Introduction: Criticisms of modernity and post-materialist worldviews
For Mignolo and Escobar (2010), modernity is the enactment of a totalizing project, aimed at “ordering the world according to rational principles from the perspective of a male eurocentric consciousness” (pp. 36-7). It aims to transform the physical environments and cultural backgrounds that embed humans and their activities, by promoting order and rationality through the means of linear thought and expert knowledge. The authors point out several downsides to this project, identified by scholarship in the field. These include a “disembeddedness”, resulting from a “marginalization of place (the here and now of social action) in the definition of social life” (p. 36). It also includes a “domination and disenchantment that came about with secularization and the predominance of instrumental reason to the normalization of life and the disciplining of populations” to “the extreme economization and technification of the world” (p. 36-7). This led to a crisis of meaning which, added to climate collapse and the increased socioeconomic and political polarisation brought by neoliberal globalisation, contributed to a multiplication of analyses of the limits of modernity as a cultural project. These contributed to what Kripal (2019) identifies as a renewed interest in interpreting imaginaries and worldviews, including those of social movements and other political actors, as contextualised, intersubjectively created expressions of consciousness that shape how humans perceive and interact with the natural and social world. It also led to “call for a new recalibration of the humanities and the sciences” (p. 13) toward post-positivist forms of knowledge, with a focus on the “entanglement” between consciousness and material reality (p. 100).
For Federici (2010), overcoming the downsides of modernity implies a “re-enchantment of the world”, aimed at reconstructing the commons through a resignification and reconfiguration of worldviews and social relations, as well as relationships with the non-human world, in favour of more collaborative and placed-based approaches. For Escobar (2020), this implies relying on epistemologies, outside the “heteropatriarchal capitalist modern/colonial world system” (p. xii), to build a “pluriverse” of alternatives, built upon the rediscovery of the interdependencies (including those of an organic and affective nature) underlying human culture. Such interdependencies include different forms and scales of community-building and relating with other species and natural elements, as well as with spirituality, in its dimensions of ritual, myth and tradition.
The main theme for the 2023 edition of the international conference “Social and Solidarity Economy and the Commons” is the emergence of a “pluriverse” in this field of scholarship and practice. This results from the aggregation of diverse epistemologies, narratives, and strategies for social transformation that criticise and deconstruct the downsides of modernity as a social project. For Mignolo and Escobar (2010), these include a “disembeddedness”, resulting from a “marginalization of place (the here and now of social action) in the definition of social life” (p. 36). It also includes a “domination and disenchantment that came about with secularization and the predominance of instrumental reason to the normalization of life and the disciplining of populations” to “the extreme economization and technification of the world” (p. 36-7).
In particular, the conference will explore the constitution and mobilisation of concepts that challenge the presumed separation of people, territory and nature within commons-based socioeconomic alternatives, through the creation, continuation, revival and/or restoration of epistemologies and ontologies rooted in the distinctive features of place and emphasising the mutual constitution and interdependence of society and nature, and the consequent potential to reshape democratic politics, strategies of socioeconomic transformation and the promotion of ecosocial regeneration.
As in previous editions, this event will be a meeting point for researchers, activists, public officials and social entrepreneurs involved in social and solidarity economy, governance of the commons and old and new social movements from across the world. It will take place from the 8th to 10th of November 2023 at the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL) in Lisbon, Portugal. The aim is to co-create an inclusive, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary space for exchange of knowledge and socio-political experiences on new approaches to economic organisation and governance based in solidarity, participatory and deliberative democracy, cooperation and common ownership.
The conference is organised by the Centre for International Studies (CEI-IUL), with the support of the Department of Political Economy at ISCTE-IUL, Centro de Estudos Sociais (Coimbra), the Solidarity Economy Incubator at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL) in Brazil, the Institute for Social Justice, York St John University (UK) and Institute for Ecological Economics – Vienna University of Economics and Business (Austria). It aims to promote understanding of and dialogue about new, emerging and rediscovered forms of governance and economic organisation that offer the potential to overcome the challenges that community-led initiatives, governments and organisations working towards sustainable prosperity currently face.
Under the key theme of emergence of a “pluriverse” in the fields of solidarity economy and the commons, each day of the conference will emphasise a different field of inquiry:
- Decolonisation and epistemic diversity: emergence of the “pluriverse”
- “Re-enchantment”: Opportunities, dangers and obstacles
- Regenerative cultures: Power, emancipation, and societal transformation
These fields of inquiry refer to counter-hegemonic projects, founded upon prefigurative community-led initiatives, that are based on the aggregation of diverse epistemologies, narratives, and strategies for social transformation. This is the case of :
- de-colonial movements that emerged in the Global South since the early 20th century, including those promoted or supported by western spiritual currents such as Liberation Theology, as well as indigenous epistemologies and spiritualities and popular knowledges;
- countercultures that emerged in industrialised countries since the mid and late 20th century, rooted in earlier critiques of modernity, materialism/positivism, industrialization and capitalism. These include, among others, the Human Potential and New Age movements of the late 20th century;
- the Alterglobalisation/Global Justice movement that marked the late 1990s/early 2000s;
- a range of developments observed in many areas of art, culture, philosophy and political activism, emerging in the aftermath of postmodernism, roughly at the turn of the 21st century, such as “Future Primitivism”, “Neo-Tribalism”, the “Psychedelic Renaissance” and “Metamodernism”;
- protest-led movements and grassroots networks, both emancipatory and reactionary, that appeared, or increased their visibility, in the aftermath of the 2007/08 financial crisis.
- emerging movements and collectives fighting against asymmetries associated with social markers of gender, race, class, epistemic standpoint, ethnic background, nationality, and the deepening of social inequality due to their intersections.
These counter-hegemonic projects have, to various extents, an emancipatory dimension, as well as a holistic and regenerative approach to post-carbon transition, which aims to arrest and reverse both ecological degradation and loss of the cultural skills necessary for living in harmony with local environments, allowing people to form synergistic interrelationships with each other and with nature. That is the case of Permaculture projects, Energy Communities, ecovillages, Transition initiatives and grassroots, social movement-driven workers’, producers’ and consumer cooperatives, among other initiatives based on common-pool resources and Solidarity Economy principles and strategies. They have assumed, in general, the following characteristics:
- a prefigurative, bottom-up approach to social and political change;
- a preference for self-organised action at human (local-to-bioregional) scale, with community and commoning as key guiding concepts;
- valuing counter-hegemonic epistemologies and spiritualities (indigenous/local knowledge, holistic, pre-modern, post-modern);
- seeking to relocalise economic activity and decision-making processes.
Indigenous epistemologies and popular knowledge.
Counter-hegemonic economic imageries (Gibson-Graham, 1996) have animated solidarity economy and commons-based movements and initiatives, allowing people to form synergistic interrelationships with each other and with nature, targeting at reversing both ecological degradation and loss of the cultural skills necessary for living in harmony with local environments.
Non-western and post-materialist ontologies and epistemologies, such as indigenous cosmovisions, have stimulated and boosted changes in the way nature and the very sense of the commons are interpreted. In this path, the progressive recognition of an other-than human nature has also contributed to a post-human approach to ecological and regenerative concerns. This perspective has more and more influenced alternative experiences in the territories as well as the research carried out in environmental issues. As a result, we have seen the emergence of what has been called “ecologies of repair” (Blanco-Wells, 2021), where the modern ontological separation between the human and the other-than-human is challenged, the latter having their agency properly recognised in the reparative actions regarding human-driven processes.
Much of this reformulation is inspired by indigenous epistemologies. From them, we have learnt that the agents involved in the environmental balance might be not only diverse and non-human but also that the artefacts can play a pivotal role in this balance achievement. In this sense, popular knowledge, temporalities and rationalities are tabled and valued as much as the technical and scientific ones.
Contributions to emancipatory movements and civil society-led strategies of “soft power” in International Relations.
The decades immediately after World War II were marked by a consensus, across the political spectrum of representative democracies, of the need to deconstruct aspects of modernity that contributed to the emergence of totalitarianism. Since that period, community and commoning-oriented initiatives have often been serving as incubators for the development of epistemologies and practices aimed at de-constructing traditional social hierarchies, educational systems and the military-industrial complex, as well as re-signifying spirituality, the body, sexuality and nature. (Turner, 2006; Kripal, 2007). Such epistemologies and practices fed into movements focusing on collective emancipation, such as the anti-war, anti-colonial and civil rights movements. They also fed into those focusing on individual emancipation, through self-actualization and freedom from ascribed social roles and public interference in the private sphere, such as the sexual revolution and second-wave feminism of the 1960’s and 1970’s, as well as the Human Potential and New Age movements.
The neoliberal turn of the late 1970’s contributed to a redirecting of prefigurative politics of collective emancipation, based on community and commoning-oriented initiatives, towards:
- anti-capitalist and decolonial resistance, animating the Alterglobalisation/Global Justice movement, as well as solidarity economy-based movements and initiatives;
- the post-materialist and post-human ethos of regenerative approaches to the promotion of social-ecological resilience in the face of climate change.
Contributions to biopolitical forms of social control and state-led strategies of “soft power” in International Relations.
Besides, such epistemologies and practices contributed to the development, with the support of state agencies and business interests, of:
- rhizomatic forms of social control, with a significant biopolitical dimension, aimed at being more efficiently internalised and enacted by individuals than those based on overt coercion (i.e. the Foucauldian “technologies of the self”, as in Turner, 2006: 237-262;, Kripal 2007; Chandler & Reid, 2016);
- forms of transnational activism that contributed to the “soft power” dimension of national foreign policy strategies, as well as those of international organisations (i.e. Kripal, 2007: 673-726).
In parallel to the counter-hegemonic movements described above, there was a biopolitical appropriation of the individual emancipation impulse of the 1960’s and 1970’s counterculture by the conservative libertarian ethos of the following decades, as performed by the Yuppie and Wellness cultures, as well as blockchain and digital currency centred communities of digital nomads and tech entrepreneurs (Turner, 2006; Chandler & Reid, 2016). Besides, the socioeconomic polarisation promoted by neoliberal globalisation, and exacerbated by the 2007/08 financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, contributed to the spread of conspiracy-based, millenarian and anti-science standpoints among otherwise progressive solidarity economy and commons-oriented initiatives. It also contributed to the appropriation of strategies of prefigurative politics, based on community and commoning-oriented initiatives, by ethnonationalist, reactionary and anti-democratic movements, such as those of far-right oriented nativists and survivalists in the Global North and parts of the Global South (i.e. CasaPound in Italy and anti-government militia in the USA and Latin America).
Ongoing tensions between transformation and cooptation and challenges faced by disadvantaged groups.
The mainstreaming of solidarity economy and the commons, while supporting commons-based socioeconomic alternatives, may also undermine the transformative potential of emancipatory approaches to community and commoning. This includes the cooptation of otherwise emancipatory knowledge, organisational forms and social technologies, developed by social movements and community-led initiatives, by state- and market-led forms of rhizomatic social control that support neoliberal capitalism (i.e. Turner, 2006; Kripal, 2007). This process, which simultaneously retains the key concepts (such sustainability, inclusion, diversity) and searches for more consensual and less contentious processes, is likely to restrain the effective transformation potential of solidarity economy and commons-based initiatives. That results from the intentional or unintentional cooptation and/or distortion of solidarity economy and commons-based social movements and grassroots projects by the following factors, among others (Esteves, 2017):
- The imposition of a bureaucratic logic, including quantitative approaches to performance and efficiency assessment, by policy programs and public funders;
- Agendas of:
- NGOs and other philanthropies;
- Political parties;
- Cultish or other forms of authoritarian dynamics based on charisma or spiritual/ideological creed;
- A frequent correlation between social innovation and socioeconomic privilege, in the form of cultural and educational capital as well as material wealth, resulting in:
- The reproduction of inequalities and exclusionary mechanisms present in wider society;
- Gentrification and the deepening of territorial inequalities.
Blanco-Wells G. 2021. “Ecologies of Repair: A Post-human Approach to Other-Than-Human Natures”. Frontiers in Psychology (12). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.633737
Chandler D and Reid J. 2016. The Neoliberal Subject: Resilience, Adaptation and Vulnerability. London: Rowman & Littlefield.
Gibson-Graham J-K. 1996. The end of capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist critique of political economy. Oxford: Blackwell.
Esteves AM. 2017. “‘Commoning’. at the borderland: ecovillage development, socio-economic segregation and institutional mediation in southwestern Alentejo, Portugal”. Journal of Political Ecology 24(1): 968-991. https://doi.org/10.2458/v24i1.20978
Federici S. 2010. Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the politics of the commons. Oakland, CA: PM Press.
Kripal JJ. 2007. Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kripal JJ. 2019. The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge. New York: Bellevue Literary Press.
Mignolo W and A Escobar (eds.). 2010. Globalization and the Decolonial Option. New York: Rouledge.
Turner F. 2006. From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.