that Bizkaian, Gipuzkoan, and Navarrese women have, women made of ancient noble attributes, among whom I place this admirable culinary aptitude.

 

Further Reading

Biscayenne, “Bilbainas&Cocineras: las hermanas Azcaray y El Amparo.”

Biscayenne, “Bilbainas&Cocineras: Maritxu, la marquesa de Parabere,” part I and part II.

Olga Macías Muñoz, “Cocineras vascas: tradición e innovación en las postrimerías del siglo XIX y comienzos del siglo XX,” in Euskonews no. 525, March 19-26, 2010.

The Marquise of Parabere website, dedicated to the history of this fascinating woman and including photos, articles, and recipes.

 

Basque Country mentioned in Washington Post report on European innovation

Rick Noack of the Washington Post recently reported on European innovation levels in his article “Where Europe is most and least innovative, in 6 maps.”  Citing the recent European Union Innovation Scoreboard,  Noack notes that, “the Basque country — an autonomous region in Spain — is the country’s only area that is more innovative than the E.U. average.”

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Check out the full report here.

See, too, Javier Echeverria’s fascinating study of innovation at the European level: Innovation and Values: A European Perspective.

Likewise, the Center has published two books specifically on innovation–in all its guises–in the Basque Country: Implications of Current Research on Social Innovation in the Basque Country, edited by Ander Gurrutxaga Abad and Antonio Rivera, free to download here; and Innovation: Economic, Social, and Cultural Aspects, edited by Mikel Gómez Uranga and Juan Carlos Miguel de Bustos, free to download here.

 

Boise and Bilbao: Two Boomtowns

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A recent report by the Idaho Statesman looks at the links between two boomtowns, Boise and Bilbao. The visit of a Basque delegation, led by Basque President Iñigo Urkullu, to Idaho last year enhanced the historic connection between the two regions. There have been economic ties between the city of Boise and the Basque Country since the nineteenth century, when the burgeoning sheep industry in Idaho increased the need for talented sheepherders from the Basque Country. A century later, these connections were still evident through cultural events such as the Basque Soccer Friendly and Jaialdi in 2016, celebrating the Basque heritage and culture. These events only served to take the exisitng economic and cultural exchange to new heights.
Bilbao. Pasarela del Campo de Volant’n o Zubizuri y las torres P

This year, a business delegation from the Basque province of Bizkaia visited Boise to renew the economic and cultural partnership between Boise and Bilbao. According to Asier Alea Castaños, General Manager of Trade Promotion for the Bizkaian Government, at present over a million people reside in Greater Bilbao with a GDP per capita reaching 122 percent of the European Union (EU) average. Bizkaia’s economic competitive advantage is backed by higher education institutions that rank higher than the rest of Europe in terms of research and development. And this Bizkaian economic and technological edge, coupled with the existing links between the two cities, provides the Boise business community with huge opportunities.
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Boise has itself experienced technological booms in recent years with high-tech projects such as Trailgead poised to attract investment from the Basque Country. With a cost of doing business only one-third of that in California or Washington, Boise can be an attractive investment option for Basque investors.

Boise has extensive business clusters in software, environmental technology, advanced energy, hi-tech manufacturing, hardware assembly, national call centers, and agricultural technology. And Boise’s comprehensive business cluster complements that of some of the main industries in and around Bilbao such as the aeronautic, automotive, electronic, information technology, energy, and maritime sectors. It would appear, then, that there are multiple opportunities for new links to be developed between these two Basque boomtowns.

Read the full article here.

The Center has published several books on the Basque economy. For a general introduction, see Basque Economy from Industrialization to Globalization by Mikel Uranga, free to download here.

Tow other works address innovation policies in the Basque Country:

Implications of Current Research on Social Innovation in the Basque Country, edited by Ander Gurrutxaga Abad and Antonio Rivera, free to download here.

And Innovation: Economic, Social, and Cultural Aspects, edited by Mikel Gómez Uranga and Juan Carlos Miguel de Bustos, available free to download here.

For some general historical background on the particular tax and finance system that so defines the particularity of the Basque Country, see Basque Fiscal Systems: History, Current Status, and Future Perspectives, edited by Joseba Agirreazkuenaga and Eduardo Alonso Olea.

Another key feature of the Basque economy in recent years has been its urban transformation. This process is examined in Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi.

And for a wonderful monograph of one of the most controversial economic issues in the Basque Country today, namely the plans for a new high-speed rail network to create a single interconnected “Basque city,” check out Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

 

Two Designers Unite the Basque Country

The New York Times recently reported on the efforts of a Basque industrial designer from Iparralde, Jean Louis Iratzoki, to collaborate with another Basque designer from Hegoalde, Ander Lizaso (see some of his creations here), with the aim of creating a multipurpose design studio inspired by the Basque Country on both sides of the border.

The two of them have already made waves with a table collection that subtly combines solid oak and iron forged at a historic ironworks in Navarre. Iratzoki is known for his signature of the world’s first bioplastic chairs made of a biodegradable plant-based polymer. Iratzoki was born in Donibane lohitzune (St. Jean-de-Luz) and recently designed the interiors of a luxurious eco-lodge in Saubion, north of Biarritz. For both Iratzoki and Lizaso, their collaboration will connect both the French and Spanish side of Basque Country:  “For both my partner Ander and me, that border doesn’t exist. We cross it everyday. We speak Basque, but also Spanish and French. We work in both southern and northern sides of the Basque country. And of course the products that we design travel much further; they can be exhibited in Milan, Cologne or Chicago.”

See the original report here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/10/arts/international/a-designer-unites-the-basque-country.html?_r=0

If you’re interested aspcets of design in the Basque Country, check out a couple of publications that are free to download courtesy of the Etxepare Basque Institute:

Architecture and Design, by Peio Aguirre, free to download here; and A Collection of Prints, by Miren Jaio, free to download here.

 

Glowing online review for Basque education system

Sean Coughlan, education correspondent for the online BBC news service, recently published an illuminating report on the Basque education system that I would encourage you all to read.

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Students at the Altzaga Ikastola in Leioa, Bizkaia, take part in the “Gure Ohiturak” (Our Customs) dance group. Photo by Gorkaazk, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The article rests on the fascinating premise that the singularity of the Basque education system “with a strong sense of identity and ambition, emerging from conflict and with a need to compete with much bigger neighbours” potentially makes it “the next rising star” in the world of innovative education.  And referring to the strong emphasis on investment in research and development, Coughlan observes that, “In many ways, the educational profile feels more like a pocket of Scandinavia rather than southern Europe.”

Indeed, the Basque government’s education minister, Cristina Uriarte, is quoted as saying: “Education is the key to keeping our culture.” We couldn’t agree more!

Read the full report here.

If you’re interested in this topic, check out the Center publication Equality, Equity, and Diversity: Educational Solutions in the Basque Country, edited by Alfonso Unceta and Concepción Medrano. This book is available free to download here.

You may also be interested in the following related works:

Implications of Current Research on Social Innovation in the Basque Country, edited by Ander Gurrutxaga Abad and Antonio Rivera. Free to download here

Innovation: Economic, Social, and Cultural Aspects, edited by Mikel Gómez Uranga and Juan Carlos Miguel de Bustos. Free to download here

Innovation and Values Reviewed in the Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas

We were pleased to see this great review appear of Javier Echeverria’s book Innovation and Values: A European Perspective in the respected journal the Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas (Spanish Review of Sociological Research). Read the review (in Spanish) here.  The book, part of our Douglass Scholar series, is the result of research that Javier Echeverria conducted while he was here at the Center as the William A. Douglass distinguished scholar.

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This important book seeks to understand “innovation,” a rather murky word that suffers from a glut of progandandizing both here and across the Atlantic.  Echeverria tackles the subject by arguing that, rather than solely focusing on R&D processes, true innovation stems from a number of sources that are social, cultural, public, political, and business and combinations of all of the above. In the opinion of the reviewer, and Echeverria, the European communities’ focus solely on R&D is to the detriment of true innovation. Instead, Echeverria argues for a different model of innovation that is based on society, innovation, development, and research.

In summary, the reviewer says:  “El rigor académico mostrado por este trabajo hace que sea una contribución de gran envergadura para el avance del estatus científico de los estudios de innovación y una referencia a la que los interesados en este campo podremos recurrir constantemente en busca de una hoja de ruta para nuestras propias investigaciones y análisis.” (“The academic rigor demonstrated by this work makes it a contribution of great importance for the advancement of the scientific status of innovation studies and a reference that those of us who are interested in the field will return to constantly in search of road map for our own research and analysis.”)

Zorionak Javier on this great review!

The Basque Economy: Present Reality and Future Prospects

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The Euro symbol. By Svilen.milev, at Wikimedia Commons

Two interesting articles on the Basque economy have recently been published by BasqueTribune:

In “How is the Basque Economy Doing?” economist Joseba Barandiaran offers a general overview of the present situation, describing a predominantly service-based economy but with an important manufacturing sector. While noting the healthy state of this “relatively rich economy,” Barandiaran also points out certain major challenges that need to be addressed: improving the technological dimension of Basque manufacturing, increasing RDI investment, and, perhaps most difficult of all, addressing the continuing demographic decline in the Basque Country. Read the full article here.

In “The Basque Country: We Lived in the Future (We Just Were Not Aware of It)” economist Asier Alea criticizes the assumption that advanced economies are merely service-based, arguing for a critical reflection on the place of manufacturing in contemporary societies. In his view, the recent crisis has demonstrated that those economies that maintained a robust manufacturing sector were better able to cope with the ensuing problems. We are, he argues, now on the verge of a new industrial revolution that will also herald new social and cultural changes involving a global vision rooted in strong local identities; changes that, he contends, the Basque Country is well placed to capitalize on, having embraced this vision already. Read the full article here.

If you’re interested in these topics, check out some of the Center publications on the Basque economy and related issues such as globalization and innovation.

Basque Economy: From Industrialization to Globalization, by Mikel Uranga, available free to download here. A general survey of the historical evolution of the modern Basque economy from its roots in heavy industry to the more diverse contemporary situation.

Implications of Current Research on Social innovation in the Basque Country, edited by Ander Gurrutxaga Abad and Antonio Rivera. An examination of social innovation in the Basque Country, focusing on knowledge transfer, learning, and innovation.

Innovation: Economic, Social, and Cultural Aspects, edited by Mikel Gómez Uranga and Juan Carlos Miguel de Bustos.  A study of the different ways in which innovation is understood in the Basque Country.

Basque Cooperativism, edited by Baleren Bakaikoa and Eneka Albizu. A comprehensive exploration of why the cooperative movement has flourished in the Basque Country and its response to the challenge of globalization.

Behavior and Organizational Change, edited by Sabino Ayestarán and Jon Barrutia Goenaga. Leadership, management, and cooperation in the workplace are all examined here from the perspective of the Basque Country.

See also a couple of more recent publications that examine the general issues raised in the abovementioned books in more detail:

Innovation and Values: A European Perspective, by Javier Echeverria. Charts the historical development of innovation policies and offers a new line of research that takes into account the history and philosophy of science and technology, but which underscores the profound specificities of the concept of innovation.

Building the Basque City. The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal. A critical examination of different perspectives on nation and state formation in Spain and the Basque Country within a European context, taking economic issues such as the controversial High Speed Train project and European integration as its focus.

 

 

 

2015 Books Round-up III: Basque Cities in the Spotlight

Here, in the third installment of our summary of the books published by the CBS in 2015, we focus on two key works for understanding the past, present, and future of urban landscapes, connectivity, and communications in the Basque Country.

In a rapidly changing society the Basque Country is becoming an increasingly urbanized society connected to other urban nuclei throughout Europe.  What do these changes mean for Basque society? What special challenges does it face? What are the contesting responses to such challenges? These and other questions are addressed in the following two works.

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Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi.

Urban renewal policies seek to reverse physical, economic, and social decline in particular areas or neighborhoods—or in whole cities. Such policies are typically associated with public sector solutions to problems in the urban decline of former industrialized spaces that involve developing new economic activities by means of transforming such spaces once more into dynamic and attractive areas. The present work explores the multiple dimensions—incorporating physical-morphological, economic, functional, cultural, and residential elements—of urban renewal policies in the Basque Country and beyond. Individual chapters discuss urban regeneration in Bilbao, the legal framework of urban planning as a public function, the “smart city” model of sustainable and intelligent urban spaces, and culture as a strategic element for the reactivation, renewal, and development of new urban models, including the specific case of cultural heritage as a factor in the urban regeneration of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the legal implications of expropriating cultural assets, public and private collaboration to create cultural clusters, and, finally, the tensions that exist between institutionally driven visions of such transformation and more community-based approaches.

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Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

The book presents a novel perspective in which the Spanish state formation and Basque nationalism develop in complex ways of antagonism and complementarity. The book questions the very notion of the Basque Country and its implications in the new global context. It examines critically some of the key institutions, territories, social practices and collective representations that historically have constituted the Basque Country. One of the most contentious current projects in the articulation of the Basque territory, conflating opposing political agendas and economic outlooks, is the High Speed Train.  The author studies this project in depth to come up with valid lessons regarding the need for infrastructural development and communication between the Basque region, Spain and the European Union. The value of the work rests in her simultaneously viewing the need for inter-dependencies as well as the resulting social conflicts and strategic contradictions emerging from various constituencies. Beyond her Basque region, this work has relevant implications for a better articulation of the Spanish state in the new European context. Her analysis deals with the core issues of the current debates on city renewal, the globalization of the economy and culture, and the redefinition of the basic political and financial institutions. Her work has a bearing on new urbanism, cultural studies, Spanish society, and European infrastructures.

 

Auzolan: A Form of Social Innovation Rooted in Traditional Basque Culture?

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Basque women engaged in traditional communal work. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives, William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika discuss the importance of the auzoa, the neighborhood or local district, in traditional Basque culture:

Within the householdcentric auzoa, neighborhood ties and obligations constitute primary networks of social and economic relations, including the special relationship that a household maintains with its closest or “first” neighbor(geographically defined), the relationship that the household maintains with three or four of the physically most proximate households, and the relationship that the household maintains with all other households within the auzoa. . . . Traditionally, every household depended on another for first-neighbor obligations. The first neighbor was the initial outsider to be informed whenever there was a crisis . . . The importance of the first-neighbor relationship is eulogized in refrains and reflected in the common statement that it was more important to be on good terms with one’s closest neighbor than with a brother.

The same authors then go on to cite an example of these first-neighbor relations as described in Sandra Ott’s The Circle of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community, whereby a loaf of “blessed” bread was circulated around the village of Santa Grazi (Zuberoa) in a clockwise direction as a means of social solidarity and binding ties in the community.

When extended to the second level of relations, auzolan (neighborly or communal work) became especially important at key times of the year: close neighbors assisted one another at harvest time, for example, or during the traditional ritualized slaughtering of household pigs, with perishable meat rationed out to those assisting (and of course the favor returned when it came time for these neighbors to kill their own pigs).

Many of you out there from a rural background, as I am, will probably be familiar with friends and neighbors helping out during harvest time, and returning the favor when called on to do so. And I wouldn’t suggest that such communal ties are specific to traditional Basque culture alone. Indeed, I’m sure they exist all over the world. Nor, indeed, would I say that such traditional bonds need necessarily be just evident in rural life. Indeed, even if we haven’t experienced them first-hand, I’m sure we’ve read books or seen movies set against a backdrop of tight-knit urban communities, whether in small towns or big city neighborhoods.

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New World Basques enjoy a break from communal work. Photo from Basque Library archive

What does fascinate me, though, is the idea that these kinds of local community relations and communal ties, so ritualized in the Basque context and rooted in traditional, rural society, may serve as the basis for more contemporary forms of social innovation. Douglass and Zulaika, for example, go on to mention the claim that the strength of urban industrial cooperativism in the Basque Country, as exemplified by the Mondragon Corporation, is down to traditional forms of economic cooperation in Basque agricultural and fishing practices.  They also qualify the idea, however, by pointing out some of the flaws in this argument.

But whatever the case of this particular argument, I think modern studies of social innovation could benefit from studying these traditional practices in Basque society, practices that predate the strong cooperative movement in  the Basque Country. In 2009, the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation (SICP) was created to engage the social sector (individuals, communities, non-profit organizations, foundations, social enterprises, faith-based organizations, and so on), as well as business and government, in finding new solutions to the challenges facing American society today. This office recognizes the importance of new, bottom-up, grassroots, solutions to such challenges as well as the communal, shared responsibility in finding these solutions. We speak and hear a lot today about the importance of “community” and its associated values. Do we have something to learn from traditional Basque culture? Or is that society too outdated, too rigid? Does it offer little to a contemporary urban society that privileges global movement, flexibility, and change and sees little to learn from traditional rural society? Surely the root of human innovation lies in the very practice of agriculture itself, the techniques and implements developed by humans to work the land. What do you think?

If you’re interested in the subject of innovation, social or otherwise, see Innovation and Values: A European Perspective, by Javier Echeverria, an ambitious attempt to combine different perspectives on innovation in one single work that argues for a “philosophy of innovation.” that addresses different types of values (economic, technological, social, legal, political, and so on), assessing these values in terms of the effects and consequences of innovation processes on their advocates and other agents concerned with them.

See, also, two books in the Center’s Current Research series in partnership with the University of the Basque Country: Implications of Current Research on Social Innovation in the Basque Country, edited by Ander Gurrutxaga Abad and Antonio Rivera; and Innovation: Economic, Social, and Cultural Aspects, edited by Mikel Gómez Uranga and Juan Carlos Miguel de Bustos.