From The Memory Bank:
Edited transcription of an improvised talk for a seminar, “Social movements and the solidarity economy”, organized by Jean-Louis Laville and Geoffrey Pleyers, EHESS, Paris, 2 February 2012.
I was asked to report on the project I am involved in which has the same name as The Human Economy book; but, given this course’s focus on social movements, I decided that I should try to insert the perspective on economy I have developed into contemporary political processes and events. I have been writing, editing and researching about alternative approaches to the economy for a long time and blogging about politics more recently, but never the two together. In the last year, as a result of the North African revolutions and then the Occupy movement, I have come to see that the economic and political arguments have to be brought much closer together. Taking our lead from this moment in world history, we need to ask how the work that Jean-Louis and I have long been engaged in – on human economy, économie solidaire, social economy – needs to be modified in order to lend support to what has become a serious political movement at the global level.
I entered our collaboration after Jean-Louis, with Antonio David Cattani, published an expanded version of the Dictionnaire de l’autre économie in 2006. I published an enthusiastic review essay about it. I was staggered by the range of analysis concerning economic and political development that it contained. I have been living in Paris for 15 years and I feel lucky to have been here during what I see as a Renaissance of French economic sociology. The book edited by Philippe Steiner and François Vatin, Traité de sociologie économique, is a testament to the constellation of brilliant economic sociologists that France has produced in the last decade or more. It was equally clear that this work was largely unknown in the English-speaking world and, increasingly under Chirac and Sarkozy, lacked a receptive audience in France as well. So, since my friends in this field were being frozen out of French politics to some extent, we had the idea of selling the project to the English-speakers or at least to those who speak English as a second language. Geoffrey has already introduced the result, The Human Economy: A Citizen’s Guide (2010).
All the predecessor volumes were called, in various languages, Dictionary of the Other Economy. We dropped that particular formulation for reasons that will become the main theme of my talk today. The difference between what are conventionally known as the extreme left and the centre left lies in the concept of change that each of them has. The extreme left conceives of the future as the negation of what it calls “capitalism” in a unitary way and imagines a radical rupture with that system in ways that are not always specified, but are thought to be revolutionary. The centre left, whether it relies on state intervention or the mobilization of voluntary associations of various kinds, tends to emphasize more gradual and continuous developments building on what people are doing already. We felt that labelling our intellectual work as “the other economy” lent itself too readily to radical utopias. Jean-Louis and I based our conversation on what Marcel Mauss and Karl Polanyi understood by economic change, since we were looking for a more positive construction than a simple negation; and this is where the idea of a human economy came from.