Beyond waged work: The everyday politics of alternative socio-economic practices

by Gradon Jay Diprose

Institution: Victoria University of Wellington
Year: 2015
Keywords: Community Economies; Subjectivity; Art
Record ID: 1297934
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10063/4150


Within geography and beyond there has been much discussion about how to best respond to the mounting inequalities, pressing environmental concerns and socio-economic precarity that appear to characterise current neoliberal capitalist societies. Kathi Weeks (2011) suggests that contemporary forms of precarity are linked to dominant discourses around waged labour which she terms the ‘work society’. This work society is characterised by three inter-related expectations that frame waged work as morally necessary, as the primary right to citizenship, and as the main way to participate in wider society. Weeks argues that these expectations have increased since the global financial crisis, yet paradoxically there are fewer secure and meaningful waged jobs available. In response to these socio-economic and environmental concerns, feminist autonomous geographers like J-K Gibson-Graham (2006) argue that the best way to respond is to ‘take back the economy’ at local scales. Rather than ‘overthrowing’ global neoliberal capitalism, Gibson-Graham and groups such as the Community Economies Collective have been engaged in ongoing projects which foster and enact alternative practices and subjectivities. In this thesis I draw on the work of J-K Gibson-Graham, the Community Economies Collective and others to explore two examples of collective social action in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. These two examples are the relational arts platform, Letting Space, and the Wellington Timebank. I employ a post-structural approach drawing on ethnographic methods to explore how these collectives foster and enact alternative forms of exchange and community in response to the dominant discourses of the work society. I draw on the ideas of Jacques Rancière (2001; 2004) to show how the practices associated with Letting Space and the Wellington Timebank create political moments which disrupt the work society. I complement these discussions about political moments by drawing on the work of Judith Butler (2006b) and Jean-Luc Nancy (1991; 2000) to show how subjects enact forms of community that are not based on fixed identities. In this thesis I provide an important contribution to geographic literature by illustrating the potential of relational art and Timebanking practices to move beyond the melancholy affects associated with leftist politics over the last 30 years. I argue that the forms of social action explored in this research provide one practical way for subjects to partially negotiate the contradictions of the work society while simultaneously fostering forms of community that are more open and not premised on exclusionary identity categories.