Using the diverse economy to transcend capitalist limits
Globalisation; the popular, albeit contested, term has dominated academic and mainstream discourse for a number of decades. It has received vast amounts of praise and recognition for its achievements; e.g.- the opening up of international trade enabling economic growth in many countries, improvements to health and standards of living, and increased access to education advancing issues of human rights (Stiglitz, 2002, 4-5). Nonetheless, it has also been blamed for producing growing inequality and undermining issues of environmental and social justice.
Globalisation’s more recent neoliberal rationale has received particular criticism for its unstable nature and heavy reliance on ‘trickle down’ theory, and the unprecedented scale and speed at which transformations are made today has been interpreted by many to signify that we live in a “runaway world” (Giddens, 2002). Yet, as Beck highlights, these global threats have in turn created a global society (2000b, 38), who in the face of economic failures to address social and environmental issues have turned their attention to alternative ways of being in the economy.
Gibson-Graham insists that rather than traditional notions of economic singularity, there exists many ways in which the economy manifests itself, and argues that it is through the pursuit of economic experimentation that we can challenge the economy, both for its relations of exploitation and as an obstacle to imagining and enacting other modes of economy (Miller, 2013, 2). This economic experimentation can be seen in the emergence of eco-villages, which seek to integrate ecological and social values into their economy, often with strong incentives for land-based living, and actively explore capitalist, non-capitalist and alternative lifestyles.
A small but increasing number of human geographers are beginning to pay attention to these geographies of alternative economies, viewing the economy as heterogeneous and in a constant state of becoming. Nevertheless, it remains marginal to mainstream academia, perhaps because of its frequent dismissal as insignificant and powerless. For theories of diverse economies to achieve recognition, it is crucial that these myths are dispelled and an understanding is gained of what they wish to achieve.
This paper draws on research carried out at an eco-village called Lammas in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, which was established in 2005. In the following chapter I look at the emergence of a new post-capitalist politics as a response to the limitations of the artificial ‘one-ness’ in the global economy, and engaging with Gibson-Graham’s theoretical framework on the diverse economy, explore how ecovillages can be identified as one way in which this diversity is being illustrated. Following this, a brief summary of the research case study site and methodology precede the empirical section which analyses the explicit ways in which Lammas demonstrates economic diversity using ethnographic data from interviews and observation. I conclude by arguing that there are many different ways of participating in the economy besides within its capitalist dimension, and suggest these as tool for more just and sustainable economies.
Globalisation and its discontent
Globalisation remains an incredibly contested term despite its widespread use in academic and mainstream discourse, at once being praised and blamed for all manner of deeds. Gibson-Graham’s definition of a plural globalisation shall be used here; who describes it as a “set of processes by which the world is rapidly being integrated into one economic space via increased international trade, the internationalization of production and financial markets, the internationalization of a commodity culture promoted by an increasingly networked global telecommunications system” (1996, 120). These processes are by no means new phenomena; often thought to have begun with colonialism in the 16th century, or earlier (Beck, 2000b, 20) and accelerating ever since, showing unprecedented growth post-Industrialisation. In more recent history, a particular kind of economic capitalism emerged from its competition with communism “much harder, mobile, ruthless and certain” (Giddens and Hutton, 2000, 9). It is in this late capitalist global order which has seen more emphasis on neoliberal rationale, proselytizing free trade, flexible labour, less state intervention and active individualism, making it easier for capital to circulate and for governments to justify less social responsibility and emphasise individuals to make their own way (Wills, 2005, 577).
This latest neoliberal rationale has received a torrent of criticism for favouring the interests of the powerful against the less powerful and increasing inequalities between and within countries. It has been condemned for approaching socio-ecological problems with assertions that they should be dealt with by simply ‘growing our way’ out of them (Dawson, 2006, 75), viewing the protection of such problems as a “burden on the grand objectives of growth and competitiveness” (Falk, 2000, 47). Many other inadequacies have been attributed to the same rationale, such as the declining quality of life, causing feelings of unfulfillment and social alienation (Dawson, 2006, 12) and a rising dissatisfaction with an increasingly ‘nomadic’ life spent in cars, planes and on the internet in what Beck refers to as the “globalization of biography” (2000a, 168).
It is this present form of economic management that has led former chief economist of the WB Joseph Stiglitz to compare it to modern high-tech warfare, where physical contact is removed and the ability to drop bombs from 30,000ft ensures that “one does not feel what one does, and one can impose policies which destroy people’s lives from one’s luxury hotel” (2002, 24).
These shortcomings are fuelling claims that we are entering an era which will be dominated by a tension between neoliberal economic globalisation and the forces of social resistance (Gills, 2000, 3). Increasingly, people are opting out of the global capitalist economy in order to restore control over their lives (Castells, 2000, 71), searching for alternative systems within and outside of the mainstream paradigm.
Gibson-Graham’s Diverse Economy
Certainly, perspectives on the global economy thus far have a tendency to portray it as the only existing and possible economic form, as some “abstract commanding force” (Gibson-Graham, 2006, xxxiii) which is all-encompassing and uncontrollable. Advocates for and against globalisation alike seem charmed by the idea of a singular and mighty power. The WTO described it as ‘inevitable, unstoppable, like gravity’, whilst Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who each led their respective nations into the new millennium, see it as ‘a fact’ and ‘irreversible and irresistible’ (Woodin and Lucas, 2004, 11). Yet it is this very attitude towards the economy which inhibits the ability to recognise, imagine and create alternatives.
This is a crucial concept of Gibson-Graham’s theoretical framework, which draws on diverse strands of feminist and post-structuralist thought to propose a new language of economy which broadens economic possibility and pursues economic experimentation (2006, xxiii). She challenges “the globalisation script” which insists the capitalist global order is all-powerful and the only economic form by exposing it as “uncentered, dispersed, plural and partial” (1996, 259); the logical consequence of very conscious political decisions. This singular and totalizing representation of the economy infers it to be something that can only be defeated and replaced by a mass-collective movement. Gibson-Graham however, advocates that a more realistic and preferable option would be to transcend its limits (1996, 263) by highlighting the myriad of other potential and existing ways of doing ‘economy’.
Gibson-Graham proposes a new representation of the political economy as a rich and diverse mix of both capitalist and non-capitalist activities, and argues that non-capitalist activities that exist today have been ‘invisibled’ by the prevailing capitalocentric discourse (1996, xi). Gibson-Graham likens the economy to an iceberg (appendix, fig.1)- what is normally regarded as the economy; wage labour, market exchange of commodities and capitalist enterprise, makes up just one small part of the activities by which we produce, exchange, and distribute values (2006, 69). By re-theorising the economy as multi-vocal and contradictory phenomenon, Gibson-Graham seeks to make visible these activities and the struggles we are currently engaged in, permitting individuals to transcend the artificial limits constructed by mainstream discourse.
One such way Gibson-Graham represents the diverse economy is through studies of the community economy, in which negotiations of what is necessary for personal and social survival, how social surplus is appropriated, distributed produced and consumed and how a commons can be produced and sustained are made with respect to our economic interdependence with each other and all earth others (www.communityeconomies.org).
In the same way that economy must be liberated from its traditional meanings, Gibson-Graham also stresses the need to be wary of ideals of community which imply commonality and sameness (2006, 86). Instead, she adopts Nancy’s ethical praxis of Being-in-common, where rather than a common being, property or value, community is based on a common existence. According to Nancy (1991, 5), such a ‘common being’ alludes to subjects as being already constituted, and the community as a constructed ‘oneness’, therefore undermining ‘becoming’ as a mode of being. Yet as Gibson-Graham highlights, the community economy is in a constant state of ‘becoming’, requiring a daily ethical practise of “stitching, undoing and restitching” (2006, 183), thus adopting a weak economic theory capable of reinterpretation. In this way, all humans exist in community with others, and the essence of ‘being’ is ‘being with’ co-present others in space and time (Popke, 2009, 18). As Miller details, shared values can also risk exclusionary moralism, and limit possibilities for connections and economic experimentation. Community economies have thus been theorized with a radical openness which allows them “to connect with a broad and open array of people and practices” (2013, 16).
Gibson-Graham outlines four key coordinates around which being-in-common can be negotiated; necessity, surplus, consumption and commons. Issues of necessity will involve meeting local needs by increasing the amount of well-being which is received directly, whilst surplus will be addressed in a non-exploitative way, used to constitute and strengthen the community. Consumption will be approached as a potential route to development instead of just its end result, and there will be emphasis on reclaiming the commons (2006, 193). Woven into these coordinates are discourses centred on resocialising and repoliticing the economy, revealing economy as a site of decision rather than the ultimate reality, and as an ethical praxis of being-in-common (2006, 87).
Economic experimentation is undoubtedly a key element of the Ecovillage, a low-impact development (LID) officially defined as “a human scale, full-featured settlement in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future ” (Gilman’s report, 1991).
Ecovillages vary greatly in terms of their approach to living outside of mainstream society, some more radical than others. Despite this rich diversity, Dawson identifies several broad patterns amongst them, namely; homes are self-designed and self-built often using local or recycled materials, members often work within the community on educational and demonstrational activities to communicate their message to other people and provide income, they generally make a living from products grown on the land, share values of radical simplification, and use a consensus based decision-making system (2006, 25, 40 and 55). Within these practices is a variety of capitalist, non-capitalist and alternative activities. The ecovillage movement shares Gibson-Graham’s belief that mainstream society cannot realistically be ‘reformed’, but rather transcended from. If globalisation’s reaction to contemporary socio-ecological problems is growth, the Ecovillage philosophy is one of voluntary simplicity and self-reliance as a practical solution to these problems (Dawson, 2006, 75).
Despite the ‘back to the land’ movement implied by many academics (Halfacree, 2007), Dawson emphasises that Ecovillages are not aiming for an “idealized past” but instead are creating a rich synthesis which draws “on the best of human expertise in treading lightly on the Earth, community level governance and the application of modern energy efficient technology” (2006, 13). Neither is their ideology that they should be cut-off from mainstream society, and they actively seek to build bridges to more mainstream organisations and initiatives (Ibid. 8).
As one can see from the descriptions, both Gibson-Graham’s theoretical framework and the ecovillage philosophy evidently overlap, and the key coordinates for community economy are certainly issues that ecovillages are seeking to negotiate. Their strategy of trial and error has led them to be dubbed as “a seed bed for experimentation” (Pickerill and Maxey, 1531), this very nature being fundamental to their success, evoking Nancy’s ethic of being-in-common.
Ecovillages have been hailed as the “most significant event of the 20th century” and the “most important movement in all of history” in academia (Jackson, 2004), extraordinary assertions for a movement which is still relatively young and peripheral in mainstream debate. In the following chapters, I will be moving beyond existing literature to my own research analysis of ‘Lammas’ ecovillage, exploring the ways in which it is challenging mainstream beliefs about how to live in the economy.
Research was carried out at ‘Lammas’ in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, a LID project set up in 2005. Although there are many of these throughout the UK, Lammas is unique in that it sought planning permission before the building process began , and has remained in direct communication with the planners and local authorities (Maxey and Pickerill, 2007, 36). It was created as a low-tech, ‘alternative model for living on the land’ which hopes to facilitate the production of similar LIDs across Wales (www.lammas.org.uk). Projects like Lammas have been involved in a significant amount of lobbying, generating planning policies which allow similar projects in many rural counties such as Pembrokeshire (Pickerill and Maxey, 1531). They have also gained recognition on a national level of planning, such as the One Planet Policy (OPP) set by the Welsh Government which provides guidance and support for the delivery of sustainable rural communities. Lammas consists of 9 small-holdings, each of which, in compliance with the OPP, must be producing 75% of their basic household needs from land-based activities within five years (Welsh Assembly Government, 2012).
After a brief preliminary observation to determine an appropriate research design, semi-structured interviews were employed as a method to explore how different people within the community experienced and made sense of the eco-village as an alternative way of being in the economy. This method allowed in-depth understandings and its conversational nature allowed the participants to interpret the subject according to their own interests, experiences and ideas (Valentine, 2005, 111). Communication before the study was conducted through Jasmine, who, through the sampling technique of snowballing, was able to suggest other members of the community who would be willing to be interviewed. The six final participants were both members of the project, and non-members, such as Jake, a plot owner who hopes to ultimately to live there, and Su, the woman who sold the land to Lammas and who lives in the Farmhouse at Tir-Y-Gafel.
A list of open-ended questions was constructed beforehand highlighting the main themes I wished to cover, allowing for variations in detail and order and deviations where the participant felt necessary. Permission to use the participant’s name and to record the interview was acquired before commencing each interview. Initial questions were more casual, allowing participants to ‘warm-up’ before progressing onto more focused questions towards the end. The location of interviews was decided by participants according to where was most convenient and comfortable for them, generally in their own homes, which facilitated a relaxed and conversational discussion. Textual analysis was later carried out on the transcribed interviews, which were coded with respect to hermeneutics to produce a reflexive, subjective analysis.
Rather than being representative, this method aims instead to be illustrative (Valentine, 2005, 113). Elements of feminist research styles were adopted, which stress the importance of interacting and sharing information with the participants rather than treating them as subordinates from whom you are extracting information (Oakley, 1981, in Valentine, 2005, 121). This is an agenda shared by Gibson-Graham, who sees it as a conversational interaction alongside a group rather than on a group, creating a “hybrid research collective” (1996, xxx).
Lammas’ interpretation of the ‘diverse economy’ incorporated many elements from Gibson-Graham’s ‘iceberg economy’; self-employment, bartering, lending and borrowing, commons, DIY, community supported agriculture, non-profit, collective ownership and grow-your-own. The following is an analysis of how individuals at Lammas navigate Gibson-Graham’s four ethical coordinates of community economy; necessity, surplus, consumption and commons with respect to their economic interdependence on one another.
Lammas’ Diverse Economy
Perhaps the most apparent way in which Lammas’ economic structure is challenging capitalist hegemony was in the intricate network of trade. Many of the descriptions of how goods and services were traded exposed it as a veritable mixture of bartering, like-for-like exchange, pricing and selling goods and services for money, or simply giving them away. One account details; “It varies; some people do it purely financial. Some people will never take money and want you to swap. Some people don’t even want a direct swap, they just give it to you…I suppose for us, it more varies between people […] we don’t count, we don’t keep tally. With him, or some of them, we just feel that it will balance out in the end, but with others we know that they don’t feel secure in that exchange medium. And that’s fine” (Jasmine).
Here we can identify that although capitalist modes of exchange still exist; there are also many other ways in which Lammas is trading and valuing goods. This amalgam of different ways to trade adheres to Gibson-Graham’s representation of the economy as uncentered, dispersed, and plural and takes away the veracity and singularity often bestowed upon the capitalist economy by making visible, thus being able to build upon, the rich and diverse aggregate of non-capitalist and capitalist practices.
Services are also exchanged within the community; a pull factor for many who saw it as a way of facilitating the planning permission process and reducing costs, as well as with individuals external to the project, a prime example of this being its volunteer network. Although to a certain degree this was necessary due to the low cost, natural building techniques, it was also regarded as “…more than that, it is more a reciprocal sort of educational thing…they bring loads of information to us…I definitely see it as a two way exchange” (Jasmine). This form of labour was, whilst being unpaid, compensated in a different way- by the sharing of meals and other products, and the provision of a dwelling, usually a caravan or residence with one of the families. Voluntary labour has thrived at Tir Y Gafel, with volunteers often staying as long as a year and wholly integrating into the community. The variety of ways in which individuals at Lammas are donating their time, money, materials and affection evokes Gibson-Graham’s proposal of an economy of generosity in which gifts of labour and goods are intertwined with the market economy (2006, 133).
In order to produce 75% of their basic house-hold needs from land-based activities, many different enterprises have developed within the community. These range from willow-weaving, foraging, basket-making, vegetable and animal produce including milk, edible plants, honey, eggs, rabbits and pigs, to cosmetics, educational courses and training. Although these activities have been in part chosen according to their profitability in terms of money and provisions, there was also an imperative to find a value in labour besides an economic one. As Gibson-Graham highlights, these values depend on a socially embedded ethical decision (2006, 89), and in this case the difference between necessary and surplus labour was often negotiated around issues of well-being; “If there is no desire and passion in [livelihoods], it is just not worth doing” (Ayres). This new perspective on work as a means of enjoyment evokes Goebel and Clermont’s idea of a “new life-aesthete, someone who does not consider work to be an end in itself, or leisure to be an oasis of self-fulfilment” (in Beck, 2000b 148). Many individuals expressed a need for a new attitude towards work, and involved themselves in niche culture and production, challenging mainstream beliefs that high productivity and earnings are a necessary route to well-being.
In negotiating issues of well-being, as Beck suggested (2000b 150), the lower level of income appeared to be counteracted by increased values of identity and self-fulfilment; “It is incomparable in terms of quality of life, just completely different scale, […] rewarding in a way that television or fast food or gambling or any of that can’t go anywhere near. It just doesn’t compare” (Paul). Kit does however draw comparisons between his lifestyle previous to getting involved with Lammas; “earning minimum wage and scraping by, ticking over and waiting for something worthwhile to do in life”, and his current lifestyle; “managing my own time, being completely and totally free to do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it”. This idea seems to emphasise a need to regain control over one’s own time and life, echoing Beck’s idea of the globalization of biography.
Mainstream and alternative lifestyles were often distinguished in terms of how time was valued. “in the capitalist economy time is money, and when I lived in Bath I had to make 25 or 35 or 45 pounds an hour in order to support cash overheads, which meant that if I was doing any activity during the working day that didn’t earn me that amount of money, like growing our own food for example, or making any of our own things or repairing anything, I was losing money […] I couldn’t afford to use that kind of time, whereas here we are trying to make our time worth less” (Ayres). This evokes Shiva’s notion that life itself has become a commodity (2000, 118), and in this case, time is seen to have been colonised, in a way, by capitalist values. At Lammas therefore there seems to be a pursuit to make time ‘worth less’, to de-commodify their time. “…there is no point in me growing potatoes, […] you can go and buy them from Waitrose for an awful lot less than the time it takes for you to grow them.” (Kit)
A key part of Lammas is that it is a non-intentional community, without common values, and individuals were keen to stress this fact, undoubtedly conjuring Gibson-Graham’s notion of being-in-common, which instead focuses on a common existence. Questions of ‘how we exist with each other’ were manifest in many of the interviews “the eco thing is easy […] it is the actual relationships that is the pioneering aspect” (Ayres). While the idea of ‘being-together’ is only ever an after-thought in mainstream politics (Gibson-Graham, 2006, 82) its emphasis in the community economy of Lammas establishes it as a site of ‘becoming’ as earlier explored.
Consumption and Necessity
Although interpretations of what is needed varied between the different individuals, there were a number of key shared ideas of how one should consume in order to serve and strengthen the community. Many of these were based around less fossil-fuel use as a means of being less dependent on systems of production deemed unsustainable, and a focus was on grow-your-own, local and recycled produce- particularly in terms of self-built houses and food.
Within these themes there was a strong consensus to navigate towards more ‘self-reliance’, consciously distinguished from its more familiar cousin self-sufficiency. “I think the starting point of any alternative…would be self-reliance rather than self-sufficiency” (Jasmine). The distinction between the two is hazy, and the terms are often used interchangeably in literature. Here however, the author interprets ‘self-reliance’ to mean a lifestyle which makes efforts to do as much as possible independently whilst acknowledging the benefits of wider regional, national and international trade, seeking to understand the costs and production realities of commodities and striving for a more conscious way to participate in the world economy. This suggests more resilient ways of living, treating consumption as a potential route to development instead of just its end result.
The OPP’s target of providing 75% of household needs through land-based activities and lower-levels of income has meant that individuals have also aimed to reduce their needs. Contrary to the economic individualism associated with capitalism which “sees unchecked desire for more as a crucial motivating force behind economic health and growth” (2006, 90), many individuals remarked on a need to “reign in our needs […] our cravings and desires” (Ayres). This is a crucial aspect in Dawson’s explanation of the eco-village as an approach to voluntary simplicity and self-reliance. As well as individual needs, there was also a notable imperative of reducing needs communally, reflecting perhaps less individualistic motivations compared to neoliberal rationales.
Consistent with the ideas of self-reliance however, and despite a focus on local, ethical and reduced consumption, it is important to note that individuals did not necessarily endeavour to live completely ‘outside’ the consumerist lifestyle. “We have got mod cons and blenders and laptops and stereos and everyone’s got their own big bedroom and it is nice and cosy and warm and hot water on tap and stuff like that” (Paul). This aspect opposes Dawson’s claim of a “post-consumerist lifestyle” (2006, 9)- perhaps surprising to some who understand ‘community’ and ‘alternative lifestyles’ as aspiring towards a utopian, past golden age, and redefines them as inherently social, based upon ethically considered consumption. Rather than completely cutting out capitalist modes of consumption, individuals seemed to agree that certain things would still be deemed as necessary, according to their practical value; “Swedish factories make axes a lot better than I ever will. I am not interested in being truly self-sufficient in that way, so I will need some money” (Jake) Efforts were thus focused towards a more negotiable dependence on capitalist markets, rather than denying it completely. These negotiations were often based heavily on the social history of the products that they bought, in terms of their production realities and future disposal, which again evoked self-reliance; “We think about everything we buy…because we have to deal with the waste of those things […] the day [my iPod] breaks I will be heart-broken, because I can’t imagine buying another one because I know how it’s made” (Ayres). This again appeals to the social nature of economic decisions, and exhibits a self-cultivation in which individuals are actively seeking information on the social history of products, indicating a shift from the economic focus in capitalism which “obscures the social and environmental consequences of such behaviour” (Gibson-Graham, 2006, 90).
Surplus and Commons
Mainstream distributions of surplus and wealth are largely focused upon the wage relation in capitalism. In her first book, Gibson-Graham proposes a new distributional politics focused on resource and property distribution and the rights of succeeding generations to these resources, instead of income (1996, 178). It is this element that I wish to focus on in this next section.
The ecological movement seeks to reunite community with the commons, viewing them as “two sides of the same coin” (de Angelis, 2003, 10), and there is a long history in Britain of resistance and opposition to the enclosure of the commons (Pickerill and Maxey, 1522). Lammas demonstrated a strong commitment to this in its distribution of the land, which was based around the establishment of the Industrial and Provident Society and an ethic of communally owned land.
According to de Angelis, commons are an alternative, non-commodified means to fulfil social needs through direct access to social wealth (2003, 1, 7). This was an interpretation shared by many of the individuals interviewed, who spoke of gaining access to land and means of production as an ‘empowering’ way to meet needs directly; “without having to engage in the global industrial order” (Jasmine). This opposes the “trickle-down” theory endorsed by the global economy, which insists that wealth obtained by the few will eventually benefit everyone. Many interpretations described a relationship and reciprocity with the land; “there comes a point when the land starts to feed you and support you, having put in your land-based infrastructure […] the tables turn, if you like” (Paul). This mirrors Gibson-Graham’s explanation of access to commons as a way to build community economy which in turn encourages greater well-being and social interconnection (2006, 188). Direct access to land and food production here contradicts the ‘artificial scarcity’ involved in competitive participation in the capitalist market, and by meeting needs directly, this ‘lack’ which makes us “run like rats no matter how much we produce” is exposed as sheer lack of access to the plentiful means of production from the land ( De Angelis2003, 6).
Access to land was also deliberated in terms of affordability, as a solution to high-priced housing in Britain and stagnating incomes (as argued by Pickerill and Maxey, 1524), as well as to other social problems; “you could actually let [people on benefits] grow their own food, but ofcourse they can’t afford to buy a house in the country because someone has decided that it costs that much to prevents people using the land […] it is the solution to all sorts of problems” (Su). By meeting food and housing needs directly from the land rather than through the capitalist market, costs are reduced radically.
Contrary to popular assumption that everyone follows individualistic instincts to optimize their own production at the expense of collective benefits, such as Hardin’s philosophy of the commons (1968, 1244), in this perspective of the commons individuals use the land in a way that benefits the community as a whole; “we need to cooperate rather than compete” (Kit), supporting Gibson-Graham’s idea of the community economy in which surplus is non-exploitative and depends on what kind of consumption serves and strengthens the community (2006, 93). Issues of intergenerational rights to resources were also reflected in feedback from various individuals, appealing to ideas of sustainability, and showing further rejection of more individualistic attitudes towards resources.
As a community living rurally and off-grid, there are evidently also many resources that are shared and distributed between them, such as water, energy, waste disposal and laundry facilities. [On hydro-electric system]…putting that system in independently would have cost about 2million pounds[…]So doing things communally, like the track ways and the water system and managing the woodland and providing power[…]are more efficient and more sensible to be a community run collective, collectively sourced things” (Kit). This highlights a crucial difference between traditional social surplus distribution; which sees surplus enter the hands of individual capitalists who regard it as rightfully theirs, and alternative distribution, in which surplus “may be used to support those currently not producing or to help build and sustain the material and cultural infrastructure of the social order”; thereby producing and making possible ‘community’ (Gibson-Graham, 2006, 97). This was appreciated by many participants who recognised the support network and communal resource system as an important factor in reducing costs, thus referring again to issues of affordability.
According to Gibson-Graham, commons are made and shared by community (2006, 95) and must be maintained and replenished. Many individuals discussed this in terms of ecological restoration, seeking to increase diversity and vitality, often referring to their own project in juxtaposition to the neighbouring farm which practised large scale, modern agriculture funded by subsidies. One participant described it as; “Grass cropped down to 5m by the sheep, and all life gone basically. Just scraps of life other than sheep, tattered chemical fabrics draped on gorse bushes, it’s just bleak, and it’s just a blasted, blasted landscape, […] you are constantly battling with everything” (Jake). Critiques of this form of agriculture were not aimed at the farmers themselves but rather the futility of the system as whole which was seen to be inherently wasteful and ignorant of diversity.
There was a broad agreement that instead it was necessary to work on a more local scale, “in this economy that is more about growth […] You have to mechanise everything on a larger and larger scale, so what we are doing is making things on a human scale, making things labour intensive (Ayres), working towards a land use which was more ethical, feasible, and low-impact. This is also evident in literature, which sees communities and commons as “basic building bricks of society and close enough to control, to be responsible for a critical of a basic organic level on social organisation (de Marcellus, 3, 2003). Here, a more logical and human scale is perhaps an antidote to Stiglitz’s idea of modern economic management being a situation which breeds an apathy and ignorance for the consequences of one’s actions. By looking at the ecovillage movement from the perspective of Gibson-Graham’s ‘diverse economy’, criticisms of the movement for being too “niche and small-scale” (Pickerill and Maxey, 1516) are rendered irrelevant.
This study has explored how individuals at Lammas are challenging the supposed hegemony and singularity of the global economy, investigating the myriad of ways in which one can ‘do’ economy. Despite the two-sided nature attributed to the economy as capitalist or non-capitalist; Lammas demonstrated a multitude of practices within both these fields, thus employing Gibson-Graham’s framework of the ‘diverse economy’.
Analysis of how goods and services are exchanged revealed a plethora of capitalist, alternative and non-capitalist transactions and implied an economy of generosity. Relationships to work and leisure were addressed as a way to regain life-control, work being a source of enjoyment, and leisure not necessarily pure self-indulgence., with capitalist values of time being replaced by values of well-being. Although there was much emphasis on local, home-grown consumption and voluntary simplicity, an adherence to ideas of self-reliance meant that participants also acknowledged the advantages of more capitalist modes of consumption, and negotiated this around a compromise between production realities and practical use. Access to land and productive systems were regarded as a way to reduce living costs, obtaining direct access to social wealth. Discussions of land use suggested priorities of sustainable, low-impact, diversifying, and communally beneficial activities, working with the land rather than against it on a human scale ensuring a logical and feasible space to govern and protect.
Ecovillages are profoundly holistic and cannot be reduced to their constituent parts (Pickerill and Maxey 2009, 1532), and the sum of its whole is arguably greater than the sum of its parts. The fluid nature of the ecovillage as a site of experimentation enables it to adapt to future demands and changing socio-ecological conditions of the environment, again evoking Gibson-Graham’s notion of ‘being-in-common’. This economic experimentation attempts to encourage individuals, both those partaking in and outside of Lammas, to embark on their own route to a diverse economy, and “quietly offers the opportunity to contemplate different and even non-capitalist futures” (Gibson-Graham, 1996, 179). By understanding economic values in their own right (not anchored to capitalocentric discourse), we can redirect our vision to other possibilities which allow us to perform in different ways.
Many criticise projects associated with the community-economy as being too niche and small-scale, as “non-credible alternatives to what exists” (Santos, in Gibson-Graham, 2006, 57 ). Yet, this is a fundamental part of these projects as they crucially seek not to offer universal and one-size-fits-all solutions, but rather the broader intent is to offer new scope for valid, diverse, and sustainable economies by carving out new ways of living; transcending the artificial boundaries of the global economy. Although one ecovillage alone is not enough to instigate radical change, the development of new planning policies and support for new low-impact projects could well provide headway for networks of similar developments. It is widely acknowledged in the academic community that we are in a period of transition, a feeling reflected in many discourses of peak oil and sheer unsustainability. I hope to have contributed to the debates surrounding potential alternative and non-capitalist lifestyles in this study, proving the credibility and indeed reality of such economies. I argue that recognition of these is essential as a way forward to a more sustainable, inclusive economic order.
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