An Unconscious Counter-Hegemony: Folk Economics in the Industrious Modernity

The following text is the abstract for the Call of Papers: ‘Digital Futures. Entrepreneurship, Work and Action in the Anthropocene’. Authors: The Connective (Fabio Coppola, Alessandro Longo, Giulio Quarta, Marcello Secone). While the work is still in progress and under judgment, I thought that the abstract in itself is already a good starting point for opening a conversation about the common economy.

This paper is the first part of a broader research project aimed at studying the emergence of post-capitalist social systems, a collective work of our network called “The Connective”.

The inquiry starts from a widely recognized assumption from contemporary social sciences: the predominant socio-political model of this phase -neoliberal democracy grounded on the capitalist market economy- dwells very difficult times and no longer delivers its promises, accumulating dysfunctionalities and negative externalities with a looming ecological catastrophe on the horizon.

If we look at emerging practices on the margin of the mainstream economy, many scholars are signaling the global rise of new economic forms and logics. From the startups wave to the digital commons movements, from blockchain ecosystems to the pirate economies, this surge presents many differences as well as similarities. The most shared features are an emphasis of ethicality and the mission of “changing the world”, in addition to being capital-poor, labor-intensive and market-oriented; it has been effectively defined “Industrious Modernity”.

We find reasonable to conceive this social galaxy as ‘unconsciously’ developing a socio-economical, more functioning, post-capitalist infrastructure. Many elements of this rising phenomenon foster, in fact, a gravitation towards decentralization and social sustainability that is antithetical to the capitalist current mode of production, and came out as a response to the neo-liberal economy crisis.

After examining the studies of Adam Arvidsson (2015) on the agents of the Commons Based Peer to Peer Production (CBPP) -makerspaces, hacklabs, new social spaces- that underline the explicit ethical and community-based focus of their activity, and the great dynamism of the blockchain ecosystems in the run to innovate the “value infrastructure”, we asked ourselves two entangled questions:

If these CBPP agents are actually developing new economic infrastructures, why don’t they conceive themselves as bearers of a new systemic alternative? How would they react, if confronted with this kind of scenario? Is it possible to activate this sort of “class consciousness” regarding their role in the current economic structure? Or, instead, are these actors merely an example of ‘folk economics’? We introduce the latter concept in the paper, drawing on Srniceck’s “folk politics” (2015).

And secondly: could it be that this difficulty in conceiving their activities as a systemic alternative is related to a lack of “value infrastructure imagination”? And is this lack preserved by the capitalist profit-maximizing influence on the majority of projects revolving cryptocurrencies, that impedes them from considering alternative logics of value creation? What if a blockchain-based commons-oriented token system could enable a different valorization of the CBPP energies? We bring these hypothesis because efforts in this direction already exist.

The methodology of the article consists of creating an online questionnaire for CBPP organizations’ participants in order to investigate their perception related to the scenario so far depicted, paying attention to the comprehensibility of our frame. In-depth interviews will be realized with the most knowledgeable individuals. What we are most interested in is not the specifics of these projects but the self-perception of these actors concerning the socio-economic transformations here superficially outlined.

Digital Humanist, wannabe tech critician, working for re-enchanting the world

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