INFORMAL ECONOMIES AS A CHALLENGE TO GLOBAL CAPITALISM
- 1 CIRCULATION OF CAPITAL/INTERSECTION OF PEOPLE
- 2 Circulation
- 3 Intersection
- 4 IS THERE THE POSSIBILITY TO RECONNECT PEOPLE WITH EACH OTHER? CAN NEW TECHNOLOGIES BE USEFUL FOR THAT AIM?
- 5 INFORMAL AND SHARING PRACTICES AS ADVERSARIES OF GLOBAL ECONOMIES
- 6 ASSEMBLAGES
- 7 DISTRIBUTED NETWORK
- 8 References
CIRCULATION OF CAPITAL/INTERSECTION OF PEOPLE
In the last decades critics of academic world identified and theorized many economic and social changes. These are mainly related to both the ever growing globalization process and the concomitant multinational corporate diffusion of finance capitalism across different geopolitical boundaries, where concepts such as flow and circulation are frequently mentioned to explain this phenomena’s nature. The contemporary processes of globalization show how capitalism has again reinvented itself, from a production-centric system, linked to modern social imaginaries based on the notion of nation-state, to the emergent post-fordist circulation-based capitalism that privileges a worldwide totality, cutting across national boundaries and rendering outmoded the notions of national economy and national sovereignty. The new way in which capitalism is developing draws new geographies of power between the national and the local, created by the spaces of transnational flows, which shape lives and imagination of people living in a specific place. For Saskia Sassen (Sassen S., 2008) these new geographies of centrality consist in a network of powerful developed cities – the global city – that is playing an increasingly important role in our geopolitical asset; a role even more significant than the one played by national governments or by country in its totality, due to the strategic role of the city as commercial, financial and political centre which is dismantling local, national and regional spaces. Indeed, Marx’s theory about the age of industrial capitalism doesn’t seem fully explain the contemporary scenario: finance capitalism, especially through derivatives and other financial tools, demonstrates the ascendance of new structures of circulation. The advent of circulation-based capitalism is reflected in two circulatory movements, namely the transnational character of labour and the global mobility of finance capital. This shift constitutes a radical transformation: it involves the dismantling of the nation-state and of the related form of capitalism in order to reconstruct it on a global scale. Capitalism was always characterized by the attempt to reach the totality, but now has become global: thus it is no more understandable only from the perspective of the citizen-state and the national public sphere. In this sense it is possible to affirm that global capitalism, as a form of domination, could be the successor of colonialism as its aim is to absorb discrete cultures and create a unified culture of unimpeded circulation. Furthermore, Lee and Lipuma’s analysis (Lee B., LiPuma E., 2002) of cultures of circulation highlights the fact that it is a process that involves establishment and transmission of meanings within a specific production of knowledge, since it is more than a mere circulation of people, goods or ideas. Social and cultural forms along with technologies bear the advent of circulation-based capitalism. The cultures of circulation suggests that the creation of new social imaginaries based on systems of value and meaning arise from this new capitalistic structure and at the same time help to reproduce it. So, in this context, how is it possible to gain greater emancipation?
In a recent research about the potentials of urban life, Abdoumaliq Simone (Simone A., 2009) compares the notion of circulation to the notion of intersection. Circulation, as it has been already highlighted, has an important role in the growth of financial capitalism since circulation, in the major cities of Europe and North America, has been circulation of money, credit, and other financial instruments that have shaped urban economies. Nevertheless, the meaning of circulation does not imply a real intersection between people, it is not a context for reflection, deliberation or experimentation, whereas intersection is more about people doing something together, collaborating with each other to create new ideas, and relying on more horizontal forms of knowledge, as happened, for instance, in the Otigba Computer Village in Lagos (Simone A., 2009:183). Space has to be transformed in crossroads, points of intersection in order to develop new engagements and social collaboration. Also Saskia Sassen (Sassen S., 2013) states the necessity of connecting people, in particular city residents, to oppose the power of the cities dominating the economic, social and technological relationships. Global cities are thus the central hub for trade, finance, banking, innovation and economic opportunities. New York, Tokyo, London, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai are connected globally but locally, physically and socially disconnected. Sassen goes beyond the old divisions between North and South, rich and poor countries, East and West, because she noticed that the rich classes in the cities have more in common than they have with the people of their own country. Her thought is that we will have a network of powerful developed cities and, in order to contrast this networked urban space it is crucial to connect neighbourhoods, mobilizing city residents through digital space to communicate their knowledge about their own space to make it specific rather then the rest of the city. Furthermore, connectivity can help to liberate systems of knowledge from governmental institutions, which are often closed since they tend to verticalize their work. The main point here is that street and bottom-up knowledge can contribute to destabilize formal and standard knowledge. This can be possible through open-source technologies used by neighbours in order to generate more engagement by city residents, more comparisons between different areas of the city, exchanges and potential collaborations in order to create alternative forms of knowledge, a different city culture. According to Saskia Sassen, cities and urban territories are increasingly appropriate spaces for politics compared to the ones of the State. In fact, informal political actors are reduced to invisibility, while the urban space offers them a political arena where they can take visibility through occupations, demonstrations for immigrant's rights, struggles for housing and against precarization of working conditions and unemployment. Thus, cities and networks to which they belong facilitate global struggles, thanks to information technology such as the Internet, which have strengthened the urban map of these transnational networks. When these forms of struggle are developed in global cities, the political possibilities are completely different because of the strategic importance of the city for global capital.
IS THERE THE POSSIBILITY TO RECONNECT PEOPLE WITH EACH OTHER? CAN NEW TECHNOLOGIES BE USEFUL FOR THAT AIM?
The necessity to connect people with each other also through digital space is a crucial issue to counter global powers. For Guattari, Post-industrial capitalism, which he calls Integrated World Capitalism, is delocalized and de-territorialized and therefore it is impossible to individuate where its power stems from  . Guattari argues that social control is driven by mass media and the expansion of capitalism is due to the spread of communication technology: “the world as a single community linked by telecommunications” (Guattari F., 2000:6). Mass media contributes to create demand within markets, and this pressure shapes and manipulates individuals in their attitudes, sensibility, minds, and social relations to let emerge individualism and solitude. Guattari refers in particular to older mass media communication devices like television, which makes the individuals passive spectators, cut off from any type of social relationship and responsability. In this context of isolation what is essential for Guattari is to invent new collective assemblages, for instance the couple, the family, the school, the neighbourhood, etc. However, as Guattari already grasped more than twenty years ago, technological evolution will change the situation not only expanding the possibilities of interaction between the users and the medium but also between users themselves in order to initiate an autonomous collective sensibility and intelligence. Nevertheless, Guattari warns us that this transformation is not taken for granted and everything will depend on the capacity of groups of people to make the proper use of these new possibilities given by technological evolution (Genosko G., 2002). Following Guattari, it can be said that people need to reconnect with each other and create new forms of solidarity and mutuality in order to escape from the needs of capitalism, which makes real life disappeared into financial accumulation, that is to say, into abstraction and derealisation, as stated by Franco Berardi (Steyerl H., 2013). It is undeniable that new technologies can contribute to improve the level of the mutual exchange of information and that they may be useful to abolish the gap between citizens and institutions and encourage dialogue and active participation. The Internet represents shared knowledge, which not only encourages participation but can also be a factor of development and social inclusion, since it allows faster communications, information and participation. Jeff Howe (Howe J., 2009), the first one to use the term crowd sourcing, highlights that there is the necessity to encourage the development of platforms that foster the processes of knowledge sharing, the mode of production, and the way of governing complex systems. Social networks have the strenght of weak ties theorized by Mark Granovetter (Granovetter M.S., 1973). What is at stake here is the possibility to look at the web not only as a pure market infrastructure but also as the service of a more effective communication and social collaboration, capable of creating knowledge and innovation (Nalibeliis a wiki site that allows citizens to crowd source information on how to navigate public services in Nepal).
INFORMAL AND SHARING PRACTICES AS ADVERSARIES OF GLOBAL ECONOMIES
Forms of informal economy, as well as of sharing economy, are steadily growing, thanks to the development of new technologies and in particular to the evolution of the Web 2.0. In this context, what it is important to highlight is the fact that these economies are increasingly contrasting large-scale economy, the circulation-based economy, which actually is where the big crisis of 2008 has been originated. Therefore, on the one hand, the still current crisis has questioned the two principal institution of social and economic life, namely the State and the market. On the other hand, the technological development empowered people and small organizations to launch small businesses. The new emerging technologies are more about scope than scale. For example, the free software industry, instead of sustaining itself on monopolistic global businesses, it is based on free knowledge that can be used and modified by anyone. Free software is the first industry based on a completely different system of property and production: the peer-to-peer mode of production, which has not central leadership or hierarchy, but is rather based on free competition. Informal practices as hackers, crowd funding, do-it-yourself, bartering and peer-to-peer economy are expressing a trend towards re-localization against the large-scale economy, which operates through globalization and delocalization (Grupo Cooperativo de Las Indias, 2013). For example, a recent project by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips, "The Misfit Economy", emphasizes the potentialities of illegal entrerprises such as hackers in playing the role of innovators through employing original methods and practices that can be applied to formal markets.
Cyberspace allows consumers to speak freely with each other, so that businesses have increasingly lost control over the information available on them. Historically, companies were able to control the information available about them through strategically placed press announcements and good public relations managers. Today, firms have been increasingly relegated to the sidelines as mere observers, having neither the knowledge nor the chance to alter publicly posted comments provided by their customers. Wikipedia, for example, expressly forbids the participation of firms in its online community. The so called Web 2.0 describes a new way in which software developers and end-users started to utilize the World Wide Web; that is, as a platform whereby content and applications are no longer created and published by individuals, but instead are continuously modified by all users in a participatory and collaborative fashion. Collaborative projects enable the joint and simultaneous creation of content by many end-users and are probably the most democratic manifestation of the web as, for example, wikis, that are websites which allow users to add, remove, and change text-based content. The main idea underlying collaborative projects is that the joint effort of many actors leads to a better outcome than any actor could achieve individually (Kaplan A.M., Haenlein M., 2010).
The rise of informal practices is also a result of neoliberal policies and its coterminous: deregulation, privatization of public goods and services, and subjection of politics to finance. The necessity to find alternative solution and the emergence of new technological tools, which enable communication networks between people, can contribute to accelerate this shift towards a new way of production based on a cooperative way of competing and on the formation of a new commons within which knowledge can become open to all.
The hacker movement was born thanks to the increasing use of the Internet. One of its most important contributions was Linux – the first free operating system –, which outlined the foundations for the peer-to-peer economy's rise. For hackers knowledge itself is the main reason for production and for work in community; they want to produce and to learn more, and in doing so they aim to remove all types of barriers such as monopolies and intellectual property raised by the large-scale industry. Subsequently, the free software production’s structure has been applied in the cultural field firstly to music, literature, and film, and secondly to material objects, as demonstrated by the project Wikispeed, which is a car company that manufactures modular and open source cars, and revolutionize the field of industrial production by applying lean management taken from the software world in order to improve productivity. In 2012, Wikispeed became the first car manufacturer in the United States to accept electronic money Bitcoin as payment. The production between peers is based on sharing knowledge which is free of cost and free for anyone to use. Also, it is characterized by the lack of central authority and hierarchy because it doesn’t need leaders or governments to develop since it depends on collaborative labour within a small productive scale (Grupo Cooperativo de Las Indias, 2013).
Emerging informal economies also demonstrates the changing spatial relations in a world of social connectivity: in that sense, the mobilities turn in the field of communication, uses the concept of assemblages to construct a non Euclidean mode of social space. In effect, the spatiality of the assemblage is not coextensive with the boundaries of the Nation, which however still remains the most influential way of organizing social space. This is defined by Lefebvre as a social product, which serves as a tool of thought and of action, and in addition to be a means of production it is also a means of control, domination and power. Capitalism strives for absolute domination and the Euclidean space is a homogenized space that can be easily exploited by the market, since this type of de-realized space does not put forward boundaries that limit its action (Debord G., 1987). An Assemblage is not defined as a set of predetermined parts that are put together into an already conceived fixed structure, but it is instead a collection of heterogeneous elements whose relation is crucial: an assemblage cannot be defined until one find out what it can do. “The concept of assemblage shows us how institutions, organizations, bodies, practices and habits make and unmake each other, intersecting and transforming: creating territories and then unmaking them, de-territorializing, opening lines of flight as a possibility of any assemblage, but also shutting them down.” (Stivale C.J. (ed), 2005:100). Through this concept it is possible to widen the idea of social space, including social relations, geographical mobilities and communication networks. Nowadays the social space no longer matches exclusively with the city or the region, neither coincides with geographical space. Global interconnectedness and communication create assemblages: even though they may coexist with the fixed territories of the Nation, they can also provide a critical perspective on it while allowing a broader sense of space against the boundaries of the nation-state. Hardt and Negri claim that with the decline of the Nation State, the citizenship is freed from biopolitical technologies of national citizenship, creating the mobile multitude, which are no more linked to particular nationalities. This liberation of the moltitude from the chains of particular territorialized integrity can constitute a new geography of confrontation with the repressive apparatus of capitalism’s Empire, making possible a counter-Empire of resistance. Ong noted instead that global markets didn’t produce globalized conditions for labor solidarity because the temporal uncertainty of employment works against political coherence and worker organization (Ong, A., 2006). Wiley et al. (Wiley S.B.C., Sutko D.M., Becerra T.M., 2010) use the concept of assemblage to outline the belonging of people to various social networks that overlap between them and the consequent formation of the space of social relationship. Assemblage is a useful concept for mapping informal practices through communication networks, given the uneven nature of the components of these social practices, which are difficult to understand on the basis of obsolete concepts related to fixed and consistent relationship in a homogeneous space. For example, in the case of crowd funding, assemblage is useful to draw the interactions between real life and virtual life and between various types of space involved (local, national, global and cultural) and to account for the fluidity of combinations that may occur in the networked relationships (mobile assemblage of backers, for instance). In fact, websites for crowd funding are sites for connecting supporters and creators, which share almost the same interests and expectations, beyond the boundaries of the Nation (Luka M.E., 2012). In this sense, it is useful to think about informal practices through the lens of the mobility studies, which can account for the effects of mobility, and mobile communication on social relations and on production of social space, which is no more fixed for all time or pre-established as in the national space but always changing. The concept of assemblage can help to provide a framework for interpreting phenomena that challenge the political and cultural space defined as national, as is happening with global interconnectedness, which operates across all milieus. (Wiley S.B.C., Packer J., 2010).
Baran P., (1962) On Distributed Communications Networks. Santa Monica: The RAND Corporation.
The relationship between people sharing free knowledge in informal and sharing economies, through communication technologies, is not based on a central leadership or hierarchy. It relies instead on distributed networks in which we all can participate and be web activists. Paul Baran was the first to think about different types of communication structures. In “On Distributed Communications Networks” (Baran P., 1962) he affirmed that military communications in the 1960s were vulnerable because based on a centralized system whose central node could have easily been removed by the enemy, thus defeating the whole network of communications. As a consequence of that, Baran conceived a more reliable communication network, based on redundancy of connectivity: the distributed network, where the loss of a node would not lead to a total failure as in the centralized and decentralized structure. Specifically, centralized communication is characterized by the fact that all nodes send information to the central node, and it is typical of a centralist state. As for decentralized communications, the network is composed by several central node connected to other central nodes; although this kind of structure imply a higher degree of pluralism and freedom, because of the fact that there is not a unique central node, they are still centralized structures in each local subnet. Distributed networks instead, have the ability to connect any node, which is the basic unit of the network, with each other. In this way, none of them can filter information on their own, and this property enables communication between peers without passing through any central authority. This is the most direct consequence of the Internet: the emergence of a new kind of social interactions, which bring millions of people together, and the possibility to promote a new social consensus: spontaneous movements in Manila, Madrid, Athens, Hong Kong, or the Arab spring, all originated in the blogosphere, which represents the first distributed medium of communication. They are symptoms of a new form of social organization and communication, which is growing ever stronger as demonstrated by a whole series of movements ranging from revolution to civic protest that rely on new communications and information technologies (Grupo Cooperativo de Las Indias, 2013).
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- A. Ong argue that although it is true the geography of capitalism has changed and it now operates through flexible networks crossing national borders, it is undeniable the working conditions are still segregating on the basis of ethnicity and gender