Wednesday, August 20, 2008

We are all powerless to act

IE + IT = ED? from The Memory Bank 3.0 by keith
Is informal economy plus information technology a path towards economic democracy?What follows is frankly autobiographical. It is an attempt to excavate the intellectual and political connections between my early and later work in economic anthropology...

Anthropologists have traditionally privileged self-organized economic activities, whether those of farmers, traders, household managers or the givers of gifts. The twentieth century saw a universal experiment in impersonal society. Humanity was everywhere organized by remote abstractions — states, capitalist markets, science. And, as if that were not enough, the main common preoccupation was war. For most people it was impossible to make a meaningful connection with these anonymous institutions and this was reflected in intellectual disciplines whose structures of thought had no room for human beings in them.

Whereas once we studied stateless peoples for lessons about how to construct better forms of society, such an exercise now seemed pointless, since we were all powerless to act. Of course, people everywhere did their best with a bad job, seeking self-expression where they could — in domestic life and informal economic practices. But the gap between individuals and society widened, even as most regimes claimed that they governed in the name of the people. We may or may not be witnessing at present the decline of the dominant social form of the last 150 years, the attempt to monopolize money, markets and accumulation through central bureaucracy that I call ‘national capitalism’.

This workshop (see below), with its focus on regional clusters, networks and the efforts of ordinary people to organize themselves in the face of capitalist exploitation, nevertheless offers me an opportunity to get beyond a personal desire to discover some lurking consistency between my present and former selves (an identity, if you like). I hope, certainly in any form of the paper produced after the workshop, eventually to place this introspective impulse back in the collective discourses where it properly belongs, in economic anthropology, development discourse, Marxism and the contemporary struggle for emancipation from the neo-liberal world economy.

The paper consists of three parts devoted respectively to the informal economy, money in the digital revolution and economic democracy (the example of community currencies). This first draft is mainly a collage of previous writing. The aim is for it to evolve towards a new and more integrated statement as a result of the conversation initiated by this workshop. 10:19 AM Workshop: ‘Clusters, Network Organization and the Informal Economy’, Bologna, 29-30th June 2006 in the series, Rethinking Economies.

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