Postcapitalist Economies, Global Connections: Taking Back the Economy

From left to right: ice-berg economy, economy as floating coconut (edit:12 June 2016)


Comments to Professor Katherine Gibson’s talk at the University of Helsinki

Gibson’s talk can be listened here

I am thrilled of this possibility – to have a dialogue on community economics, embracing commons, surviving together and exploring what ethical action requires from us

My commentary that follows can be read as a struggle against paranoia and reparation – concepts that late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick so brilliantly and kindly introduced to us in her book “Touching feeling: affect, pedagogy, performativity” – to which the introduction of the ”Take back the economy” refers to in passing – and to which I keep on returning myself.

So for this occasion, I re-introduce myself  as kitchen gardener & rainwater harvester but also as the Director of FIIA, Feminist Institute of Foreign Affairs – a shadow institute to the other FIIA (Finnish Institute of Foreign Affaris) that I created at the end of 2014 when I had become an unemployed, increasingly frustrated, feminist academic: at that time mainly being frustrated how little the mainstream international relations, and political economy include was able to cope with feminism and feminist scholars, theorizing that departs from mansplaining and all-male networks, associations and knowledge production practices – FIIA is just one example of pop up – platforms and forums that me and my feminist, colleagues have invented over the past years as alternatives: spaces for sharing, caring and building a community.

And maybe as a result of governing and self-governing, I am also here rather accidentally and literally, in rather gendered ways: I offered the organisers my voluntary input to advertise the event but was invited to provide comments – for which I thank Pieta and Tuomo. I take this chance as a possibility of exploring the feminist underpinnings, or some of them, of the community economics.


“Crisis of neoliberalism runs deep” Kate Bedford and Shirin Rai wrote in 2010 in introduction of special issue of feminist political economy in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society. Further the same year Andrea Cornwall and Nana Akua Anyidoho in special issue on “Introduction: Women’s Empowerment: Contentions and contestations” of Development Journal warned of the increasing trend of women’s ”lite empowerment”: the tendency of development, and financial industry to take women as rational economic subjects into their focus – finally, some would say!

Slogans like ”gender equality as smart economics” or ”business case for gender equality” which in turn in the Finnish context has meant critical reflection – amongst feminist scholars, and activists – of the price of co-operation/collaboration/co-optation into ”state feminism” – the forms of feminisms that consist of the formal government policies such as gender equality programs and ”gender impact asssments” and so on – and which increasingly should be relabelled as ”market feminisms”.

Current mainstream European conservative political context, seems to be driven by the agenda of austerity, market feminism, welfare chauvinism and gender essentialism, antifeminism, and fear of loosing the authentic ”Finnish” or ”European” culture which and its women in particular need protection. Factor in climate crisis – questions of commoning, economic crisis – questions of wealth distribution, and the European fortress and human lives lost at its shores.These are just some contexts from which books like “The End of Capitalism (1996), A Postcapitalist Politics (2006) and Take Back the Economy (2013) cry urgency.

The basic principle of feminist political economy, the acknowledgement and recognition of”diverse economies” of everydays (for all humans, all genders and their multitudes included), , challenges the capitalist/developmentalist logics that render economy as capitalism, and women as rational economic subjects and feminine as a desired ”becoming subject”, as Gibson writes.

Turning the focus on the multitudes and diversity, according to her,

  • Makes such forms that resist these logics visibile
  • Shows the ignorance of complexity and multitudes of lives
  • Allows new focus on opportunities and directions of non-capitalist economy that are transformative

To me some core feminist theories are at the core of diverse economies thinking: gender, feminism, sexuality, race – bell hooks, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick. Although I have not consulted the community economics collective in my own earlier works studying politics of post-disaster and post-conflict reconstruction through ethnography, life histories and collective film documentarism in Aceh, Indonesia and for the next 5 years in Gujarat, India, what “ethical dynamics”, as Gibson calls it, means a focus to subversive sites, cracks that open possibilities or what Tanya Li calls practice of politics.

To take diverse economies seriously, means number of things – you can think of this methodologically, philosophically, as a way of life, as an ethical approach to others, or even as intersubjective way of becoming together:

  1. Openness, new possibilities – new practices of self and politics of subject
  2. Pluralism – going beyond binaries, embrasing “in a process”, unfinishedness
  3. Place-based (economic) politics – multitudinal forms that feminism can take
  4. Acknowledgement of inequalities, but not as static, but as something that need to be mobilized and dealt with
  5. Stripping down hierarcies that close possibilities for engagement: anyone can do this and as such, experiments, pilots or cases are there to be learned from, not to be “put in place”
  6. No prejudgement: which requires situatedness, contextualisation, and further to be attentative and mindful – listening instead of prescribing and explaining

So I conclude with 4 broad questions and comments:

  1. On feminisms
  • What kinds of feminist paths have you taken between 1996-2013/now – what forms does it take – how does ageing, gaining a name change the paths, what do different collaborations (with femnists and non-feminists) do to your work
  • How does engaging with the majority world has changed your feminism, or take on the possibilities of collective economics – and in particular the changes that are needed in the minority world

Then to follow, as to reiterate that engendering alternative economics intimately also is about, decolonializing, de-whitening these spaces that we occupy

  1. On the Community of Community Economics

Bina Agarwal has recently made an argument, based on her study of community forestry groups in India that there is a need to focus on intra-group dynamics, processes of group formation, democratic deliberation – neglected aspects, she argues, in social and solidarity economy (where the focus, according to her has been on interaction with outside actors)

– she raises specific questions of gender and class, and In Indian context in particular the question of caste and religion.

Agarwal, Bina. 2015. The power of numbers in gender dynamics illustrations from community forestry groups. Journal of Peasant Studies 42: 1-20.

How to deal with the class privilege? Some examples from my own everyday:

  • Community-supported agriculture intiative by the “good neighbourhood” in the “bad neighbourhood”: after number of years of farming, very little interaction with the surrounding neighbourhood – much more connections to the other CSA/shared economy communities, transitional volunteerism and so on
  • Capital region: how can we resist the dominance of Helsinki/affluent/educated class in what we do?
  1. Anti-feminism, malesplaining – simply put: how to tackle these dynamics?
  1. Neolibral university/institutionalised forms of knowledge and speed we work
  • Is there a way to resist neoliberal research demands to be always available, conduct fast-track analysis, co-opt crisis talk, and take part in social media -hysteria?
  • Increasingly the connectedness of these make being academic incresingly difficult: Economy – education – research –  university as machine. Can you say some examples from your own everyday how alternatives are created to sustain the momentum for Making Other Worlds Possible in our knowledge practices – just to keep our spirits alive?