Solidarity economies, cooperation, and anti- and non-capitalist entrepreneurship have become an important part of mainstream discussions on economic and community development. What can anthropology offer to the study and practice of alternative and radical entrepreneurship?
In the past decade, social and solidarity economies, cooperation, and diverse forms of anti- and non-capitalist entrepreneurship have emerged within mainstream discussions around economic and community-development. These patterns mark the spectre of alternative possibilities within an age of precarity and dwindling faith in once-trusted institutions. Globally, well-funded and highly respected organizations are being drawn towards studying, participating in and organizing alternative economic and social fields. The question of 'what can anthropologists offer' to understandings of a radical, alternative entrepreneurship is increasingly pressing.
Anthropology's history is deeply intertwined with critiques of capitalism. Anthropologists' toolkits contain a plethora of resources for studying business, entrepreneurs and value-making within and under capitalism. What can we offer now that large institutions demonstrate willingness to not only discuss capitalism but to actively promote and facilitate alternatives? How can anthropologists participate in the next step; towards developing and mobilizing knowledge and practice in radical, alternative entrepreneurship?
This panel invites researchers and practitioners who are thinking and working with radical, anti- and non-capitalist entrepreneurs to share their reflections and experiences. Collectively, we ask, what might an anthropology of radical entrepreneurship look like? How might anthropologists advance this field without retracing their discipline's colonial legacy? How can ethnographic knowledge be put to use here, and what challenges may be encountered?
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Anti-capitalist activism in Madrid: challenges of urban ethnography
During 10 months of fieldwork in Madrid with Spanish activists, I witnessed their anti-capitalist entrepreneurship in the fight for sustainable social, economic and political alternatives for themselves, their barrios, and their neighbours.
A participant once said to me, "I think Spain is always a few steps behind other countries in Europe … this is like our 'crack of opportunity'." He was referring to the capitalist model that Spain has been following, which he, and most of my participants, believe is unsustainable.
I have recently completed 10 months of fieldwork with anti-capitalist activists in Madrid. Against the backdrop of rapidly gentrifying, or "dying" barrios (neighbourhoods), I witnessed the entrepreneurship displayed by my participants through their involvement in Okupas, collectives, or grupos de consumo (consumer groups). These entrepreneurs were actively creating and supporting small-scale alternatives to capitalism.
Anti-capitalist entrepreneurs in Madrid did not, in my experience, limit their concern to just one facet. Rather, many issues were engaged with, and thus were weaved together to create complex identities and ideologies. For example, participants who were proponents of an anti-capitalist view also tended to engage in broader debates about neoliberalism, securitization, feminism and environmental sustainability.
The broad range of anti-capitalist engagement of my participants, as well as their high degree of mobility, made "doing ethnography" in this field quite challenging. I soon found it impossible to at once keep up with my participants, and also to restrict myself to specific locations within the city. If not impossible, it at least felt incongruent with the lives of these participants. Limiting or 'bounding' the field during ethnographic research with activists in contemporary settings may be a key challenge facing anthropologists going forward.
Economic value & cultural values: identifying and organising as Gugu Badhun Nation through economic development
Gugu Badhun Aboriginal Nation are developing a culturally distinct economy as one strategy of nation-building, and while it may work within a neoliberal system it is a radically different model, which we explore in this paper.
In this paper, we will look at Gugu Badhun economic development as one strategy of nation-building through which they are both identifying and organizing as a nation. Given that economic development happens within the broader neoliberal market, it is important for Gugu Badhun values to be firmly established as the foundation for a culturally relevant economy. We will examine the Gugu Badhun Community Plan, as well as data from community workshops and participant-observation, to unpack what those values are and how they will underpin a Gugu Badhun economy. In particular, we will compare the values of a Gugu Badhun economy against other values, like those of a capitalist economy and those of a social enterprise model.
Occupying 'enterprise': the radical appropriation of entrepreneurship
Observers often problematically demand radical entrepreneurs reject normative business practices entirely before seeing them as legitimately non- or anti- capitalist. Radical entrepreneurs in Catalonia operate across these perceived binaries to produce robust political and economic projects.
Portrayals of activist practice are often limited to the spectacular and contentious - large urban manifestations, picket lines and the (sometimes illegal) occupation of buildings and landmarks. To paraphrase David Graeber, these are often just the tips of much larger social movement icebergs. In Catalonia, an autonomous region northeast of Spain, the left-libertarian and anarchist movement field is marked by a burgeoning and increasingly diverse entrepreneurial sector. Here, activists are appropriating the discourse and practice of entrepreneurship to fashion new sources of income, work, and material provisioning reflecting radical political and social tenets.
This presentation draws on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork within Catalonia's radical entrepreneurial sector, and in particular within an illegal, community-oriented brewing cooperative. Consumers and critics alike often demand entrepreneurs completely disavow normative business practices before attributing them legitimacy as non- or anti-capitalist endeavours. I argue that radical entrepreneurship entails a degree of heterogeneity often obscured within notions of post-, anti- and non-capitalist practice. Entrepreneurs on the ground demonstrate that viable, radical entrepreneurship requires careful negotiation between commonly perceived binaries - between legal and illegal property use, social currency and state fiat and formal and informal organization, to name a few. This presentation explores how entrepreneurs negotiate between these domains, curating their entrepreneurial structure and brand accordingly. The presentation emphasizes the heterogeneity entailed within radical entrepreneurship, and problematizes the effectiveness of pigeonholing projects as inherently anti-, post- or non-capitalist enterprises.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.