Decolonial Feminist Economics: A Necessary View for Strengthening Social and Popular Economy

Quiroga 02

The cri­sis of the rela­tion between human well-being and the cap­i­tal­ist econ­omy is clear. Soci­eties in the so-called core coun­tries of Europe and the United States are fac­ing the per­sis­tent dete­ri­o­ra­tion of their liv­ing con­di­tions while the cap­i­tal gen­er­ated by large cor­po­ra­tions and the finan­cial sys­tem is ever more con­cen­trated.

The unem­ploy­ment, vul­ner­a­bil­ity, and poverty faced by a large part of soci­ety in coun­tries that used to be sit­u­ated as win­ners on the world stage, have shown the lim­its of an eco­nomic the­ory in the ser­vice of the mar­ket. The well-being of human beings and the inte­gra­tion of the whole of soci­ety has been neglected by the neolib­eral focus on eco­nom­ics of recent decades, which places the sat­is­fac­tion of needs at the level of the indi­vid­ual, con­se­quently, eco­nomic the­ory has been ori­ented toward the proper func­tion­ing of mar­kets.

In Latin Amer­ica, the per­spec­tives of pop­u­lar econ­omy and social econ­omy have chal­lenged the indi­vid­u­al­ist par­a­digm, focus­ing on the sat­is­fac­tion of col­lec­tive needs. Their con­cep­tual devel­op­ments result from the region’s par­tic­u­lar con­text and his­tory, thereby break­ing with the uni­ver­sal­ist pre­ten­sions of ortho­dox eco­nom­ics and reveal­ing the his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter of eco­nomic processes as well as the het­ero­gene­ity of its prac­tices.

Fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics devel­ops a sim­i­lar cri­tique of the con­sti­tu­tion of a pro­foundly “male-cen­tric” eco­nomic ratio­nal­ity, which priv­i­leges behav­iors asso­ci­ated with com­pe­ti­tion and indi­vid­u­al­ism, val­ues that under patri­archy have been assigned to men. In con­trast behav­iors of sol­i­dar­ity, care, and reci­procity are con­sid­ered to be extra-eco­nomic and fem­i­nine within the same gen­der regime.1

The inter­ac­tion between fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics and social and pop­u­lar econ­omy reveals the impor­tance of non-mar­ket set­tings, as well as under­stand­ing the dif­fer­ent con­tri­bu­tions and needs of women and men in this sce­nario. These include, for exam­ple, spaces asso­ci­ated with care and activ­i­ties of repro­duc­tion, the exis­tence of a mul­ti­plic­ity of eco­nomic prac­tices rooted in knowl­edges con­structed from eth­nic­ity, gen­der, and ter­ri­tory. There­fore, their con­tri­bu­tions expand the sce­nar­ios and alter­na­tives for pub­lic poli­cies that revalue exist­ing prac­tices.

The first part of this arti­cle briefly presents def­i­n­i­tions of pop­u­lar and fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics, to show how the inter­ac­tion between these fields can con­tribute to the for­mu­la­tion of pub­lic poli­cies in the city. In the sec­ond part, I make rec­om­men­da­tions for pub­lic pol­icy that chal­lenge mar­ket enclo­sure, based on the reval­oriza­tion of non-com­mod­i­fied set­tings, the con­ti­nu­ity between pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion, and the affir­ma­tion of the com­mon.

Popular Economy: A Theoretical Contribution from Latin America

From the hege­monic per­spec­tive in the region, the prin­ci­ple objec­tive of eco­nom­ics has been mod­ern­iza­tion. There­fore, non-cap­i­tal­ist eco­nomic prac­tices have been addressed through con­cepts asso­ci­ated with under­de­vel­op­ment and infor­mal­ity, high­light­ing the neces­sity of “over­com­ing” eco­nomic forms rooted in people’s his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence and their cul­ture, in the hybridiza­tion of the campesino and the urban worlds. Faced with this diver­sity, devel­op­ment pro­grams, these being the gen­er­al­iza­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist ethic, were for­mu­lated.

Anchored in polit­i­cal processes and the recog­ni­tion of exist­ing prac­tices, the con­cepts of pop­u­lar econ­omy and social econ­omy were devel­oped. Although diverse approaches exist, there are com­mon points asso­ci­ated with the exis­tence of a repro­duc­tive ratio­nal­ity (instead of an instru­men­tal ratio­nal­ity) that ori­ents diverse expres­sions of labor, whether in the pro­duc­tion of use-val­ues or exchange-val­ues, in oppo­si­tion to activ­i­ties ori­ented toward profit as the goal in and of itself.

The con­cept of the pop­u­lar econ­omy does not have a uni­form mean­ing. Razeto defines it as the econ­omy of the poor, who, to deal with exclu­sion, gen­er­ate asso­cia­tive social forms to resolve the most press­ing prob­lems from their own ini­tia­tives and to deal with exclu­sion from the state.2 On the other hand, Núñez links the pop­u­lar econ­omy to asso­cia­tive work and coop­er­a­tives, in the rural as well as the urban envi­ron­ment.3 He con­sid­ers that all work­ers are pro­duc­ers and that their activ­i­ties are not ori­ented toward cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, but rather the res­o­lu­tion of per­sonal and social needs. For this author, to the extent that the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem is inca­pable of includ­ing broad sec­tors, those sec­tors find asso­ci­a­tion and self-man­age­ment as alter­na­tives to resolve their every­day prob­lems, but also to develop cul­tural expres­sions that chal­lenge the prac­tices and val­ues of cap­i­tal­ism.

From another per­spec­tive, Cor­ag­gio, defines the pop­u­lar econ­omy as a het­ero­ge­neous and frag­mented sec­tor that can­not be under­stood in its com­plex­ity through the tra­di­tional con­cepts of infor­mal­ity or poverty, nor through its equiv­a­lence to the con­cepts of the tra­di­tional social and sol­i­dar­ity econ­omy.4 He empha­sizes the labor capac­i­ties of its mem­bers inde­pen­dent of their employ­ment sta­tus and high­lights the repro­duc­tive pur­pose of their processes and the orga­ni­za­tional forms tran­scend­ing kin­ship ties. Cor­ag­gio takes a crit­i­cal per­spec­tive toward the pop­u­lar econ­omy asso­ci­ated with sub­or­di­na­tion based on gen­der, gen­er­a­tional dis­tinc­tions, and income dif­fer­ences, among oth­ers. There­fore, he believes that through processes of self-man­age­ment, asso­ci­a­tion, and forms of self-gov­er­nance, prac­tices of the social and sol­i­dar­ity econ­omy can be con­sol­i­dated, ori­ented by social repro­duc­tion propos­ing alter­na­tives to the mar­ket-cen­tric soci­ety dri­ven by cap­i­tal­ism.

Gaiger, coin­cid­ing with Cor­ag­gio, states that “com­mu­ni­tar­ian pop­u­lar sol­i­dar­ity” does not have the qual­i­ties that Núñez and Razeto attrib­ute to it, in which eco­nomic per­for­mance is marked by sur­vival and imme­di­acy; he argues that many of the pop­u­lar economy’s activ­i­ties (self-employ­ment, micro-enter­prises, fam­ily agri­cul­ture, etc.) are marked by sub­or­di­na­tion and vul­ner­a­bil­ity, which leads to the need to gen­er­ate the asso­cia­tive prac­tices char­ac­ter­iz­ing the social and sol­i­dar­ity econ­omy5

Despite these dif­fi­cul­ties, ele­ments of the pop­u­lar economy’s dynamic are capa­ble of being empow­ered to con­struct a sec­tor focused on freely asso­ci­ated and self-man­aged labor, with the pro­duc­tion of sur­plus con­nected to people’s liv­ing con­di­tions.

The recog­ni­tion of domes­tic units as con­sti­tu­tive ele­ments of the pop­u­lar econ­omy– and, in turn, a way of find­ing a com­mon thread with the issues of the fem­i­nist econ­omy – owes its view of eco­nomic action to the frame­work of rela­tions of reci­procity and not indi­vid­u­al­ism.6. Mem­bers of domes­tic units turn to dif­fer­ent strate­gies of hybridiz­ing resources, com­bin­ing wage labor and domes­tic repro­duc­tive labor (activ­i­ties of care and pro­duc­tion for house­hold con­sump­tion), or pro­duc­tion for the mar­ket, among other strate­gies. Another char­ac­ter­is­tic of the pop­u­lar econ­omy is that its accu­mu­la­tion lev­els are not unlim­ited and its goal is the inter­gen­er­a­tional repro­duc­tion of its mem­bers.

The rela­tion­ships that are woven to resolve com­mon (mate­rial and sym­bolic) needs and their com­plex­ity increases as for­mal expres­sions of labor become scarcer and an innu­mer­able amount of prac­tices of com­mu­ni­ties emerge to main­tain their lifestyle.7

How­ever, domes­tic units, dif­fer­ent from the con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of the fam­ily in neo­clas­si­cal eco­nom­ics – which was pro­foundly cri­tiqued by fem­i­nist the­ory – is not pro­posed as a con­flict-free set­ting, but as a space where there are rules of dis­tri­b­u­tion and reci­procity with the objec­tive of repro­duc­ing all of its mem­bers. This is reflected in the way in which women are mainly respon­si­ble for car­ry­ing out activ­i­ties of care and pro­duc­ing use-val­ues with­out remu­ner­a­tion. The shared goal of repro­duc­tion of all of its mem­bers coex­ists then with inequal­i­ties based on gen­der, age, income, etc. within each domes­tic unit and the pop­u­lar econ­omy as a whole.

From Fragmentation to Association

Analy­ses of the pop­u­lar econ­omy are framed in the field of Social and Sol­i­dar­ity Econ­omy [SSE] that cri­tiques the response that con­sump­tion is the only way to meet human needs. This lim­i­ta­tion is the result of the total­iza­tion of pri­vate prop­erty and the insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of the self-reg­u­lat­ing mar­ket, which does not inte­grate an impor­tant part of the pop­u­la­tion. Thus, the mar­ket excludes vast sec­tors of the pop­u­la­tion, that have the capac­ity to work but can­not find remu­ner­ated activ­i­ties to occupy them, and, there­fore, can­not access needed goods and ser­vices because those are com­mod­i­fied.

In the neo­clas­si­cal def­i­n­i­tion, the mar­ket is the only insti­tu­tion capa­ble of coor­di­nat­ing eco­nomic ini­tia­tives and sat­is­fy­ing the needs of indi­vid­u­als, thus the inter­ven­tion of any other insti­tu­tion is con­sid­ered “extra-eco­nomic.” From the per­spec­tive of the SSE then it is about strength­en­ing and devel­op­ing a mul­ti­plic­ity of insti­tu­tions for the economy’s devel­op­ment, where the mar­ket is not the only one con­sid­ered pos­si­ble.

The pop­u­lar economy’s frag­men­ta­tion presents the chal­lenge of estab­lish­ing col­lec­tive processes, which would exceed the cur­rent adap­ta­tion to the con­di­tions of sav­age com­pe­ti­tion for small and medium pro­duc­ers and of monopoly for the large cor­po­ra­tions. The mar­ket left to its own becom­ing inevitably con­fig­ures sce­nar­ios that exac­er­bate all inequal­i­ties.

Regain­ing sov­er­eignty over the eco­nomic field implies a change of axis; in other words, it means pri­mar­ily deal­ing with the mate­rial and social con­di­tions that make life pos­si­ble and the social trans­for­ma­tions required to access said con­di­tions.

The incor­po­ra­tion of a repro­duc­tive ratio­nal­ity occurs through link­ing the spheres of the public/private and the productive/reproductive. On over­com­ing these sep­a­ra­tions, which were arti­fi­cially insti­tuted by the con­cep­tion of the self-reg­u­lat­ing mar­ket, it goes from a max­i­mum value of self­ish­ness – guid­ing action in the eco­nomic – to incor­po­rat­ing val­ues and ratio­nal­i­ties that include sol­i­dar­ity and asso­ci­a­tion. The first rec­og­nizes that the option for the life of the other is con­sti­tu­tive of the option for one’s own life, and the sec­ond is an alter­na­tive for break­ing with the destruc­tive com­pul­sion and anomie entailed in the indi­vid­u­al­ist com­pe­ti­tion of the mar­ket econ­omy.8

Inter­de­pen­dence with the other gen­er­ates a com­mon frame­work between the popular/social econ­omy and fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics, as they coin­cide in their cri­tiques of the util­i­tar­ian par­a­digm and in the refor­mu­la­tion of the ratio­nal­ity that ori­ents action in the eco­nomic.

Why is it Necessary to Talk about a Feminist Economics?

Fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics, in con­trast to what com­mon sense would sug­gest, is not the study of the econ­omy and women: it is the study of how the econ­omy, in its the­o­ret­i­cal devel­op­ment and poli­cies is embed­ded by gen­der rela­tions to the point that one of its prin­ci­pal insti­tu­tions, the labor mar­ket, is orga­nized by the sex­ual divi­sion of labor. This cur­rent ques­tions how men and women par­tic­i­pate dif­fer­ently in the insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of the econ­omy.

Con­sid­er­ing fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics as a reflec­tion by women and for women has been an effec­tive mech­a­nism for ignor­ing the cri­tiques that this field makes about the the­o­ret­i­cal nucleus of the hege­monic eco­nom­ics., Thus the rel­e­vance of their con­tri­bu­tions to the con­struc­tion of an other econ­omy or the devel­op­ment of an other soci­ety is made invis­i­ble. This field emerged in response to the con­cep­tual lim­i­ta­tions of a dis­ci­pline that makes the same assump­tions of uni­ver­sal­ity and neu­tral­ity as the sci­en­tific par­a­digm.

Eco­nomic the­ory has been pre­sented as gen­der-neu­tral although its pro­to­typ­i­cal agent, homo eco­nom­i­cus, has been endowed with val­ues asso­ci­ated with mas­culin­ity: self-suf­fi­cient, com­pet­i­tive, self­ish, and cal­cu­lat­ing, its actions are devel­oped in the pub­lic sphere of the mar­ket, while the non-eco­nomic sphere of the fam­ily has sup­posed gen­eros­ity, sol­i­dar­ity, and equal­ity.

This dichoto­mous vision in neo­clas­si­cal the­ory is rooted in Becker’s per­spec­tive, who explains the sit­u­a­tion of women fac­ing repro­duc­tive tasks as a prob­lem of effi­ciency and the max­i­miza­tion of resources.9 Fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics has widely debated this per­spec­tive, demon­strat­ing its male-cen­tric and het­ero­sex­ist bias.10

The assump­tion of the ratio­nal eco­nomic man has been one of the pil­lars of neo­clas­si­cal eco­nomic the­ory, which pro­poses it as a norm of human behav­ior and as a mech­a­nism for ensur­ing the proper func­tion­ing of the com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. The adop­tion of this behav­ior as the ideal does not rec­og­nize behav­iors based on other rela­tions, such as those of reci­procity, sol­i­dar­ity, altru­ism, love, and care, among many oth­ers – those that, fur­ther­more, patri­ar­chal cul­ture in cap­i­tal­ism assoc­iates with the uni­verse of the fem­i­nine.11 Thus, a fic­tional sep­a­ra­tion is estab­lished between the log­ics that gov­ern behav­ior in the mar­ket, con­sid­ered a pub­lic sphere, and the home, rel­e­gated to the pri­vate sphere.

This pre­tense of uni­ver­sal­ity assigned to homo eco­nom­i­cus and its instru­men­tal ratio­nal­ity, as the assump­tion of human beings’ rela­tion­ship with the econ­omy, is another one of the dis­cussed aspects because it denies the pres­ence of other types of behav­iors that make up the mar­ket, such as sol­i­dar­ity, reci­procity, and con­cern for oth­ers.12 Such con­ducts are present in many of the pre­vi­ously men­tioned pop­u­lar economies. Fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics, on demon­strat­ing that the repro­duc­tive sphere is inher­ent in the process, has deep­ened the analy­sis of the con­se­quences of lim­it­ing the eco­nomic to the sphere of the mar­ket.

The con­cep­tual devel­op­ment asso­ci­ated with homo eco­nom­i­cus and its instru­men­tal ratio­nal­ity is a per­fect expres­sion of how eco­nomic the­ory has inter­nal­ized the val­ues of patri­archy, to con­sider human beings’ depen­dence on care and pro­tec­tion for their insti­tu­tions as extra-eco­nomic.

Cap­i­tal­ist hege­mony in the orga­ni­za­tion of pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, cir­cu­la­tion, and repro­duc­tion, within and out­side of the fam­ily, is closely linked to gen­der assign­ment. Patri­archy has pro­duced a hier­ar­chiza­tion of the social val­ues of the fem­i­nine and the mas­cu­line. Hence, access to resources for pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion would be framed by the place that men and women are assigned within patri­ar­chal cul­ture. One expres­sion of this is the dif­fer­ent activ­i­ties and remu­ner­a­tions that women and men can access in the labor mar­ket.

That is not to say that inequal­ity between men and women is reduced to eco­nomic deter­min­ism, but that mar­ket ten­den­cies are socially processed, wors­en­ing or improv­ing the sit­u­a­tion in response to other rela­tion­ships that are not struc­turally eco­nomic.

There­fore, one of the key con­tri­bu­tions of fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics is redefin­ing the con­cept of labor, given that the vision of “the repro­duc­tive” and of “care,” in their dif­fer­ent dimen­sions, allows for those activ­i­ties that are not directed by the mar­ket, with­out which human life would be impos­si­ble, to be included within “the eco­nomic.” Thus, one of the field’s cur­rent objec­tives is to make vis­i­ble the value pro­duced by care activ­i­ties through their quan­tifi­ca­tion in terms of wealth gen­er­a­tion.13 In its reports, CEPAL has been show­ing that with­out the care work car­ried out by women, poverty in the region would increase by approx­i­mately ten points, and it has esti­mated that non-paid domes­tic work would amount to 30% of the region’s GDP.14

This per­spec­tive of fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics deep­ens the analy­sis of the con­tra­dic­tory and com­plex exist­ing rela­tion­ships between cap­i­tal­ism and repro­duc­tive labor. It shows that women are respon­si­ble for human life, ensur­ing that the pro­duc­tion of goods is pos­si­ble. This work, car­ried out with­out remu­ner­a­tion, encour­ages the wage paid by cap­i­tal­ists and pub­lic spend­ing by the state to evade the costs of repro­duc­ing labor power and, thus, a part of the activ­ity car­ried out in the home would not be the final moment of enjoy­ing con­sump­tion, but a con­di­tion of exis­tence of the eco­nomic sys­tem.15

The rela­tion between pop­u­lar econ­omy and fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics shows that the nat­u­ral­iza­tion of the repro­duc­tive as a fem­i­nine respon­si­bil­ity, and the sep­a­ra­tion between pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion, gen­er­ate con­di­tions of struc­tural vul­ner­a­bil­ity for these ini­tia­tives. The recog­ni­tion and strength­en­ing of the con­di­tions for care are then a cen­tral fac­tor for its sus­tain­abil­ity.

View­ing pop­u­lar and social econ­omy from the per­spec­tive of repro­duc­tion breaks with the impris­on­ment of the econ­omy in the mar­ket char­ac­ter­is­tic of neo­clas­si­cal the­ory and expands the pos­si­bil­i­ties of action for orga­nized actors and for those pub­lic poli­cies com­mit­ted to life and not to cap­i­tal.

Contributions of a Decolonial Feminist Economics for the Formulation of Public Policies

I have been out­lin­ing approaches to pop­u­lar econ­omy, social and sol­i­dar­ity econ­omy, and fem­i­nist eco­nom­ics, show­ing how these fields share a cri­tique of the total­iza­tion of the mar­ket. Fem­i­nism argues that rec­og­niz­ing the impor­tance of domes­tic labor and care mostly car­ried out by women is fun­da­men­tal for resolv­ing the arti­fi­cial sep­a­ra­tion that cap­i­tal­ism imposes between pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion. Like­wise, social econ­omy empha­sizes a repro­duc­tive ratio­nal­ity in oppo­si­tion to the ideal of com­pe­ti­tion and cal­cu­la­tion, while high­light­ing the impor­tance of use-val­ues for meet­ing social needs.

The his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence of Latin Amer­ica and of Bogota in par­tic­u­lar neces­si­tates a decolo­nial per­spec­tive that makes explicit the need to inves­ti­gate the polit­i­cal and eco­nomic processes that groups in con­di­tions of sub­al­ter­nity in the region have faced. I am specif­i­cally inter­ested in uncov­er­ing the eco­nomic expe­ri­ences of indige­nous, Afro-descen­dent, peas­ant, and low-income women to think from their economies rooted in knowl­edges con­structed by sit­u­a­tions of class, race, and ter­ri­to­rial origin.16 In these economies, men and women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion is also dif­fer­en­tial. The hege­monic the­ory has nat­u­ral­ized the mas­cu­line, white, and Euro­pean or North Amer­i­can posi­tion, there­fore that diver­sity has been addressed based on cat­e­gories of back­ward­ness, infor­mal­ity, pro­mot­ing an ideal of mod­ern­iza­tion that actively made those expe­ri­ences sub­al­tern. In this way, it has denied their the­o­ret­i­cal rel­e­vance and impor­tance in the econ­omy.

Radically Situated Thought

This arti­cle has been writ­ten in the con­text of a coun­try in the midst a peace process with one of the old­est actors of the mul­ti­ple wars that Colom­bia has expe­ri­enced. The peace process is nec­es­sary to stop the blood­shed, the war busi­ness with the United States, and the extra­or­di­nary ben­e­fits held by the country’s armed forces. In addi­tion to the nec­es­sary debate over an econ­omy in the ser­vice of the secu­rity of investors and the fam­i­lies in power whose roots go back to colo­nial­ism.

Despite the peace process, the longest war has been that of the Colom­bian elites against the pop­u­la­tion through plun­der­ing its resources. One ver­i­fi­ca­tion of this is the untimely urbanization/proletarianization of a coun­try with a strong rural iden­tity. This process is exem­pli­fied by ana­lyz­ing the com­po­si­tion of twen­ti­eth-cen­tury cities.

In 1938, 31% of the Colom­bian pop­u­la­tion was urban. In 1973, this fig­ure had reached 73%. For thirty years, this forced pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion was achieved by the dis­place­ment of the peas­ant pop­u­la­tion to cities through means of ter­ror.17 The height of this process occurred with the 1948 assas­si­na­tion of the lib­eral party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, who, with a major­ity of pop­u­lar sup­port, had been denounc­ing the vio­lence against the pop­u­la­tion. A year before his assas­si­na­tion, 14,000 vio­lent deaths had already been recorded, and fol­low­ing the event known as the Bogo­tazo, Aprile-Gniset cal­cu­lates that 300,000 peo­ple were killed and three mil­lion campesinos were dis­placed between 1946 and 1965.18

The vic­tims of this war have been con­cen­trated in low-income sec­tors, campesino, indige­nous and black pop­u­la­tions. This longer term per­spec­tive is nec­es­sary for under­stand­ing the power of these economies and what it means to remain as a com­mu­nity in its own ter­ri­tory in the con­text of forced urban­iza­tion.

The dis­pos­ses­sion of lands from those liv­ing in rural areas has con­tin­ued to this day and it is esti­mated that five mil­lion peo­ple, about 10% of the country’s total pop­u­la­tion, have been dis­placed by the war. Forced dis­place­ment is key to under­stand­ing why land own­er­ship in Colom­bia has a con­cen­tra­tion of 0.87 (Gini indi­ca­tor), one of the high­est in the world’s most unequal con­ti­nent.

The major­ity of the dis­placed pop­u­la­tion ends up in the large cities to safe­guard their lives and Bogotá is the main recip­i­ent of this inter­nal dis­place­ment. It is the country’s largest city with more than eight mil­lion inhab­i­tants and its urban his­tory is pro­foundly linked to the exo­dus of the campesino pop­u­la­tion.

Due to these his­tor­i­cal fac­tors, Bogotá has a par­tic­u­larly het­ero­ge­neous social and cul­tural com­po­si­tion. The city’s pop­u­lar econ­omy hosts a pop­u­la­tion with diverse tra­jec­to­ries of urban­iza­tion seek­ing improved liv­ing con­di­tions. This pop­u­la­tion is attracted by a city with the eco­nomic and social infra­struc­ture to offer com­par­a­tively bet­ter con­di­tions, but that is also home to large impov­er­ished sec­tors because of war and the social exclu­sion gen­er­ated by decades of neolib­er­al­ism steadily imple­mented by national gov­ern­ments.

The mag­ni­tude of the social prob­lems fac­ing the city demon­strates the rel­e­vance of the many groups’ expe­ri­ences in their capac­ity to guar­an­tee col­lec­tive repro­duc­tion, the decom­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of cen­tral aspects of their lives, and the defense of the ter­ri­tory where they live.19

Strengthening Non-Market Situations

In the eco­nomic field, all imag­i­na­tion regard­ing the ques­tion “What is to be done?” has been cap­tured by the mar­ket rela­tion. Most of the poli­cies devel­oped in sup­port of the pop­u­lar econ­omy are focused on facil­i­tat­ing the process of inte­gra­tion into the mar­ket, with­out con­sid­er­ing inter­ven­tion on the con­di­tions of a com­pe­ti­tion that is more acute for those who don’t have a dom­i­nant posi­tion in the sys­tem of priv­i­leges that cap­i­tal pro­duces, while the actors with the high­est level of accu­mu­la­tion set the con­di­tions of exchange for their prod­ucts.

As we have seen, the pop­u­lar economy’s orga­ni­za­tional units (domes­tic units), as eco­nomic orga­ni­za­tions aim to guar­an­tee and improve the mate­rial con­di­tions of repro­duc­tion and devel­op­ment of their mem­bers. There­fore, the mer­can­tile path (sell­ing with a mon­e­tary dif­fer­ence to buy use­ful goods and ser­vices to sat­isfy their needs) is not the only alter­na­tive to be taken into account. Needs can be met inde­pen­dently of the mar­ket.

Hinke­lam­mert and Mora write:

The analy­sis of use-value looks at the eco­nomic process from the per­spec­tive of the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­ity of life. It for­mu­lates, there­fore, the ques­tion of how the pro­duct must be pro­duced, dis­trib­uted, and con­sumed so that human beings can live, that is, how the process of repro­duc­tion can be achieved in terms of a process of repro­duc­tion of human life. This does not imply reduc­ing the human to the pro­duct (‘you are what you eat’), but it does mean that no human value can be real­ized if it does not enter into sym­bio­sis with use val­ues.20

Recu­per­at­ing the pro­duc­tion of use-val­ues, whose con­sump­tion is not medi­ated by the mar­ket as an objec­tive for strength­en­ing the micro-social units, as well as the whole of the pop­u­lar econ­omy, con­tributes to rec­og­niz­ing that there are capac­i­ties of labor that in the present are not being val­ued in mon­e­tary terms. This implies that broad sec­tors of soci­ety can­not con­tribute with their work, nor can they depend on an income for meet­ing their needs. A dwelling pro­tects although it is not pro­duced as a com­mod­ity, cloth­ing warms although it is not com­mer­cial­ized. Goods can be dri­ven by social func­tion that they sup­ply and not by profit.

At the limit, the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of life makes it so that one can­not live with­out income or rent. The cur­rent devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism con­sid­ers a good part of the capac­i­ties of labor as excess and not use­ful for cap­i­tal. There­fore, well-being can­not be a result of the becom­ing eco­nomic of the mar­ket lib­er­ated by neolib­er­al­ism, espe­cially when the accu­mu­la­tion of prof­its is increas­ingly the fruit of spec­u­la­tive activ­ity.

This ten­dency of the econ­omy inten­si­fies the con­di­tions of injus­tice for sec­tors that his­tor­i­cally faced greater inequal­i­ties, in the case of women, for exam­ple, the pro­duc­tion of use-val­ues takes on a cen­tral impor­tance, given that in Colom­bia 31.1% of women lack an income com­pared to 12.6% of men. In Latin Amer­ica, the fig­ures are sim­i­lar: 34.4% for women and 13.3% for men, accord­ing to the 2010 mea­sure­ment by CEPAL’s obser­va­tory for gen­der inequal­ity.

Defend­ing economies pro­duc­ing use-val­ues can be one of the keys for a more just soci­ety. In par­tic­u­lar, because many of these economies tied to the land and its resources have suf­fered the con­stant pres­sure of cap­i­tal­ist mod­ern­iza­tion and the vio­lence of pri­mary and/or extrac­tivist accu­mu­la­tion. This pres­sure has caused an over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the black and indige­nous pop­u­la­tion, of pop­u­lar sec­tors, and in par­tic­u­lar of women in the low­est income sec­tor of the pop­u­la­tion.

While there are many poli­cies that can be imple­mented to strengthen the pro­duc­tion of use-value, I will men­tion some illus­tra­tive cases based on the prin­ci­ples of insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of the eco­nomic pro­posed by Karl Polanyi and expanded by Cor­ag­gio in the field of the social and sol­i­dar­ity econ­omy that broad­ens the income rates of cap­i­tal and dis­pos­sesses groups of the nec­es­sary con­di­tions for their mate­rial and sym­bolic repro­duc­tion.21

  • Autarky/sovereignty: In this sec­tion, I high­light poli­cies that favor self-pro­duc­tion of goods and ser­vices in the domes­tic units, for exam­ple:
    • Expe­ri­ences of urban agri­cul­ture, com­mu­nity gar­dens, and seed exchanges.
    • Processes of appro­pri­at­ing knowl­edge in the field of nat­u­ral med­i­cine, pre­ven­tion and care of allo­pathic med­i­cine.
    • Hous­ing improve­ment and self-con­struc­tion.
  • Reci­procity and exchange: One of the deci­sive ele­ments for strength­en­ing use-val­ues is linked to the form of cir­cu­la­tion, in these cases net­works based on reci­procity are a key fac­tor in the move­ment of goods and ser­vices. The devel­op­ment of mutu­ally agreed upon rules and of the dis­tri­b­u­tion of goods and activ­i­ties is fun­da­men­tal in a soci­ety with a high social divi­sion of labor. The char­ac­ter­is­tics of the deper­son­al­iz­ing mar­ket in its cap­i­tal­ist form have down­played the impor­tance of the points of com­merce as places of encoun­ter and of rela­tion beyond the mon­e­tary sur­plus. By tra­di­tion or resis­tance in the face of the cri­sis of the repro­duc­tion of life, the net­works of direct barter or social cur­rency (thus called because it does not meet the objec­tive of accu­mu­la­tion) have resur­faced and are very use­ful for the exchange of diverse mate­rial goods and ser­vices and have encour­aged par­tic­i­pants to ful­fill the dual role of pro­duc­ers and con­sumers.
  • Plan­ning: An expres­sion of the capac­ity to regain sov­er­eignty over the eco­nomic is linked to the pos­si­bil­ity of coor­di­na­tion at dif­fer­ent insti­tu­tional lev­els and in a com­mu­ni­tar­ian way, and plan­ning over time how one wants to live and the eco­nomic actions that sup­port those plans. The pos­si­bil­ity of decom­mod­i­fy­ing the basic sce­nar­ios of life, can lead to pro­mot­ing the pro­duc­tion of col­lec­tive use val­ues in those fields.

Practices of the Social Economy in Colombia

In Colom­bia, a mul­ti­plic­ity of expe­ri­ences of the social econ­omy exist despite the vir­u­lence of the armed con­flict. It is impos­si­ble to draw a com­plete pic­ture in such lit­tle space, how­ever I will name a few expe­ri­ences that are rel­e­vant for demon­strat­ing the abil­ity to orga­nize an econ­omy at the ser­vice of life.

In the Colom­bian Paci­fic, the black population’s strug­gles made pos­si­ble a law that rec­og­nizes those com­mu­ni­ties’ ances­tral rights. The exten­sion of legally titled col­lec­tive ter­ri­to­ries is approach­ing 5.5 mil­lion hectares. This recog­ni­tion has allowed for lim­it­ing the projects of resource extrac­tion and bio­di­ver­sity that the World Bank has been pro­mot­ing in the region. Arturo Esco­bar has rig­or­ously shown how this pop­u­la­tion col­lec­tively reg­u­lates the use of space and the rela­tion with nature com­bin­ing the spir­i­tual order­ing, tra­di­tions, and neces­si­ties. The sym­bolic and cul­tural inter­pre­ta­tion has impli­ca­tions for how these com­mu­ni­ties use and man­age the ter­ri­tory, allow­ing them to co-exist with a nature that is endowed with power and agency.

In Escobar’s words:

The con­struc­tion of the nat­u­ral world estab­lished by black groups of the Paci­fic, as shown by ethno­g­ra­phers, may be seen as con­sti­tut­ing a com­plex gram­mar of the envi­ron­ment or local model of nature. This gram­mar includes rit­ual prac­tices such as the ombli­gada, struc­tured uses of spaces, an order­ing of the uni­verse in terms of worlds and lev­els, and sys­tems of clas­si­fi­ca­tion and cat­e­go­riza­tion of enti­ties. The model con­sti­tutes a cul­tural code for the appro­pri­a­tion of the ter­ri­tory; this appro­pri­a­tion entails elab­o­rate forms of knowl­edge and cul­tural rep­re­sen­ta­tions […] Accord­ingly, the envi­ron­ment is a cul­tural and sym­bolic con­struc­tion, and the way in which it is con­structed had impli­ca­tions for how it is used and man­aged.22

Sim­i­larly, the indige­nous regional orga­ni­za­tion of Cauca, called the Regional Indige­nous Coun­cil of Cauca (CRIC) was founded in 1971 in Toribio, with the goal of mak­ing such rights rec­og­nized. This orga­ni­za­tion started with a plat­form of strug­gle with the fol­low­ing objec­tives: To recu­per­ate and expand the lands of the reser­va­tions, to strengthen the indige­nous coun­cils, to not pay the ter­raje, to make known the laws about the indige­nous and demand their fair appli­ca­tion, to defend indige­nous his­tory, lan­guage, and cus­toms, to train indige­nous pro­fes­sors to edu­cate in accor­dance with the sit­u­a­tion of the indige­nous peo­ple and in their respec­tive lan­guages.23

This process has been strength­ened over the years and today a vari­ety of projects in all areas of life are being devel­oped, ensur­ing a high level of autarky in terms of the res­o­lu­tion of mate­rial and sym­bolic neces­si­ties. Despite the ongo­ing vio­lence and assas­si­na­tions of its prin­ci­pal leader that the gov­ern­ment, the army, the para­mil­i­tary, and the guer­ril­las have car­ried out on the Cauca’s indige­nous pop­u­la­tions, the strength­en­ing of their orga­ni­za­tion has not only allowed for main­tain­ing the ter­ri­tory but also for pro­mot­ing alter­na­tives to devel­op­ment and chal­leng­ing the government’s neolib­eral poli­cies, in par­tic­u­lar the sign­ing of the free trade agree­ment with the United States.24

An emblem­atic expres­sion of this process was the march that began in 2004 with the name “El Cam­i­nar de la Pal­abra” and that mobi­lized more than 60,000 indige­nous peo­ple from through­out Colom­bia, who, in their long jour­ney to Bogotá, were joined by a diverse range of social move­ments. They marched for six months with­out ask­ing for any­thing from the gov­ern­ment and demand­ing four fun­da­men­tal points: 1) “No to the transna­tional eco­nomic model rep­re­sented by the free trade’ agree­ment; 2) No to the ter­ror and war that dis­places and sub­dues peo­ple; 3) No to leg­is­la­tion of dis­pos­ses­sion that hands over ter­ri­to­ries and destroys the Mother Earth; 4) Yes to to the enforce­ment of com­pli­ance with agree­ments with the peo­ple; and Yes to cre­at­ing our own mech­a­nisms of par­tic­i­pa­tion through an agenda of pop­u­lar unity.”25 The orga­ni­za­tional capac­ity brought into play and the process that later con­tin­ued under the name of indige­nous and pop­u­lar minga demon­strated indige­nous people’s abil­ity to denounce the cor­re­la­tion between the neolib­eral model and the war and dis­place­ment.26

In the present moment, a new occu­pa­tion of lands is tak­ing place. Begin­ning in Decem­ber 2014, after the state’s fail­ure to com­ply with grant­ing land as repa­ra­tion for the vic­tims of the 1991 Nilo mas­sacre, the indige­nous took over lands in the north of Cauca that are des­tined for the mono­cul­ture of sug­ar­cane for the pro­duc­tion of sugar and bio­fu­els. The bloody repres­sion has left hun­dreds of peo­ple injured and var­i­ous indige­nous lead­ers assas­si­nated, how­ever the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion main­tains its pres­ence with strong sup­port from the country’s social move­ments.

The town of Nasa in Cauca not only has had the capac­ity to main­tain its ter­ri­tory and its iden­tity, but also has been actively propos­ing arrange­ments of con­struc­tion with the black, campesino, and urban pop­u­la­tion, demon­strat­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of orga­niz­ing a soci­ety with full respect of Mother Earth and all forms of life that inhabit it.

An Economy that Cares

Pub­lic poli­cies’ empha­sis on the con­di­tions of repro­duc­tion is key for guar­an­tee­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of a pop­u­lar econ­omy that has as its main objec­tive the con­di­tions for the good life of its work­ers and domes­tic units.

The preva­lence of mar­ket val­ues over human and plan­e­tary life led the care of peo­ple to be sit­u­ated in the poli­cies of the field of “the social,” con­sid­ered resid­ual and as com­pen­sa­tion for the market’s exclu­sion­ary and dis­crim­i­na­tory effects, and which increas­ingly focuses on the most dis­ad­van­taged, indi­vid­u­al­iz­ing the inter­ven­tions. Thus, fam­i­lies, and par­tic­u­larly women, with their avail­able resources, end up tak­ing on the prob­lems of repro­duc­tion as if they were prob­lems of the pri­vate order and as man­agers of assis­tance pro­grams.

The ten­sion between the logic of profit and social well-being has been made explicit by struc­tural adjust­ment pro­grams, which show how the reduc­tion in state spend­ing (in pro­grams that do not address social emer­gen­cies) has cor­re­sponded to the trans­fer of costs to house­holds that are faced with the increase of mostly fem­i­nine free labor. This has reached its lim­its, with the insuf­fi­ciency of atom­ized actions to repro­duce the pop­u­la­tion and pro­duce cohe­sion in soci­ety being evi­dent.

There­fore, the social­iza­tion of repro­duc­tion needs entails that the state and the cap­i­tal­ist sec­tor also assume the respon­si­bil­i­ties that included cit­i­zens and skilled work­ers imply. Thus, it is about the­o­ret­i­cally and prac­ti­cally incor­po­rat­ing a repro­duc­tive ratio­nal­ity that inte­grates pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion, under­stand­ing as the eco­nomic process as a whole.27 This repro­duc­tive ratio­nal­ity replaces the util­i­tar­ian logic of homo eco­nom­i­cus and is related to the pro­pos­als being for­mu­lated in Ecuador and Bolivia tied to Buen Vivir.

The per­spec­tive of la Buena Vida and its repro­duc­tive ratio­nal­ity allows for for­mu­lat­ing a non-anthro­pocen­tric pol­i­tics of care, given that land is con­sid­ered a sub­ject of reci­procity (if we pro­tect her, she cares for us). At the same time, it opens a com­mu­ni­tar­ian dimen­sion of auton­omy, col­lec­tive self-orga­ni­za­tion that expands the alter­na­tives for think­ing about the pol­i­tics of care.28

Toward the prac­ti­cal strength­en­ing of the pop­u­lar econ­omy, it would be about pro­mot­ing spaces for the increas­ing self-man­age­ment of repro­duc­tion but with sub­stan­tial resources and capac­ity for deci­sion-mak­ing. Not­ing that in neolib­er­al­ism the respon­si­bil­i­ties for care have been placed on com­mu­ni­ties (one exam­ple of this are the com­mu­ni­tar­ian moth­ers), it is a ques­tion of not repli­cat­ing the logic of com­pen­sa­tion or co-par­tic­i­pa­tion that extracts the asso­cia­tive capac­ity and trans­for­ma­tive power of the ini­tia­tives from women, orga­ni­za­tional processes, and the most frag­ile sec­tors, thus depoliti­ciz­ing repro­duc­tion to inscribe it in the ratio­nal­ity of the projects that expand the power of the mar­ket to the detri­ment of life.29

It is about pro­mot­ing a pub­lic pol­icy that rec­og­nizes the option for the life of the other as con­sti­tu­tive of the option for one’s own life, not only as a man­date of care for women, but as an alter­na­tive for insti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing an econ­omy that cares for us. This sup­poses sig­nif­i­cant redis­tri­b­u­tion of resources and pro­duc­tive capac­i­ties, but also empow­er­ing the spaces of the con­sti­tu­tion of crit­i­cal pop­u­lar col­lec­tive actors and with another project of the econ­omy.

The Space of the Common in the City

The cre­ation of spaces for the com­mon is one of the prin­ci­pal con­tri­bu­tions to the con­struc­tion of a city con­ducive to the pop­u­lar econ­omy. This means encour­ag­ing set­tings for reflec­tion, delib­er­a­tion, and exchange, as well as places for pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion with­out the market’s medi­a­tion.

In the urban sphere, the com­mon has been under­stood from the logic of the pub­lic. How­ever, in many expe­ri­ences “the com­mon” does not coin­cide with the gov­ern­men­tal, because there are ways of using space or knowl­edges that prob­lema­tize the idea of prop­erty.

One exam­ple of this is the expe­ri­ence of recu­per­ated fac­to­ries in Argentina, where work­ers, given the breach of labor oblig­a­tions and the threat of los­ing their jobs, appro­pri­ate the infra­struc­ture to guar­an­tee their job posi­tions and pro­duce with­out a boss. A large num­ber of these spaces inte­grate neigh­bor­hood neces­si­ties into their own sur­round­ings and, while they main­tain their man­u­fac­tur­ing activ­ity, they also develop cul­tural, recre­ational, and edu­ca­tional activ­i­ties.30

In this regard, the chal­lenge lies in imag­in­ing legal forms that shel­ter and encour­age col­lec­tive prac­tices of pos­ses­sion or use rights. These ini­tia­tives demon­strate the lim­its of reg­u­la­tory frame­works ori­ented toward a polar­ity rang­ing from the pub­lic (under­stood as tied to the state) to the pri­vate, which is insuf­fi­cient for the devel­op­ment of a social econ­omy con­nected to the diver­sity of exist­ing needs and pos­si­ble responses that the asso­cia­tive can pro­duce.

The def­i­n­i­tion of places of the com­mon should not only be the out­come of tech­ni­cal plan­ning, the acti­va­tion of neigh­bor­hood his­to­ries, the routes between the rural and the urban, and the re-elab­o­ra­tion of iden­ti­ties related to the pro­duc­tive enable the recu­per­a­tion of spaces and also the inven­tion of new places.

Fol­low­ing the 2001 cri­sis in Argentina, as the result of the deep­en­ing of neolib­eral poli­cies, poverty rose to 40% of house­holds in 2002, an unprece­dented event in the country’s his­tory. In this sit­u­a­tion a diver­sity of expe­ri­ences of the social and sol­i­dar­ity econ­omy emerged and were strength­ened, and many of them are still being main­tained and grow­ing. The phe­nom­e­non of the recu­per­ated fac­to­ries and enter­prises con­tin­ues today: the Pro­duc­tive Union of Worker-Man­aged Enter­prises has rec­og­nized 350 com­pa­nies employ­ing 25,000 peo­ple.

These expe­ri­ences con­tinue as self-man­age­ment of spaces of the com­mon, in some cases with some level of (national) state recog­ni­tion and in other cases with oppo­si­tion (from the local gov­ern­ment). There are many exam­ples, such as food mar­kets ori­ented toward the social econ­omy, where food prod­ucts made by coop­er­a­tives and small organic pro­duc­ers are sold.31 There are also prac­tices of large-scale, coop­er­a­tive and self-man­aged, hous­ing con­struc­tion among many other expe­ri­ences in the pro­duc­tion of goods and ser­vices as well as in the sphere of care (par­tic­u­larly in the areas of child­care, health, and edu­ca­tion).32

These diverse expe­ri­ences demon­strate the com­mon has as its objec­tive the res­o­lu­tion of needs through a plu­ral­ity of col­lec­tive eco­nomic forms. In all the cases, it has to do with secur­ing the means for life out­side of the mar­ket. The man­age­ment of these spaces has been approached from a polit­i­cal per­spec­tive, not with­out ten­sions and con­tra­dic­tions, but that has given rise to forms of decid­edly demo­c­ra­tic orga­ni­za­tion and reg­u­la­tion where the prin­ci­ple of hor­i­zon­tal­ity char­ac­ter­izes the set of ini­tia­tives.

In Colom­bia there are orga­ni­za­tional processes that have enabled the con­for­ma­tion of net­works of com­mu­ni­tar­ian trade that mainly con­nect the pro­duc­tion of the campesino econ­omy with the needs of urban domes­tic units. The asso­ci­a­tions that com­pose these net­works are small pro­duc­tive units that make deci­sions through assem­blies. Among the most well known are REDESOL, RECAB, the Fed­eración Agrosol­i­daria, the Red Colom­biana de Com­er­cial­ización and Desar­rollo Comu­ni­tario REDCOM Nar­iño. REDESS oper­ates at the national, com­posed of sec­tors of the sol­i­dar­ity econ­omy from across Colom­bia (coop­er­a­tives, mutual soci­eties, and some asso­ci­a­tions).

The Empresa Comu­ni­taria de Acue­ducto, Alcan­tar­il­lado y Aseo is found in Sar­avena, Arauca. Given that the pri­va­ti­za­tion of pub­lic ser­vices has been a national state pol­icy in Colom­bia and that in most cities the pay­ment of these ser­vices is one of the main costs for the repro­duc­tion of domes­tic units, the orga­ni­za­tional process that allows the emer­gence of of this ini­tia­tive is emblem­atic, espe­cially if improve­ment in the service’s qual­ity and a just price are val­ued.

The city of Bogotá faces exten­sive chal­lenges, while many of the named net­works are present in the city, the prin­ci­pal eco­nomic activ­i­ties are dom­i­nated by large multi­na­tional com­pa­nies. The con­ti­nu­ity of left­ist gov­ern­ments in the city has allowed for keep­ing var­i­ous city ser­vices pub­lic, for exam­ple, strength­en­ing pri­mary and sec­ondary edu­ca­tion, poli­cies of com­mu­nity soup kitchens, and resources for strength­en­ing pop­u­lar economies, above all in the dimen­sion of tech­ni­cal assis­tance.

How­ever, the free market’s legit­i­macy in eco­nomic dis­course, the idea that inter­na­tional inte­gra­tion is more impor­tant than strength­en­ing the inter­nal mar­ket, and the sacral­iza­tion of pri­vate prop­erty are fac­tors that limit the city government’s ini­tia­tives aim­ing to reg­u­late the mar­ket and even decom­mod­ify the essen­tial con­di­tions of repro­duc­tion, such as the recog­ni­tion of the right to water and gra­tu­itous vital con­sump­tion, the imple­men­ta­tion of a new trash col­lec­tion model in the city that involved the cre­ation of a pub­lic oper­a­tor, tak­ing a prof­itable busi­ness away from the pri­vate sec­tor. These poli­cies were attacked to the point that the busi­ness lobby caused the tem­po­rary over­throw of a demo­c­ra­t­i­cally elected mayor.

There­fore, one of the prin­ci­pal chal­lenges fac­ing the city con­sists of politi­ciz­ing and democ­ra­tiz­ing the debate around “the eco­nomic,” recov­er­ing the social con­struc­tion of the econ­omy, relat­ing the poli­cies of strength­en­ing domes­tic units in this field instead of pre­sent­ing them from the social or the strug­gle against poverty. Inter­ven­ing in the econ­omy, broadly under­stood, beyond the mar­ket, is also a right of cit­i­zen­ship that should fuel pub­lic debate in the city.

There­fore, the view accus­tomed to see­ing the eco­nomic from the mar­ket per­spec­tive might con­sider the diver­sity of expe­ri­ences pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered as utopian, how­ever, even when cap­i­tal­ism is the dom­i­nant mode of pro­duc­tion, it is not the only one that exists. In fact, in Colom­bia the strength of social move­ments and the abil­ity to sus­tain and refor­mu­late strug­gles in the face of con­tin­u­ous processes of pri­mary and extrac­tivist accu­mu­la­tion, the finan­cial­iza­tion of hous­ing, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, etc. show that the eco­nomic insti­tu­tions asso­ci­ated with the diverse world of indige­nous groups, Afro-descen­dants and blacks, campesinos and the pop­u­lar, have been capa­ble of find­ing forms of social orga­niz­ing where the repro­duc­tion of the col­lec­tive has put lim­its on the war and its log­ics strictly asso­ci­ated with profit.

These expe­ri­ences, which are main­tained and are rein­vented, have much to teach us. The broad­en­ing of spaces of the com­mon for the social econ­omy increases its power to restrict the market’s expan­sion in respect to the sce­nar­ios for life and lim­its the frag­men­ta­tion and sur­vival that imposes the logic of profit on the pop­u­lar econ­omy. Finally, an econ­omy that cares for us, is an econ­omy that has freed itself from the nar­row space of the mar­ket.

 – Trans­lated by Liz Mason-Deese

This arti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished in L’économie sociale et sol­idaire: levier de change­ment, Vol. XXII, no. 2 (2015).

  1. Lour­des Ben­ería, “Mer­ca­dos Glob­ales, Género y el Hom­bre de Davos,” Revista La Ven­tana, no. 10 (1999); Mar­i­anne Fer­ber and Julie Nel­son, Beyond Eco­nomic Man: Fem­i­nist The­ory and Eco­nom­ics. (Chicago: Uni­ver­sity Of Chicago Press, 1993). 

  2. Razeto states: “The pop­u­lar economy’s orga­ni­za­tions have become val­ued by their par­tic­i­pants and pro­mot­ers not as a sim­ple defen­sive and pre­car­i­ous response to wors­en­ing of poverty, but, more than this, as a valid orga­ni­za­tional response for over­com­ing endemic socio-eco­nomic prob­lems and for pop­u­lar devel­op­ment.” Luis Razeto, Las Orga­ni­za­ciones económi­cas pop­u­lares: la expe­ri­en­cia de las nuevas orga­ni­za­ciones económi­cas pop­u­lares en Chile (San­ti­ago, Chile: Pro­grama de Economía del Tra­bajo, 1983). 

  3. Nuñez reports: “Thus, we are wit­ness­ing, for var­i­ous rea­sons, the for­ma­tion or strength­en­ing of a pop­u­lar econ­omy, that is, an econ­omy com­posed of pro­ducer-work­ers, that strug­gle between the logic of cap­i­tal and the logic of neces­si­ties, that is orga­nized to defend against cap­i­tal­ist com­pe­ti­tion, and that devel­ops com­mu­ni­tar­ian, coop­er­a­tive, asso­cia­tive, and self-man­aged forms.” Orlando Nuñez, “La economía pop­u­lar, aso­cia­tiva y auto­ges­tionaria,” in La economía social desde la per­ife­ria. Con­tribu­ciones lati­noamer­i­canos, ed. José Luis Cor­ag­gio (Buenos Aires: Altamira-Uni­ver­si­dad Gen­eral Sarmiento, 2007). 

  4. In his early works, Cor­ag­gio defines this sec­tor as fol­lows: “By pop­u­lar econ­omy, we under­stand: (a) the set of resources that they com­mand, (b) the activ­i­ties that they under­take to sat­isfy their imme­di­ate or medium-term needs – self-employ­ment or depen­dent activ­i­ties, com­mer­cial or oth­er­wise –, (c) the rules, val­ues, and knowl­edges that ori­ent such activ­i­ties, and (d) the cor­re­spond­ing groups, net­works, and rela­tion­ships – of coin­ci­dence, reg­u­la­tion, or coop­er­a­tion, inter­nal or exter­nal – that insti­tute through for­mal orga­ni­za­tion or the rep­e­ti­tion of those activ­i­ties, the indi­vid­u­als or domes­tic groups that depend for their repro­duc­tion on the unin­ter­rupted real­iza­tion of their source of work.” José Luis Cor­ag­gio, La gente o el cap­i­tal: desar­rollo local y economía del tra­bajo (Quito: Edi­to­rial Abya Yala, 2004), 125. 

  5. Luiz Iná­cio Gaiger, “La economía sol­i­daria y el cap­i­tal­ismo en la per­spec­tiva de las tran­si­ciones históri­cas,” in La economía social desde la per­ife­ria. 

  6. It is nec­es­sary to state that reci­procity does not nec­es­sary imply an altru­is­tic rela­tion­ship, it is deter­mined by his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence: “Rela­tions of reci­procity as they are observed in social real­ity are com­plex and ambiva­lent spheres, sat­u­rated by ten­sions, manip­u­la­tions, extreme power dif­fer­ences, and injus­tice. But they are also spheres that allow for and sus­tain mutual aid and trans­fer­ring resources in areas that are not reg­u­lated by the mar­ket or the state. Like all social rela­tions, those of reci­procity are not uni­vo­cally and uni­ver­sally ben­e­fi­cial; how­ever, they have a poten­tial­ity and an adapt­abil­ity that we need to under­stand bet­ter.” Susana Narotzky, “Reivin­di­cación de La Ambiva­len­cia Teórica: La Rec­i­pro­ci­dad Como Con­cepto Clave,” ENDOXA 1, no. 15 (Jan­u­ary 1, 2002). 

  7. In this text when the rela­tion­ship between the econ­omy and neces­si­ties is raised, it is start­ing from the con­tri­bu­tions of Hinke­lam­mert and Mora who oppose the con­cept of the sub­ject in need to the ideal of homo eco­nom­i­cus: “The econ­omy for life addresses the con­di­tions that make life pos­si­ble based on the fact that the human being is a nat­u­ral, cor­po­real being with needs. That is, the mate­rial con­di­tions (bio­phys­i­cal and social-insti­tu­tional) that make life pos­si­ble and sus­tain­able based on the sat­is­fac­tion of needs and the enjoy­ment of all. This view high­lights the need to shake up the foun­da­tions of the hege­monic econ­omy to build an econ­omy that responds to the sub­ject in need.” (Franz Hinke­lamert and Henry Mora, Hacia una economía para la vida (Costa Rica: Edi­to­rial Depar­ta­mento Ecuménico de Inves­ti­ga­ciones, 2005). 

  8. Natalia Quiroga, “Economías fem­i­nista, social y sol­i­daria. Respues­tas het­ero­doxas a la cri­sis de la repro­duc­ción en América Latina,” Iconos: Revista de Cien­cias Sociales, no. 33 (2009): 77-89. 

  9. Gary S. Becker, Human Cap­i­tal: A The­o­ret­i­cal and Empir­i­cal Analy­sis, with Spe­cial Ref­er­ence to Edu­ca­tion, 3rd Edi­tion (Chicago: Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Press, 1994). 

  10. Diana Strass­mann, “Not a Free Mar­ket: The Rhetoric of Dis­ci­pli­nary Author­ity in Eco­nom­ics,” in Beyond Eco­nomic Man, 54-68. 

  11. Lour­des Ben­ería, “Mer­ca­dos Glob­ales, Género y el Hom­bre de Davos.” 

  12. Ibid. 

  13. Lour­des Ben­ería, Género, Desar­rollo y Glob­al­ización, (Barcelona, Edi­to­rial Hacer, 2005); Antonella Pic­chio, “Vis­i­bil­i­dad analítica y política del tra­bajo de repro­duc­ción social,” in Mujeres y economía, ed. Cristina Car­rasco (Madrid: Icaria, 1999); Antonella Pic­chio. “Un Enfo­que Macro­económico Ampli­ado de las Condi­ciones de Vida, in Tiem­pos, tra­bajo y género. Ed. Cristina Car­rasco (Barcelona: Edi­to­rial de la Uni­ver­si­dad de Barcelona, 2001); Cristina Car­rasco, “Mujeres y economía: debates y prop­ues­tas,” In Economía Política Rad­i­cal, ed. Alfons Barceló (Madrid: Edi­to­rial: Sín­te­sis, 1998); Cristina Car­rasco (2006) “La economía fem­i­nista: una apuesta por otra economía,” in Estu­dios sobre género y economía, ed. Vara (Madrid: Edi­ciones Akal, 2006). 

  14. CEPAL, “Medición del tra­bajo de cuidado no remu­ner­ado al inte­rior de los hog­a­res. Desafíos para las políti­cas públi­cas,” (San­ti­ago de Chile: División de Desar­rollo Social, 2009). 

  15. Antonella Pic­chio, “Vis­i­bil­i­dad analítica y política del tra­bajo de repro­duc­ción social,” Mujeres y economía : nuevas per­spec­ti­vas para viejos y nuevos prob­le­mas (1999): 201-204; Antonella Pic­chio, “Un Enfo­que Macro­económico Ampli­ado de las Condi­ciones de Vida,” 2001; Cristina Car­rasco, “Mujeres y economía: debates y prop­ues­tas,” 1998; Cristina Car­rasco, “La economía fem­i­nista: una apuesta por otra economía,” 2006. 

  16. “Decolo­nial fem­i­nism is a polit­i­cal, eth­i­cal, and intel­lec­tual stance of fem­i­nists in AbyaY­ala that share the need to ana­lyze and act in the region rec­og­niz­ing the dis­tinct impli­ca­tions left by the process of colo­nial­ity, and that over­com­ing them inevitably leads to the need to include depa­tri­archiliza­tion (Pare­des 2011). This fem­i­nism chal­lenges the euro-cen­trism of Latin Amer­i­can fem­i­nist pro­duc­tion, it cen­ters the lived expe­ri­ences of indige­nous, black, campesino, and pop­u­lar sec­tor women, it prob­lema­tizes mes­ti­zaje, it ques­tions the het­ero-patri­archy and moder­nity as a dis­course and every­day prac­tice, and includes reflec­tions on the econ­omy. This fem­i­nist cur­rent of thought and action has dif­fer­ent genealo­gies, such as black fem­i­nism, les­bian, indige­nous, and pop­u­lar thought, the chi­canas and mes­tiza women that have prob­lema­tized their eth­nic con­di­tion.” Natalia Quiroga and Diana Gomez, “¿Qué aporta una economía fem­i­nista decolo­nial?América Latina en Movimiento, no. 482 (Feb­ru­ary 2013). 

  17. We can speak of ter­ror because it is not only includes the mur­der of the campesino pop­u­la­tion to take their lands, the deaths are car­ried out in a macabre way with the inten­tion of cre­at­ing a cli­mate of ter­ror. 

  18. Before Gaitán’s assas­si­na­tion, the coun­try was already immersed in a pro­found vio­lence that mixed all types of causes. The 14,000 vio­lent deaths cor­re­spond­ing to 1947 clearly show that the vio­lence did not start on April 9, the 1930s, when the lib­er­als returned to power after a half cen­tury absence, were plagued with bipar­ti­san con­fronta­tions; and the pre­vi­ous decade had been char­ac­ter­ized by vio­lence between campesinos and land-own­ers, on the one hand, and, on the other, between work­ers and their bosses (remem­ber the banana plan­ta­tions and their cruel out­come). But despite this, the lead­ing sec­tors insisted that the vio­lence only really started on April 9 with Gaitán’s assas­si­na­tion. (Ricardo Arias, “Los suce­sos del 9 de abril de 1948 como legit­i­madores de la vio­len­cia ofi­cial,” Revista His­to­ria Crítica, no. 17 (Bogotá: Uni­ver­si­dad de los Andes, 1998). Jacques Aprile-Gniset, La ciu­dad colom­biana, siglo XIX y siglo XX (Bogotá: Bib­lioteca Banco Pop­u­lar, 1992). 

  19. An anthro­po­log­i­cal vision of glob­al­iza­tion asserted the need to iden­tify socially sig­nif­i­cant dis­courses about (cul­tural, eco­log­i­cal, eco­nomic, polit­i­cal) dif­fer­ence and how these can oper­ate as dis­courses for artic­u­lat­ing alter­na­tives; it exam­ined the mul­ti­ple forms of con­struct­ing cul­ture, nature, and iden­ti­ties today, such as the pro­duc­tion of dif­fer­ences through his­tor­i­cal-spa­tial processes that are not exclu­sively the result of global forces – whether cap­i­tal­ism, new tech­nolo­gies, mar­ket inte­gra­tion, or some­thing else – but also linked to places and their defense. It is impor­tant to make vis­i­ble the mul­ti­ple local log­ics of the pro­duc­tion of cul­tures and iden­ti­ties, eco­log­i­cal and eco­nomic prac­tices that end­lessly emerge from com­mu­ni­ties around the world. To what extent do these for­mu­late impor­tant and per­haps orig­i­nal chal­lenges to cap­i­tal­ism and euro-cen­tered moder­ni­ties? Arturo Esco­bar, “Cul­ture Sits in Places: Reflec­tions on Glob­al­ism and Sub­al­tern Strate­gies of Local­iza­tion,” Polit­i­cal Geog­ra­phy, 20, no. 2 (2001): 139. 

  20. Franz Hinke­lamert and Henry Mora, Hacia una economía para la vida. 

  21. Karl Polanyi, The Great Trans­for­ma­tion: The Polit­i­cal and Eco­nomic Ori­gins of Our Time (Boston: Bea­con Press, 1944); José Luis Cor­ag­gio, “Prin­ci­p­ios, insti­tu­ciones y prác­ti­cas de la economía sol­i­daria,” in El tra­bajo antes que el cap­i­tal, ed. Alberto Acosta and Esper­anza Martínez (Quito: Abya Yala, 2011). 

  22. Arturo Esco­bar, Ter­ri­to­ries of Dif­fer­ence : Place, Move­ments, Life, Redes. (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­sity Press, 2008), 119-120. 

  23. The Reser­va­tion is a legal insti­tu­tion cre­ated in the colony to delin­eate a ter­ri­tory gov­erned by a spe­cial statute, these set­tle­ments had as their objec­tive lim­it­ing the exploita­tion of the indige­nous peo­ple and guar­an­tee­ing through tax­a­tion the pro­vi­sion of food, fab­ric, and labor for the set­tlers. The prin­ci­ple author­ity was an indige­nous per­son that ensured com­pli­ance with oblig­a­tions. The con­tin­u­ous dis­pos­ses­sion that indige­nous peo­ple have faced from colo­nial times to the present has lead them to vin­di­cate the reser­va­tion as a way of guar­an­tee­ing polit­i­cal auton­omy, the col­lec­tive use of lands, and com­mu­ni­tar­ian prop­erty. As for the indige­nous coun­cils, The legal frame­work of the Colom­bian state defines the Indige­nous Coun­cil as a spe­cial pub­lic entity, whose par­tic­i­pants are mem­bers of an indige­nous com­mu­nity, elected and rec­og­nized by such, with a tra­di­tional social-polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, whose func­tion is to legally rep­re­sent the com­mu­nity, exer­cise author­ity, and carry out the activ­i­ties attrib­uted to them by the laws, uses, cus­toms and inter­nal reg­u­la­tions of each com­mu­nity (Art. 2 of Decree 2164, 1995). Ter­raje is the rent that one pays to the prop­erty owner to work the land. 

  24. The Colom­bian gov­ern­ment was sanc­tioned by the Inter-Amer­i­can Court of Human Rights for one of the emblem­atic mas­sacres of the Nasa peo­ple. Twenty-one years after the mas­sacre, the gov­ern­ment has still not ful­filled the agree­ments: “The indige­nous peo­ple are liv­ing mem­ory of strug­gle and resis­tance. On Decem­ber 16, 1991, twenty Nasa men and women were killed at the Nilo hacienda in Calota, Cauca by national secu­rity forces while they exer­cised their legit­i­mate right to land. Given this act of vio­la­tion of human rights and the rights of indige­nous pop­u­la­tions, the Inter-Amer­i­can Human Rights Com­mis­sion con­demned the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment for this mas­sacre and ordered indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive repa­ra­tion for the Nasa peo­ple. Dur­ing the 21 years of this pro­ceed­ing, the Nilo case was closed mul­ti­ple times, var­i­ous lawyers that accom­pa­nied the Nilo pro­ceed­ing were assas­si­nated, among them the Oscar Elías López, a bomb was placed in the head­quar­ters of the CRIC to attack the author­i­ties pro­mot­ing the inves­ti­ga­tions, and in the ONIC the records of this case were lost. Faced with these facts of nega­tion and dis­re­gard, the indige­nous sen­a­tor Ana­to­lio Quira car­ried out a hunger strike in the hall­ways of Con­gress demand­ing that the Nilo case be reopened, which this allowed for the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of a mutual agree­ment in 1997, where the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment under­takes to ful­fill the agree­ment.” 

  25. Nasa Asin, Aso­ciación de Cabil­dos Indí­ge­nas del norte del Cauca-ACIN CXAB WALA KIWE (Ter­ri­to­rio del Gran Pueblo, 2015). 

  26. “The Minga of Social and Com­mu­nity Resis­tance aimed to mobi­lize the country’s indige­nous peo­ples and pop­u­lar sec­tors to reject the poli­cies of exter­mi­na­tion against Colom­bians and to take the first steps to pro­pose an agenda of trans­for­ma­tion from and for the peo­ple.” 

  27. Franz Hinke­lamert and Henry Mora, Hacia una economía para la vida; Quiroga, Natalia (2009). “Economías fem­i­nista, social y sol­i­daria. Respues­tas het­ero­doxas a la cri­sis de repro­duc­ción en América Latina.” 

  28. Natalia Quiroga, Las prác­ti­cas de la Economía Social Con­struyen Ciu­dad (Buenos Aires: Insti­tuto del Conur­bano, Uni­ver­si­dad Nacional de Gen­eral Sarmiento, 2011). 

  29. The com­mu­nity moth­ers emerged as a state pol­icy in the face of the dis­man­tling of the child­care infra­struc­ture that the state had devel­oped in pub­lic day cares. In low-income neigh­bor­hoods, women were sought out who were com­mu­nity lead­ers and could care for neigh­bor­hood chil­dren in their home. The state pro­vided train­ing, a food sup­ple­ment, a bonus for each child attended, the kitchen­ware and some goods for the chil­dren, as well as the pos­si­bil­ity of facil­i­tat­ing the indebt­ed­ness of these homes with the finan­cial sys­tem to solicit a loan for home remod­el­ing. These women were not rec­og­nized as state work­ers, and in 1991 they started to assoc­iate to demand the recog­ni­tion of their labor rights and denounce the state’s with­drawal from its respon­si­bil­ity of car­ing for chil­dren. 

  30. An exam­ple of this cre­ation of the com­mon and the inte­gra­tion of pro­duc­tion are repro­duc­tion is found in the expe­ri­ence of IMPA where the man­u­fac­tur­ing activ­ity is accom­pa­nied by the devel­op­ment of a pop­u­lar high school pro­gram, a work­ers’ uni­ver­sity, and a cul­tural cen­ter, among other activ­i­ties of well-being ori­ented to the com­mu­nity. 

  31. Luciana Gar­cía, “Espa­cios de artic­u­lación, redes auto­ges­ti­vas e inter­cam­bios alter­na­tivos en la ciu­dad de Buenos Aires,” Revista Otra Economía, 4, no. 6 (2010); I. Fer­nán­dez, M. Gon­za­lez Car­va­jal and O. Varela, “Mer­cado social sol­i­dario de Bon­pland. Proyecto de artic­u­lación entre orga­ni­za­ciones sociales y ter­ri­to­ri­ales para el desar­rollo de una Economía Sol­i­daria,” (Buenos Aires: Min­is­te­rio de Desar­rollo Social, 2003). See also El Galpón, Aso­ciación Mutual Sen­timiento and Red de inves­ti­gadores en economía social y sol­i­daria

  32. Cristina Acosta and Tomás Ras­pall, “La artic­u­lación de las coop­er­a­ti­vas de vivienda con el Estado y otros actores sociales,” 2008; Gus­tavo Diéguez and Guillermo Tella, “El par­a­digma de la auto­gestión: pro­duc­ción social del hábi­tat en argentina tras la cri­sis cívico-insti­tu­cional de 2001,” 2008. 

Author of the article

is a teaching investigator and academic coordinator of the Masters Program in Social Economy at the Instituto del Conurbano, Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento, Argentina.