Re-embedding the Social: New Modes of Production, Critical Consumption and Alternative Lifestyles

SASE 2016 Mini Conference:—berkeley/mini-conferences_fr_232.html

Location: Berkeley, University of California

Date: June 24-26, 2016

Mini-conference organisers: Francesca Forno, Paolo R. Graziano, Lara Monticelli, and Torsten Geelan

Extended abstract: approx. 1000 words to be submitted through the SASE website, clearly stating that you wish to be considered for this mini-conference

Expected output: edited collection or special issue

Extra-conference activity: visiting/dining at local co-operative/eco-village (tbc) Any questions: email

Call for papers:

The recent and yet unresolved Great Recession has revealed all the limitations and flaws of the ‘economic moralities’ embedded in neoliberalism which have been guiding the functioning of economic and political institutions in numerous countries. Within this context, the idea that we are moving towards a post-capitalist society, characterized by new norms and values, has come to the forefront of academic and public debate. In tandem with the rise of social movements (e.g. Occupy Wall Street, Indignados, Gezi Park) and the success of radical political parties (e.g. Podemos and Syriza), every day economic practices of production, organization and consumption are also being questioned and challenged by a growing number of ‘critical’ citizens, families, communities and entrepreneurs. These attempts often take the form of local, horizontal and collaborative initiatives such as consumer-producer networks, cooperatives, ethical banking, co-working spaces, time banks, eco-villages, transitional communities, guerrilla gardening and social-community street art.

All these practices share a steadfast belief in the idea of ‘social sustainability’, and a desire to move towards a society which – in the words of Amartya Sen – promotes not just environmentalism but also values of equality, diversity, social cohesion, quality of life and democratic governance of our workplaces and every-day lives. While this silent wave may appear less disruptive in nature than traditional forms of political contention (e.g. protests, strikes, and riots), such economic practices and ideas have the potential to gradually disrupt the economic moralities underlying many capitalist modes of production and the ways in which we consume goods and services. The engine of this slow, but long lasting transformation can be found in a tripartite movement: critique of the status quo, practices of resistance and resilience and, finally, exploration of alternatives through deliberative and collective decisional processes.

This Mini Conference welcomes theoretical and empirical contributions from around the world and across the social sciences (sociology, political science, development studies, economics, anthropology, business, and philosophy) that touch on the following three themes:

1) New Modes of Production

The social economy refers to economic activity that is directly organized and controlled through the exercise of some form of social power – rooted in the voluntary association of people in civil society, and based on the capacity to organize people for collective action of various sorts. Nestled between the private sector (business) and the public sector (Government), this includes worker-owned cooperatives, social enterprises, charities, and non-profit organisations.

The range of economic activities that can be organized through the social economy is very broad and includes recycling, childcare, housing, healthcare, disaster relief and web applications. The vibrancy and effectivness of which can be enhanced through institutional design, such as state subsidies, social economy investment funds (e.g. crowdfunding), governance through associational democracy, and participatory democratic forms of organisation. One of the most illustrative examples of the collaborative productivity that can be achieved through this way of organizing economic activity is Wikipedia – the only non-corporate website among the worlds’ top 10 most visited web addresses – whose fundamental principles of organisation are: non- market relations (voluntary, unpaid contributions and free access); egalitarian participation; deliberative interactions among contributors, and democratic governance.

This panel seeks to move scholarship forward in this area of research by welcoming contributions that:

  • Critique existing modes of production in the social economy;
  • Provide empirical examples and theoretical accounts of how the social economy could be further enhanced through institutional design;
  • Identify and explore cases of organizing economic activity through the social economy in hiterto unexamined countries, economic sectors, and geographical levels (local, regional, national, supranational).

2) Critical Consumption

Over the past years, new social movements (Sustainable Community Movement Organizations) have emerged, going beyond more traditional forms of mobilization and of contentious politics. SCMOs are focused on exploiting alternative forms of consumption as a political tool: organizations and movements such as community food networks, community sustained agriculture and fair trade, are all examples of SCMOs which have gained increasing relevance globally. The crisis has provided further space for such organizations which have helped – and are still helping – to build new social relationships and resistance in a context of radical revision of the function of the market.

The growth in the number of ‘political consumers’ has generated considerable scholarly interest. Many of the studies on the topic, however, have analyzed this phenomenon mainly from the individual consumer perspective while less attention has been paid to the role of social movements promoting collective political actions. Such limited attention is quite surprising since an increasingly number of movement organizations acting both at the global and at the local level have started to incorporate political consumerism into their repertoire of actions, asking citizens to make use of their ‘shopping bag power’ to achieve greater environmental and social justice.

This strand welcomes contributions discussing theoretical challenges posed by SCMOs and/or empirical illustrations in both the Global North and the Global South. We are particularly interested in papers that investigate:

  • Why, how and whether Sustainable Community Movement Organizations emerge and succeed in triggering sustained political engagement;
  • To what extent and how are SCMOs linked to specific movements such as the global justice movement and the indignados movement etc.;
  • Where, and in what form, are grassroots economic initiative emerging and engaging the public;
  • How can developments in political consumerism, and critiques thereof, inform the development of social movement research and vice versa;
  • What is the effectiveness of such organizations in local, national and international political contexts.

3) Alternative Lifestyles

In this panel, we aim at discussing theoretical and empirical (academic and/or activist based) research on all those, increasingly diffused, everyday practices that are based not (or not only) on monetary transactions but on trust, interchange and reciprocity. Examples range from daily ‘sharing economy’ practices – such as car sharing, couch-surfing, house swapping, co-working – to more radical and explicitly anti-capitalistic ones – like eco-villages or intentional communities – whose members’ aim is to literally ‘escape’ from a lifestyle characterized by a never ending cycle of work-production-consumption. The decision to be involved in such practices – as individual citizens or whole communities – entails a profound critique of contemporary lifestyles and introduces new customs.

We welcome papers that address:

  • The extent to which these practices constitute (or not) ‘coping mechanisms’ for socio- economic exclusion;
  • The way through which these practices manage to provide not just material goods but services outside a ‘market’ logic;
  • The way in which citizens, public institutions, political parties and private businesses perceive and interact with these practices;
  • The extent to which these practices succeed (or fail) in introducing societal values and norms (reciprocity, exchange, mutual help) that are an alternative to neoliberal ideology, and help foster a ‘new imaginary’ for progressive social change.