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Local exchanges for_sm_es

  1. 1. XXV Convegno annuale di Sinergie Referred Electronic Conference Proceeding L’innovazione per la competitività delle imprese ISBN 978-88-907394-3-9 24-25 ottobre 2013 – Università Politecnica delle Marche (Ancona) DOI 10.7433/SRECP.2013.41 653 The Local Exchange Trading Systems: an innovative mode of exchange for SMEs? CLAUDIA MELIS * ANGELA DETTORI ERNESTINA GIUDICI Abstract Purpose of the study. the purpose of this work is to understand if barter, through Local Exchange Trading Systems, could constitute a response used by firms in order to face the Capitalism crisis; do firms achieve benefits through joining a LETS? Moreover, we will try to understand how these firms work and what the services provided in order to allow B2B transactions are. Methodology. We developed a multiple case study selecting two Italian firms: Sardex. Net and Sicanex. Net, because of their representativeness with regard to our issue. Our primary source of data was the interview. Research limits. In order to increase our understanding of the local exchange trading systems, it would be useful to compare the italian market with other markets in Europe and elsewhere involved by the same phenomenon. Findings. The local exchange trading systems, by renewing the traditional mode of exchange provide an opportunity to re – localize the economy. Practical implications. It aims to contribute on the understanding of what is the advantage for firms to join to a local exchange trading system and for the local economy. Originality of the study. This work sheds light on an increasing phenomenon. The widespread of firms that are promoting reciprocal credit networks requires more academic attention. Key words: local exchange trading systems; Barter; crisis of capitalism * Ph.D. Student - University of Cagliari e-mail: claudiamelis@unica.it Ph.D. Student - University of Cagliari e-mail: angela.dettori@unica.it Full Professor of Management - University of Cagliari e-mail: giudici@unica.it
  2. 2. TRACK 9 - ALLEANZE STRATEGICHE E NUOVI MODELLI DI BUSINESS 654 1. Introduction The financial crisis, which began in 2007, started a period of doubt and insecurity which has undoubtedly led to our questioning the premises of the capitalism system. Whether the crisis of the current system will lead to its end or not, is not the purpose of this chapter; rather we wonder how firms are reacting in order to fight it. With the aim of finding an answer to this question we first wonder how deep and extended the crisis is and what its impact on small, medium and micro-sized enterprises is, since is these which constitutes the major model in Europe (European Commission, 2013). We also wonder if, in order to fight this crisis, we should look only to the economic and financial problems or if these concerns originate from a deeper crisis involving primary communities and individuals. This and other interrogatives have arisen by the observation of a firm located in Sardinia (Italy), which, through the use of a complementary currency provides B2B barter services through a network of 1000 firms. The purpose of this organization is to create a Local Exchange Trading System (LETS), based on the use of the modern barter trade. The successful results of Sardex. Net have inspired the creation of a similar organization (Sicanex. Net) in another Italian Region (Sicily). Starting with these evidences and through further inquiries we observed that LETS have been used in other history periods affected by systemic crisis. One of the most effective examples is the one of Wir Bank, still operating today, which was born in Switzerland in the period of the Great Depression that was characterized by financial instability and monetary shortage. The aim of this organization was to re-build an economic circle within the Swiss community (Pearson, 2003). We also noted that more than 36 Local Exchange Trading Systems are alive in the three European German-speaking countries (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) and several initiatives are widespread in Latin America and Australia (Volkmann, 2009). Taking this into account, the purpose of this work is to understand if barter (through Local Exchange Trading Systems), could constitute a response used by firms in order to face the Capitalism crisis; do firms achieve benefits through joining a LETS? Moreover, we will try to understand how these firms work and what the services provided in order to allow B2B transactions are. These arguments will be organized as follows: firstly we shall analyze how the current crisis has affected small, medium and micro-sized firms. Subsequently we will offer an overview of the barter mode of exchange from its origins to present. The following part is devoted to the presentation of the two case studies Sardex. Net and Sicanex. Net, preceded by the adopted methodology; finally some conclusions and patterns for further research are proposed. 2. Crisis of capitalism. What the consequences for small, medium and micro - sized firms? Scholars (Kotz, 2008; Kunz et al., 2011) are analyzing the current context of the economic system and trying to forecast the forthcoming consequences. Many names have been given to the present situation: financial, economic, systemic and structural crisis. Beyond all these adjectives it is common to refer to this crisis as a global one (Kunz et al. 2011). That is to say that its expansion goes beyond the political frontiers of the states, and due to the boundless dimension of finance and economy it pervades even the remotest areas. As such, what it seems clear of this crisis is its pervasiveness and reach. Having defined the current phase as a systemic crisis, some scholars (Kotz 2010, Kunz et al. 2011) debate if it will lead to the end of Capitalism, and more precisely the neoliberal Capitalism (Kotz, 2008), if the restructuring of the system will lead to its replacement by other forms such as socialism or a state regulated system. Others argue that it is only a phase, since Capitalism has frequently witnessed altering periods of prosperity and recession (Kunz et al. 2011; Morgan et al. 2011).
  3. 3. THE LOCAL EXCHANGE TRADING SYSTEMS: AN INNOVATIVE MODE OF EXCHANGE FOR SMES? 655 Some of the characteristics of the current system of accumulation (Kotz, 2010) that have created the premises of the present crisis seems to be the deregulation of business and finance, both domestically and internationally, the reduction in state’ social spending, capital that fully dominates labor (Kotz, 2010). Although it is important to know what the conditions that have lead to the present state of affair are, the aim of this session is no longer to discuss what the structural features of Capitalism are; rather, the purpose will be to shed light on how organizations are affected by the crisis of this system in order to understand whether and why are they adapting their operations in order to face it. Indeed, it seems that this area of inquiry has not been explored enough by scholars (Morgan et al. 2011). As stated in the introduction, the focus will be on small, medium and micro - sized enterprises which are the majority on Europe’ landscape (European Commission, 2013). To prove that, it is enough to think that only in Italy small and medium firms (less than 250 employees) are 99. 7 percent of the total, while micro firms (less than 10 employees) account for the 88. 7 percent (Institute of Economic and Social Research, 2011). Small, medium and micro - sized firms seems to be more exposed to the crisis when compared to big firms, for several reasons: the small dimension makes it difficult to react to unexpected events; moreover, often these firms operate only in a compartment and therefore they are not able to diversify in order to reduce risks. In addition, the capital market crisis has seriously affected their financial situation usually characterized by a weak and poorly capitalized financial structure (Institute of Economic and Social Research, 2011). At first the turbulences in international markets have led to a decreasing in international exchanges. This crisis of Capitalism is, in fact, characterized by a financial sector increasingly engaged in speculative and risky activities (Kotz, 2010); this has influenced both domestic and foreign markets by causing the contraction of international exchanges, the most significant one since World War the second (Kunz et al. 2011). The contraction of domestic and international demand has caused a decreasing amount of money into circulation. This, in turn, has led to delays in payments from customers and shortage of liquidity for firms, therefore exposed to an increasing risk of default. As a reaction banks have responded with a credit crunch limiting the access to credit only to those firms less exposed to financial risks (Institute of Economic and Social Research, 2011). Beyond these economic and financial causes also ethical and social issues have been ascribed to the capitalist system crisis (Shaikh, 2010). These aspects are also important for our analysis. The capitalist system of accumulation seems to be characterized by the unbridled pursuit of self interest, apathy to communal responsibility, individualism and the atomization of societies (Shaikh, 2010) that, according to this vision, are not bounded together by their identity but only for economic interests. This has created an ethical void that has weakened communities. For instance, companies that have a global supply chain tend to retrieve international failures to the smallest local firms linked to the chain; this leaves atomized and not self sufficient communities incapable to face the consequences such as unemployment and all the connected effects (Williams, 1996). It seems therefore, that the current system does not allow communities to gain a self-sufficient and economically sustainable development since they are highly reliant to external economies. In the following sections we will try to analyze how the scientific community has discussed about the origins of barter and the related aspects of community currencies and local exchange trading systems. We will also try to understand whether they would constitute a solution for the Capitalism crisis. 3. Past and present of barter In last decades the increasing diffusion of a new form of barter economy amongst many industrialized nations, has been noted, (Williams, 1996). This form of exchange, which was the
  4. 4. TRACK 9 - ALLEANZE STRATEGICHE E NUOVI MODELLI DI BUSINESS 656 principal medium for transaction in primitive populations seems to today have its importance. Anthropology is the main field of study where barter has been discussed. The reason is that the classical and neo-classical theories have seen it as a primitive form of exchange, as having no ancestor (Chapman, 1980). According to Aristotele it represents the natural trade, a natural phenomenon of human nature (Pearson and Polanyi, 1977). Thus, according to those theories, in this form of exchange lies the origin of money (Humphrey and Hugh Jones, 1992). Therefore barter was abandoned and subsequently replaced by money because of its transaction costs (Clower, 1969; Jevons, 1910) such as: searching for exchange partners, establishing a double coincidence of wants; postponing a desired transaction, wasting time in bargaining. In opposition to classical and neo-classical theories, it has been observed that barter has never been totally substitute by money; instead it occurs in specific economics situations where money is known. As an example, the decision of the Lhomy (a small community living near the Tibetan border), to deliberately rejecting money as an act of autonomy and independence (Humphery, 1985) could be cited or the one of the pastoralists of the West Africa Savannah area who, due to a lack of money, rejected the market in order to obtain the agricultural goods that they needed (Humphrey and Hugh Jones 1992). These examples show that barter is not a prototype of Capitalism but a contemporary phenomenon (Humphrey and Hugh Jones, 1992; Anderlini and Sabourian, 1992) involving both developed as well as less developed countries. Specifically, by analyzing past and current situations barter occurs when there are people that are able to sell and other people that would be willing to buy. However this supply and demand cannot be matched due to a shortage of money (Williams, 1996). What appears new in barter is the fact that it does not involve the traditional, basically one to one direct exchange anymore, rather a multilateral mechanism through which, thanks also to the advancements in technologies, the actors of the exchanges are involved in multilateral transactions. As an example, if 'A' buys the needed goods and services from 'B' yet 'B' is not compelled to buy from 'A': 'B' can buy any other goods or services from any other business in the network. The new barter economy (Williams, 1996) is emerging in several forms, among which, in that of LETS. These organizations are primarily characterized for the use of a complementary currency and they can involve both individuals and businesses. This work will focus on those LETS primarily involving businesses. Complementary currencies already existed in 800 AC. They survived until the emergence of the nation-states who developed the concept of sovereignty of the nation (18th and 19th century) and an institution (the Central Bank) was responsible for the money issuance. In 1824 Robert Owen, known as the father of the Cooperative movement, established for the first time currencies that were not issued by an institutional public authority but rather were controlled by citizens (Blanc, 2011). Since the early 1980s there have been three basic types of community currency systems operation in the world: local exchange trading systems, time banks and hours systems (Meeker- Lowry, 1996). There are also many hybrid models as communities tend to tailor these networks to their own specific needs. The first forms of LETS began in British Columbia in the early 1980 and have been the most popular and widespread form of local currency networks. Researchers have noted that they reached their peaked in pervasiveness during the 1990s (Collom, 2011). Through LETS local community currencies are seen as social as well as communitarian movements. Specifically, they are characterized for being a re-localization movement (Starr, 2001) in that they seek to establish small-scale social systems with the aim of remedying the problems of the larger society (Kanter, 1972). Local community currencies are also seen as part of the anti- globalization movement (Leyshon and Lee, 2003) because of the attempt of the networked organizations of seeking and building alternatives.
  5. 5. THE LOCAL EXCHANGE TRADING SYSTEMS: AN INNOVATIVE MODE OF EXCHANGE FOR SMES? 657 4. Features and objectives of Local Barter Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) Although complementary currencies represent many diversified types of currencies they present four main characteristics in common: the circulation in relatively small geographical areas or communities; non-governmental operated and issued; non convertible or restricted convertibility; zero or negative interest-bearing (Schroeder et al. 2011). There no global and unique convention for denominating those currencies exists: the romance languages can use the term social currencies, while in latin countries terms such as trueque (exchange) are employed; while barter is the English term that is used to translate this phenomenon. Each specific denomination can refer to a specific objective developed by the currency within the community, its territorial activities and actors. It is possible to recognize three categories of objectives of the local community currencies, pursued by LETS: economics, social and community-building objectives (Williams, 1996). Economic objectives. The principal economic objective of LETS is to rebuild localized economies with the aim to make them more inter-linked and less dependent from outside sources for goods and services. (Williams 1996). By pursuing this objective, they are seen as a means for achieving sustainable local economic development (Boyle, 1993; Brandt, 1995; Ekins, 2004). In B2B LETS firms exchange goods and services among the community instead of buying them from the outside. Moreover, they can boost their businesses by increasing sales and saving liquidity, thanks to the creation of an alternative market beyond the national one. This particular objective is the reaction to a context created by Capitalism in which centralized banks collect money from different regions but usually invest in specific, booming areas. Such a system deprives communities and regions of wealth created locally. In this sense LETS provide an opportunity for greater local control both over finances and economics. In fact the local currencies cannot be exported beyond the boundaries of the area and so facilitates exchange within the local economy regardless of national currency shortage (Weston, 1991). Social objectives. These objectives are related to unemployment. As we stated before, one of the consequences of the Capitalism crisis is the increasing rates of unemployment and their resulting problems of social exclusion and poverty. LETS could be seen as one potential means through which those marginalized from employment can be reintroduced into the system. As an example, the case of Liwac in Addis Ababa (Etiopia) may be taken into consideration. This local exchange trading system has become an attractive business opportunity for previously unemployed young men who are involved in the exchange of plastic goods for second-hand clothes and shoes. Furthermore LETS could be seen as an opportunity for firms to fight the unemployment and to retain the employees regardless the often unaffordable labor costs, in that it is possible in some LETS to pay the employee with the community currency. The employees of Coopevictoria (a LETS located in Costa Rica) for instance, can get a percentage of their salary paid in UDIS, their community currency. They, in turn, spend it in the local networks of businesses (Brenes, 2011). Community building objectives. Another important aspect that is recognized by LETS is to pursuing community building objectives. As stated before one of the aim of LETS is to rebuild communities. In fact, according to Crow and Allen (1994): «there is no natural community in which social order and integration emerge automatically without direction or even intention. Instead, the emergence of community life requires not only favorable social structures but also the active creation of community». That is to say that in order to re-build communities, which is the premise for the re-localization of the economy, an active contribute is needed. In order to assess the community-building objectives the extent to which a specific LETS help participants to build and develop social network within the locality can be evaluated (Williams, 1996).
  6. 6. TRACK 9 - ALLEANZE STRATEGICHE E NUOVI MODELLI DI BUSINESS 658 5. Methodology and data set In order to give an answer to the exposed research question we developed a multiple case study selecting two Italian firms: Sardex. Net and Sicanex. Net, because of their representativeness with regard to our issue. Our primary source of data was the interview. This method is particularly effective when an in-depth analysis of an issue is needed (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 2009). For Sardex. Net we interviewed the communication manager, the President of the CdA and the CEO of the company. For Sicanex. Net we interviewed the founder. In order to develop the case study of the first firm we conducted semi-structured face to face interviews, while for Sicanex. Net, because of geographical constraints, we conducted an interactive Skype interview. Both face-to face and Skype interviews were taped and transcribed. Beyond the interviews we also collected a broad range of other data such as: press articles and reports. The triangulation of data source resulted in a comprehensive understanding of the research topic and allowed to uncover previously not considered insights to be uncovered. 6. Case studies 6.1 Sardex. Net: a networked island Sardex. Net is a firm operating in Sardinia (the second island of Italy for dimension) since 2009. The idea of a B2B Local Exchange Trading System, arouse in 2006 from four graduated hailing from a small village. Thanks to venture capital funding, in 2009 they were able to start up the initiative The firm is an ever increasing success: after the first registrations in January 2010, the enrolled firms reached the number of 400 by the end of the same year, becoming 1000 by the beginning of 2013 (Sardex. Net Magazine, 2012). Sardex. Net is based on a reciprocal credit mechanism: firms give credit to each other without using money. This is allowed thanks to the adoption of local community net money, named Sardex (SRD), to which has the value of 1 Euro has been conferred. In order to permit transactions, Sardex. Net provides the networked firms with both on-line and off-line tools; firms can choose in fact among two possibilities: they can contact a broker or act individually and forward the payment electronically through the Sardex. Net portal. This platform has the function to set the net credit position for each firm as well as containing the profile of each member with the account of transaction as well as to furnishing a showcase of the offered products and services. To become part of Sardex. Net firms have to pay a registration and an annual fee. In order to include the broadest range of organizations, these are calculated basing on the turnover, and on the status of the firm. The motivations behind the initiative of Sardex. Net are to be found on the economic context of the Sardinia Region. To this end Gabriele Littera, president of the CdA says: «We realized that one of the problems is the lack of liquidity that is seriously affecting the real economy as well as the demand of products and services and the occupational rate [which in Sardinia reached the 14. 6 percent by the end of 2012, against the 11. 2 percent achieved by the same period in Italy (ISTAT, 2012)]. By studying other initiatives of ethic finance and having observed that the crisis started as a financial and banking crisis, we also realized that the problem was on the same concept of money. Taking this into account, we started to search for alternative systems not based on money, rather based on reciprocity and fiduciary relationships». Whilst the lack of liquidity and the other financial consequences (induced by the crisis) were affecting the firms worldwide, the founders of Sardex. Net started to think about the specific environmental problems that were contemporarily influencing the culture of Sardinian organizations letting the crisis affect their performance so deeply. They then observed that the real weakness is
  7. 7. THE LOCAL EXCHANGE TRADING SYSTEMS: AN INNOVATIVE MODE OF EXCHANGE FOR SMES? 659 the scarce networking propensity within Sardinian organizations that, being micro-sized are strongly affected by the competition with big commercial groups, specifically those selling low quality and low price products; thus the main objective of Sardex. Net became the re-localization of the Sardinian economy. According to Carlo Mancosu, communication manager at Sardex. Net, this concept is to be intended both in an economic as well cultural sense, that is to say the identification with the local economy: «Our purpose is to give Sardinians the control over their economy back, to re-localize it, also in an identity sense. As Bauman (1998) stated, despite the illusion of an inclusion into global processes our lives remain tied to the local system where we physically live and operate; the fact is that we are local producers but global consumers. This pattern cannot favor a sustainable development to our economy». It would be implied, from what is declared by the management of Sardex. Net, that the re- localization of the economy is the premise to pursue a sustainable development. Notwithstanding that no re-localization is possible if firms behave as stand-alone identities. To this end Roberto Spano, CEO of Sardex. Net says: «We realized the lack of relations not only among firms but also between firms and institutions and trade associations. At the same time we perceived that this was a latent need. In fact we observed that the strength of our initiative was no longer the digital relations (since we provide the networked firms with a web platform for the exchanges), rather personal relations among firms and between firms and our brokers is the real advantage; only 0. 2percent of transactions have been processed through the web platform so far; this constitutes only a support, the most important part of our firm are [the face-to-face relations between] people». In order to favor networking behaviors Sardex. Net periodically organize meetings, social aperitifs, bar-camps were the enrolled firms can meet each others. Moreover they also organize sectorial meetings with the aim of connecting firms from the same sector. As stated by the founders of Sardex. Net, these initiatives were born as a response of the requests of the same enrolled firms and this started alliances and partnerships between them. With the aim of re-localizing the economy Sardex. Net is experimenting with a way to include also private consumers within the network. The process has already begun since the employees of the enrolled firms can receive benefits as well as a portion of their wages in Sardex units instead of Euros. To this respect, according to Carlo Mancosu: «Only by linking a portion of [private] consumers purchase power will we be able to give the local system that necessary stimulus, required for the re-construction of the local economic circle». 6.2 Sicanex. Net: a sustainable and ethical alternative Sicanex. Net is a recent firm born in Sicily (Italy) in November 2012 as a replication of Sardex. Net. Currently, there are one hundred firms enrolled within this network. Sardex and Sicanex. Net have the functioning as well as the value of the local community currency (1 Sicanex corresponds to 1 Euro) and the annual and registration fees policy in common. To this respect Andrea Seminara declares: «As well as for Sardex. Net our purpose is to give an answer to the Sicilian economic system crisis by creating a community that, re-localizing the economy could provide rescue to the belonging firms in order to fight the problems associated with the lack of liquidity and the credit crunch imposed by banks». In addition to the mentioned objectives, the firm seems to have a marked sustainability orientation since amongst the motivations for its birth there is the diffusion of a sustainability culture between firms. To this end Andrea Seminara affirms: « The environmental issue is very important to us. We propose our associates develop an environmental sustainability plan, based on an energetic audit, in order to understand the efficiency of their structures, the Co2 footprint of their production processes, in compliance of vademecum and sustainability protocols; once this analysis is done we try to propose some solutions to firms, for example to acquire (in Sicanex) the needed services from firms belonging to the network». In order to give firms this support, Sicanex. Net periodically organizes meetings, bar-camps, social aperitifs where economic and environmental sustainability issues are exposed. Andrea
  8. 8. TRACK 9 - ALLEANZE STRATEGICHE E NUOVI MODELLI DI BUSINESS 660 Seminara also emphasized the ethical and social purpose of Sicanex. Net: “Our aim is to promote a community were only fair trades are made. This is a crucial aspect for our firm since criminality represents a problem seriously affecting the Sicilian economy. To this end it is important to highlight that within Sicanex. Net every transaction is traceable. Moreover we have an ethical code: for instance, in order to be accepted, firms must have an anti-Mafia certificate and they should be able to give some guarantees about the reliability of their management». 7. Final considerations and conclusions Through the exposed analysis we tried to understand if barter, by means of LETS, could constitute a response to the Capitalism crisis. From the two presented case studies we observed that despite the fact that Sardex and Sicanex. Net seems to operate according to a capitalist mechanism, the achievement of profits doesn’t seem to be the first objective. By enrolling in such networks firms not only obtain concrete economic advantages for running their businesses; in fact they are also provided with indirect and immaterial benefits thanks to the possibility of operating in a new space where they are able to buld reliable relationships, exchange knowledge and, eventually, re- gain their community, which is arguably the starting point in order to find a solution to the crisis and pursue a sustainable development. These advantages have been obtained also thanks to the transformation of the mode of exchange. In a Capitalism system the value of goods and services is measured in terms of money, instead, in Sardex and Sicanex. Net it is worth other goods and services thanks to the reciprocal credit between firms. This seems to favor the real economy and, since these networks aims to operate on a local dimension, it appears to strength the link of communities with the goods and services sold and produced within the local economy. In light of this we could say that barter through LETS could provide a response to the Capitalism crisis; along this path, future research should shed light on the impact of firm’s performances as an extension of the services provided by Sardex and Sicanex. Net as well as LETS in general to private consumers. References ANDERLINI L., SABOURIAN H. (1992), “Some notes on the economics of barter, money and credit”, Barter, exchange and value: an anthropological approach, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 75-106. BAUMAN Z. (1998), “On Glocalization: Or Globalization for Some, Localization for Some Others”, Thesis Eleven, vol. 54, n. 1, pp. 37-49. BLANC J. (2011), “Classifying CCs: Community, Complementary and Local Currencies, Types and Generations”, LEFI (Laboratoire d’économie de la firme et des institutions), Lyon University. BOYLE D. (1993), “Practical theoretical money”, Town and Country Planning, vol. 62, n. 4, pp. 90-91. BRANDT B. (1995), Whole life economics: Revaluating Daily Life, New Society Publishers, Philadelphia. BRENES E. (2011), “Complementary Currencies for Sustainable Local Economies in Central America”, International Journal of Community Currencies Research, vol. 15, pp. 32-38. CHAPMAN A. (1980), “Barter as a Universal Mode of Exchange”, L’Homme, vol. 20, pp. 33-83. CLOWER R.W. (1969), “Introduction”, Monetary Theory, Harmondsworth, Penguin. COLLOM E. (2011), “Motivations and Differential Participation in a Community Currency System: The Dynamics within a Local Social Movement Organization”, Sociological Forum, vol. 26, n. 1, pp. 144-168. CROW G., ALLEN G. (1994), Community Life: an Introduction on Local Social Relations, London, Harvester Wheatsheaf. EISENHARDT K.M. (1989), “Building Theories from Case Studies Research”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 14, n. 4, pp. 532-55. EKINS P. (2004), “Preface”, The Living Economy: a New Economics in the Making, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London. HUMPHREY C. (1985), “Barter and Economic Disintegration”, Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 20, n. 1, pp. 48- 72. HUMPHREY C., JONES S.H. (1992), Barter, Exchange, and Value: An Anthropological Approach, Cambridge: Cambrodge University Press.
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