RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014

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343 From co-production to alternative futures (1): Creating cracks: value, commons and alternative economy
Affiliation Geographies of Justice Research Group
Convenor(s) Victoria Habermehl (University of Leeds, UK)
Andre Pusey (University of Leeds, UK)
Chair(s) Victoria Habermehl (University of Leeds, UK)
Timetable Friday 29 August 2014, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Skempton Building, Room 165
Session abstract From co-production to alternative futures: social movements, common(s) and ‘other values’

“On one side, a social force called capital pursues endless growth and monetary value. On the other side, other social forces strive to rearrange the web of life on their own terms” (De Angelis, 2007).

This session aims to bring together critical geographers and researchers from affiliated disciplines to explore the contradictions, tensions and potentialities of co-production, in exploring ‘other values’, the common(s) and social change. De Angelis (2007) identifies the way ‘other values’ are created through social movements engaging in resistive practices, the co-production of alternatives, and the way in which they resist, subvert and/or subsist with the capitalist extraction of value from our activity.

Related to the co-production of these ‘other values’ is the defence of existing and collective construction of new heterogeneous forms of common(s). Geographers have been increasingly examining commons and commoning through work ranging from research into ‘actually existing commons’ (Eizenberg, 2011), such as the ‘urban commons’ (Jeffrey et al. 2012; Chatterton, 2010; Hodkinson, 2012; Chatterton et al, 2013) to more abstract theoretical and conceptual engagements (Hardt & Negri, 2009; Jeffrey et al, 2011). However, whilst many of these debates highlight the potentiality of the common(s) as part of wide-ranging social change, as George Caffentzis has examined, commons are not inherently anti-capitalist, and are being increasingly utilized as part of a strategy of austerity led ‘neoliberalism plan b’ (2010).
Linked Sessions From co-production to alternative futures (2): Creating commons, creating ‘other value’
From co-production to alternative futures (3): praxis and reflection.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2014@rgs.org
Community currencies of the recession era: Collective co-production of a post-capitalist future?
Phedeas Stephanides (University of East Anglia, UK)
Across neoliberal capitalist states, policy-makers are planning our recovery from the economic downturn on the basis of the same culture of individualism, economic liberalism and consumerism that brought us here in the first place (cf. Castells et al. 2012), demonstrating in this manner the self-preservation tendencies of capital (De Angelis 2007). Nonetheless, the futures of our societies are also being planned on the basis of “other” values held by social movements engaged in the co-production of alternatives to capital (cf. Wieviorka 2012). One such example are community currencies (CCs) which have been praised as movements advancing socially equitable and ecologically sustainable de-growth on the basis of post-capitalist economic relations (e.g. Douthwaite 2000). Unfortunately, irrespective of optimistic assertions that the recession lends itself for a paradigm shift from capitalist discourses (cf. Mauerhofer 2013), previous research on CCs (e.g. North 2007) – and commons in general (e.g. Caffentzis 2010) – suggests that they are not inherently anti-capitalist. Bearing this in mind, and given the lack of research on CCs emerging in response to the economic crisis, this study critically assesses the extent to which they constitute post-capitalist commons. Specifically, this paper presents new evidence from the study of the scope and character of CCs developed in recession-laden Greece. Methodologically, it involves the discourse analysis of the rationales for alternative economic activity as these have been documented on the websites of 36 such schemes. Even though aspirations for community building and strengthening of social capital feature in many schemes, the research findings support the notion that CCs are not inherently post-capitalist. Moreover, by concluding on how they are milieus of contradiction (in that schemes are often characterised by both “alternative” and capital values), this study highlights the need for more in-depth, ethnographically-informed research that will shed adequate light to everyday “commoning” within such networks
Value as Voice: Prefiguring Post-Capitalist Production Against the Global Division of Labour
Sofa Gradin (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
When prefigurative activists on different sides of colonial borders set out to create alternative practices together in opposition to global capitalism, questions arise as to what 'value' becomes. My paper looks at the empirical case of an alternative commodity chain: coffee produced by anticapitalist Zapatistas in Latin America and imported by an anarcho-syndicalist collective in Europe. Both partners in this exchange are inventing and implementing alternative practices to make production work for everyone involved, giving specific meaning to democracy, resource-sharing, and long-term thinking. At the same time, they are also grappling with a global division of labour in which, by colonial design, the more financially lucrative steps in the production chain are carried out in Europe and not in Latin America (Wallerstein 2004, Daviron and Ponte 2005). Their struggle against this division of labour begs the question, how do activists on opposite sides of the world create alternative common understandings of value? We can start to unearth some answers. When business is collectively owned by workers, labour-power is no longer a commodity for an employer to exploit, so traditional conceptions of surplus, accumulation and progress are destabilised (Spivak 1985). Now collaborating against the global division of labour becomes not only about upgrading coffee farmers' ability to carry out higher 'value-added' jobs, but also about upgrading our collective ability – and especially that of Europeans – to see beyond capitalist-modernist assumptions about what a good or successful life is altogether. The alternative tools mentioned above (whether democratic decision-making structures, discursive practices, job rotation) emerge as more important theatres of value than we might at first have realised.
Mobile commons’ within and against temporary work: the everyday practices of escape of migrant workers in hospitality jobs
Gabriella Alberti (University of Leeds, UK)
Radical scholars of migration have defined the ‘mobile commons’ as the ensemble of ‘knowledge, of information, of tricks for survival, of mutual care, of social relations, of services exchange, of solidarity and sociability’ (Papadopoulos and Tsianos 2012) that transnational migrants share to sustain their life and mobility across borders, despite the state and capital’s efforts to control them (Mezzadra 2004). What happens when migrants use their ‘mobile commons’ not only to defy migration controls across national borders but to circumvent barriers to their mobility in the labour market?

Based on ethnographic research in temporary staffing agencies in the hospitality sector in London, this paper shows how migrants use temporary work strategically in order to acquire skills and experiences, move on occupationally, sustain other life projects or simply renew their capacity to migrate. In contradictory forms, migrant precarious workers draw on a variety of resources, support networks, collective energies and knowledges as ways of ‘living with precarity’ and sustain their strategic engagement with a labour market that assumes their continuous availability as ‘just-in-time’ labour. Against an individualistic and economistic view of migrants’ strategies in precarious labour markets, I argue that migrants’ struggles of mobility are significant in social domains that exceed the workplace and individual occupational drives, and rather relay on families, friendships, local and transnational communities.

Finally the paper reflects on the ambivalences of the use of the ‘mobile commons’ in sectors with high levels of turnover vis-a-vis management recuperation strategies, and considering migrants’ differentiated experiences of mobility. In the conclusions I briefly consider the implications of leaving the terrain of mobility to embrace that of ‘presence’ and the desire for ‘staying put’ for developing sustainable practices (and values) of commoning.
Other Values: Considering digital currency as a commons
Rachel O'Dwyer (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)
A revived interest in the commons has recently surfaced around digitally networked media, where forms of nonmarket and commons-based peer production (Benkler, 2006) are thought to challenge not only virtual but also material capitalist economies. However, a growing acknowledgement of the centrality of the commons to capitalism (Caffentzis, 2010; De Angelis, 2013; Hardt, 2010, Virno, 2004) asks that we rethink the ways in which strategies such as openness, decentralisation and peer-production are currently mobilised within new systems of value accumulation.

There are a number of examples of this 'communism of capital' (Virno,
2004) in digital networks, from a recognition of the value of social production to web 2.0 platforms through to a general acknowledgement of sharing as a modality of economic production in network economies.
Situated within this space, this paper analyses the implications of digital currency and specifically Bitcoin as a monetary commons that both challenges and facilitates financialization.

Bitcoin has recently been presented as a key ingredient in the development of alternative anti-capitalist value systems; as a decentralised digital currency that manages transactions through a network of peers, it is thought to eradicate the need for third party credit instruments in the regulation of transactions (Bauwens, 2013; DYNDY, 2012). However, a closer examination of the technical functionality and application of Bitcoin demonstrates that while various theoretical aspects of the digital currency provide welcome thinking points for the development of alternative value systems, the philosophy and exercise of Bitcoin is driven by a strong neoliberal agenda, where once more sentiments of the commons are used to obfuscate the new forms of accumulation that thrive on digital networks.
The political potential of Time Banking
Gradon Diprose (Massey University, New Zealand)
Since the global financial crisis the contradictions surrounding traditional waged work have increased. Waged work is reified more than ever as both a moral imperative and linked to conceptions of what it means to be a good neoliberal citizen. Yet unemployment has increased in many societies around the world and those ‘lucky’ enough to be in paid employment face increasing precarity and reduced workplace rights. As Wanda Vrasti (2013) writes, ‘[w]e can sense that modern work isn’t working anymore, but we don’t know how to let go of it’. This paper explores how people in Wellington New Zealand are engaging in alternative laboring practices through the Wellington Timebank to meet their individual needs while fostering a collective community of care. However this is not to say that the practice of timebanking in Wellington is free from contradictions, subtle exclusionary practices, or even articulates an obvious ‘anti-capitalist’ politics. Rather the paper points to the potential for these kinds of community networks to imagine, revalue and enact alternative forms of labour exchange, outside of the more dominant waged capitalist economy.