March 12, 2021 § Leave a comment
by Thomas Allan
A broader political economy of care can make visible the interdependence and reciprocity that are fundamental parts of our social world.
Crisis in care
Care creates an indispensable human bond; a way of expressing what is truly valuable in life. Yet today this social ethic of care is again under threat, whether by a decade of austerity, yawning inequality, or the regressive sentiments of right-wing politics. The current Covid-19 pandemic has intensified public focus on the strained relations between citizen and state, as well as the capacity of our health and social care systems to meet the needs of the population in humane, equitable and responsive ways.
In the post-war era, an ethos of care and social responsibility featured in the construction of new settlements of public welfare following the devastation of World War 2. Over more recent decades, the value of care in the public domain has been gradually unravelling. Declining quality, rising costs, and service fragmentation drive the poor outcomes of privatised and centralized management regimes in home care, residential care, and nursing homes. Decades of clumsy top-down reorganisations and withdrawal of government support have seriously compounded matters and left many people in a state of avoidable suffering. How can citizens and stakeholders respond?
Care, the State and the Market
In some ways, our current careless predicament is not surprising. Self-serving patterns in politics and culture (and in particular economics) have led to the widespread breakdown of empathy within wider societal institutions and associational life. Care also expresses the interplay between human and non-human forms of life. Alongside the erosion of our social fabric, we preside over an alarming failure of care for our natural environment and its myriad forms of life. All of which suggests that ‘care’ is something far broader, deeper and more fundamental than the public-municipal health and social care sectors that tend to dominate public commentary and policy.
Today, orthodoxy in social care is still shaped by the narrow prescriptions of mainstream economics, and the new public management practices derived from them. These models, often cloaked in arcane and inaccessible language and intricate statistical modelling, have a simple assumption at their core. That improvement and progress is primarily a matter of more ‘efficient’ resource allocation, implemented in a ‘top down’ fashion.
Yet care has characteristics that differ from those commodities assumed by conventional economics. When care – a social emotion – is treated as such, it becomes vulnerable to the dominant vision of unsustainable progress: commodity production, consumerism, accumulation, and growth. This derives from an economical-quantitative paradigm that is in tension with the subtle, complex, and long-term value of care and caring. To illustrate this point, paid care work is cast as ‘unskilled labour’: a workforce with a limited skill set, undeserving of fair pay or adequate employment rights, and work that contributes minimal ‘value’ (as currently conceived) to the economy.
This misconception and its operationalisation mean we miss the seemingly obvious: care is a relationship built upon love, shared vulnerability, emotional proximity, and responsibility. It is not a scarce commodity that must be packaged, before being ‘delivered’ as quickly and as cheaply as possible, like an Amazon order.
A second critical point – and one feminist economists have been at pains to point out – is that friends and relatives (and in particular, women) provide the majority of adult social care, on a largely unpaid basis. Yet conventional economic theory and practice devalues forms of unpaid care labour by forming and maintaining an extractive relation between what is classed as economically ‘productive’ work (paid) and what is merely ‘reproductive’ care work (unpaid).
This separation depletes the value of mainly feminised and unpaid care work, including the realm of the household and the ‘everyday’ care we provide one another through deed, affect or obligation. The invisibility of these forms of care work in economic terms – that which is invaluable yet cannot be measured – is problematic as it results in the gradual erosion of our livelihood support and social reproductive system. This ‘crisis of social reproduction’ has only intensified during Covid-19, where lack of access to childcare has played a part in the loss of employment of around half of the women made redundant during the pandemic.
Anthropologist David Graeber points out how many forms of work are not actually about producing something at all, but about caring, nurturing, and maintaining. Health and social care are primary examples. But Graeber finds it particularly problematic how care is penalized by a financialised global economy that gratuitously and mechanistically produces millions of low paid and under-valued jobs. Care and its outcomes are particularly vulnerable, given its’ relational and emotional – even spiritual – dimensions.
In practical terms, what we now need is a movement and a framework for care and for society that enables people to live their own definition of dignity; derives from the experience of the caring relation; and emerges through that same shared experience. Such a framework should aim to explore the structural conditions required to make such a vision reality, and how this might be realised in the contemporary economy.
The Commons offers us such a vision for change. For three decades now, the ‘rediscovery’ of the commons – shared resources co-governed by its user community – has been providing fresh hope that we can transcend the pathologies of our current gridlocked ‘market-state’ order. Refuting the damaging fictions portrayed by orthodox economics, it gives us the power to reject the dominant cultural narrative that the destructive anti-patterns of the market economy are fixed, unchangeable and universally linked to our “social reality”.
This is a deeper, broader canvas for social care. If something has become apparent in a time of pandemic, it is a focus on mutual care and emotional proximity in a time of physical distancing and social restrictions. It is the importance of re-evaluating, re-articulating and reproducing our worlds not only through the logic of contract, but through empathy, trust, reciprocity and mutual support; as well as through the mindful expression of disenfranchised modes of experience such as grief.
As friend and colleague Denis Postle reminds me, we are currently living within a potent global mix of anxiety and repressed grief. Denis explains: “For every death from Covid-19, there are numerous people deeply hurt by the loss and the tragically inadequate funerals and terminal contact, as well as the carers who lose people they have got to know well”. Both care and commons can provide a language to express this lived experience, a language free from the short-term and misleading constructs of the political pragmatist, or the structural exclusions of market society.
The commons also assert ecological, participatory co-design and co-management principles that reject centralization and commodification, reframing the human need for care as best met through distributed systems of community resilience, citizen accountability and systemic durability. Ecological design and evaluation should include the whole of human relations and reproductive labour in our participatory planning of care services. Key here, as P2P Foundation founder Michel Bauwens points out, is a participatory, multi-stakeholder process:
“…care services are funded as a public service by the state, guaranteeing universal access, but the crafting of the process is a co-production of all stakeholders, including [citizen] communities and their families. [Citizens] have a quite different vision of what they need than process oriented [services], resulting in soaring satisfaction rates… Multi-stakeholdership and the co-production of the value chain includes everyone affected by a provisioning service.”
Mutual Aid Networks, brought to the fore during the covid-19 pandemic, are an obvious example of this open form of cooperation, as are the successful multi-stakeholder social care cooperatives of Emilia-Romagna in Italy, and Quebec in Canada. Open Cooperatives are an example of commons-based co-production, since they differentiate expressions of solidarity and mutuality (owned and locally crafted by the community according to their own rules and norms) from ‘the public’ (as exclusionary, centralized, state bureaucracy). Crucially, they extend ownership beyond the traditional cooperative’s members to enfranchise all contributors, including people supported, workers, family carers, neighbours, funders, and local communities in their decision-making structures.
But more is needed. As well as experimentation in empowering and responsive organisational form, changes and innovations are required in law, policy and state forms to make the non-monetized value of care perceptible or ‘visible’. This must include political commitment: the reform of labour law and legal rights, overturning gender inequality and the marginalization of care work as paid labour.
It also means expanded human rights – more comprehensive socio-legal protection and socioeconomic rights – for those who need them. The market fundamentalist vision of rational citizen-consumers whose care needs can be best met through an ever-expanding marketplace ignores the fact that those without money power have, in reality, very little choice or control.
What is next?
What is now needed is re-connection with the commons. In a commons-orientated society in balance with societal needs and ecological realism, the state acts as partner, assuring fairness and transparency, prioritising community flourishing, and advancing the public interest subject to democratic accountability. This will require collaboration between citizens, civil society activists, trade unions, critically reflective and creative academics willing to look outside of the academy, health and social care practitioners, law and policymakers, and community leaders.
Key to the successful development of cooperative and commons-based care is the development of the ‘Partner State’ that promotes stronger co-ordination between public authorities and an empowered civil society, including:
- A patterns approach to re-designing and building social care back better, to ensure systems adaptation to diverse individual and community need.
- Mapping the Commons, from Neighbourhood Democracy to cooperative forms of economic activity, work, and life; including use of convivial forms of P2P Technology.
- Responsive care design that prioritises and includes first person, emotional response: people who speak from lived experience.
- Democratic Finance.
- Multi-stakeholder governance: a renewed focus on the co-production of human services.
- A Human-rights approach.
This is merely a conversation starter. What comes next cannot be a closed forum or utopian venture. Nor can it be a ‘one size fits all’. It must be carefully designed to fit local context; while its evolution must highlight the role and purpose of political advocacy, cooperative forms, as well as the changing role of the state and public authorities. Crucially, as Pat Conaty of the Synergia Cooperative explains, the relationship between generative community practices for change and the state must be through social dialogue and on equitable terms.
The pandemic has made visible the many positive features of the caring society and our social nature. Now we need the responsive partner state that can structurally see and support a shift in welfare governance towards Commons Transition: the critical value of carers and commoners.
November 14, 2018 § 2 Comments
Are you a little girl I was meant to get to know? Or was your journey complete after only 17 days? You left us a while ago, but I’m still standing proudly beside your incubator home, watching each breath you take. I’m still holding you, searching for you, trying to get to know you at the point of losing you. Your fingers don’t grip. Your eyes don’t see. You’re still warm to touch. Dad is here – can you feel me?
You were born very little: 1.08kg and over eight weeks early. Perhaps never meant to be born alive at all, you were born into trauma, stress and nightmares on ultra-sound and heart-rate trace monitors. I still thought you’d grow. I was waiting for you, but you seemed to disappear into a vacuum, lost inside the repressed nightmares of your parents, and some inner wilderness our culture is so blind to and fearful of.
You passed away after a short struggle with life. I still don’t know if you were real or a dream. Each set of bad news seemed to displace the last, making the previous prognosis seem perversely desirable. From your prematurity to your heart defect to your birth to your myriad ‘complications’. Too sick for the most advanced medical science. Too small for their interventions and operations. No happy ending. No words could explain.
Now you rest motionless, barely covering my hands, somewhere between human presence and human absence.You are our baby daughter. A girl, free from plastic tubes, breathing masks and hospital wards. Free from anaemia, syndromes and illnesses. I’m told I must eventually let you go. You are going back to nature, supposedly the sunshine and the rivers, the wind in the leaves and the bluebells in the spring. But right now you sit in empty car seats, lie in empty Moses baskets and dance silently with your sister around our home. You reach into every shattered hope, nightmare and contradiction in my being.
This message is for you. It is about your life and it is about my grief. I offer you my grief as I don’t know what else to do with it. I have no map for this territory. I’m told grief might let go as time goes on but I don’t think it will ever truly leave. You will always be there, innate to my life.
My grief both awakens and paralyses my senses. I wonder if it is actually real, as I can’t see it, touch it or manage it. I can’t get beyond it, over or around it. I can’t soothe it, forget it, distract it or leave it behind. I can’t pretend it isn’t there. It is with me everywhere I go. If I move, it follows me. Grief colours my outlook, troubles my being and renders my usual routines meaningless.
My grief is at odds with the realm of the private. It moves beyond my private troubles and extended family and does not stand apart from community, society and culture. It does not sit comfortably with the instrumentality of ‘real life’, leisure and work; at odds with an unforgiving labour market, unsupportive employers and stressful, poorly paid working conditions.
My grief is at odds with the market. What is the value of grieving? My grief is not desirable, nor is it desire. It is not romantic, nor seductive. My grief cannot be monetized, bought or sold. It cannot be measured, commensurated or counted. Grief holds no value that I am aware of. There is no demand for grief that I know of. I cannot use grief. Grief does not follow the apparent certainties and laws of market economy. Grief is an uncertainty that follows me; a sharp reminder of impermanence, uncertainty and mortality.
My grief is at odds with the neoliberal state. It eschews the mystifying tangle of pseudo-public and public-private institutions; many of whom only reluctantly offer only the thinnest layer of support to human beings for fear of damaging competition, productivity and efficiency. In a patriarchal society whose still-face is frequently unmoved by the needs and ‘weaknesses’ of others, it is left unrecognised, invalidated and unreciprocated.
My grief is at odds with science. It can fester and escalate into distress; patterns that come to be seen as a property of the individual that must be owned, managed and overcome. Grief becomes reified into a ‘thing’, congealing into the familiar categories and dispensations of expert discourses or consumer society. But my grief is not linear, nor is it rational. It cannot be paused, nor can it be ‘processed’. My experience of you is timeless, imprecise, formless and immeasurable. It is neither subject nor object.
Grief assumes many diverse forms. It evolves intangibly through connection, disruption, discontinuity, decay and growth. It spreads within me, like the search for roots. It moves to great depths before surfacing at unpredictable moments: painful, confusing, cathartic. Grief and transition is not only about linear continuity – moving onwards or forwards – but as much about discontinuity: radical breaks and irreversible change. It is in chaos as well as order. In silence as well as noise. In indecision as well as decisions. This is something still poorly understood or even considered valueless in many areas of traditional, liberal-individualist culture.
Grieving is the loss of connection, intimacy and reciprocity. It is the loss of experience, meaning, community and livelihoods. It is the broken bonds of friends and family, the loss of homes and the loss of truly public and green spaces. It is the vacuum in our lives where supportive institutions should be. How many get the time and the space to reflect our losses? Time and space themselves are a commodity, at a premium.
We are not only unprepared to deal with loss and grief, more that we appear to be trying to deny it, suppress it and dismantle it. Grief, loss and endings something we should avoid or resist, overcome and beat. The experience of connection to self, others and place disrupted by the relentless dictates of the markets and the still-face of modern institutions of improvement, expansion, power and coercion.
I see us grieving a little bit each day. Grief is not only about the loss of a loved one. Grieving is the end of the day, the setting of the sun, the changing of the seasons. It is about indigenous patterns of life. It is in those we pass each day on the street without acknowledgement, or the people, places and broken conventions we have to accept we may never be able to return to. It is in the habits of our hearts and patterns of our being. Where are our cultural spaces for caring and transition, if not to be found here?
Maybe you have found your home now after only 17 days. Maybe we are not very human, or maybe I just can’t use palliatives or clichés right now. Maybe life will gradually twist around your loss like an old gnarled, lightning struck tree. Today, I think of all the conversations and fun we never had and the care I couldn’t give. Tonight my sleep is broken not by your crying but by the crushing memory of your passing. Tomorrow you are with me in the memory of the hopeless hope, the desperate sadness and the courage of your mum and your sister, who wished for you to get better.
I wish you had been meant for our home, here, sharing in our care, our compassion and our warmth. I wish I had felt a squeeze from your tiny hand as you held on to mine for comfort; joining me in this wilderness of life, love and loss.
April 28, 2017 § 1 Comment
Today I attended ‘leadership’ training. Yet strangely, there is no context to our work. No mention of social welfare cuts, care worker’s low wages, endless organisational restructures or organisational penny pinching; this is all off the agenda. Something we must ‘park’.
We must also implicitly ‘park’ other messy realities that may not generate ‘value’: the anxiety, stresses, strains, impulses, pressures, incontinence, medication errors, poor judgments and living conditions – and instead try to stay focused on suffocating the human, social and political being within and instigate ‘positive thinking’. ‘Polly-Annas’ are here preferred to ‘Eeyores’.
I subsequently spend the most part of the day trying to reconcile this with what we intuitively know to be true about the current social and political moment. The austerity agenda obscured by the so-called ‘efficiency’ drive and the incumbent organisational actors, practices and processes that remove senior managers and policy makers from seeing or being truly responsible and accountable for the human consequences of their decisions.
This is being physically, socially and psychically absent. Disembodied decision makers. Facelessness, alienation and obscurity, a symphony of life under neoliberalism. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 21, 2016 § 4 Comments
The psyCommons proposal about how around three quarters of the UK population survive and flourish without psyprofessions help and the consequences of this, appears to be unchallenged. A wider political context for psyCommons recently emerged that may account for some of the distress from which the remaining 25% suffer.
Several decades of living afloat on the Thames in London included extended experience of the Thames as a wilderness. Intimate appreciation of the dynamics of this wilderness led to the realisation that the city surrounding it and urban civilisation in general was also a wilderness and that the split between ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’ was a major category error2. Cities, the Internet, aircraft, washbasins and supermarkets are also ‘nature’.
‘Wilderness’ serves as an integrating notion for the split between ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’.
The ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’ category error is damaging, it leads to ‘nature’ being both idealised and abused. Supreme virtue is ascribed to ‘nature’ but this casts a shadow – the ‘civilisation’ where we live and work is neglected and its aversiveness is regarded as something to be tolerated.
While the global wilderness has civilisation and rural sectors, both are based on similar dynamics, solar energy provides a basis for food chains that are structured by predation. Rural wilderness tends to be self-regulating with surges and decline due to crises of climate, population or reproduction. In urban wildernesses predation as an action and a value has become detached from foodchains, one result is an ideological commitment to economic growth independent of foodchains. Predation freed from foodchains congeals into a belief that that global economic growth is ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’ and also that domination is ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’.
This free predation leads to gross social inequality and resource depletion. Related beliefs for example: that technocratic management is appropriate for wilderness, are fed and sustained by industrial strength trance inductions which blind us to, and marginalise, economic and personal alternatives.
Perhaps the most prominent and damaging of the trance inductions is that capital accumulation is ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’. Capital accumulation driven by predation detached from foodchains, functions as a cancer driving uncontrolled growth independent of the health of the host and which threatens to kill the host.
Responses to this perspective on the global wilderness include the active development and support of existing social, interpersonal and personal immune systems. Their task is to encourage social practice and institutions that eliminate interpersonal and inter-institutional dominance and predation, and that prioritise ‘use value’ rather than ‘exchange value’. And parallel with this the immune system would actively puncture trance inductions that idealise the ‘nature’/’civilisation’ split; which celebrate free predation and unlimited growth, while insisting there are no alternatives.
Look out for more on how this supports and extends the psyCommons.
1 End-of-Life a term used with respect to a product  indicating that the product is in the end of its useful life Wikipedia
2 Category Error A category error, is a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category. Wikipedia
The Commons – a new European concept? Inaugural meeting of the European Parliament Common Goods Intergroup.
May 31, 2015 § 2 Comments
As we gathered for it, this European Parliament Common Goods Intergroup meeting, promised to be intriguing… was the Parliament about to embrace the commons as a template for a more participatory politics?
It was indeed a political meeting, with the banners of the four parties who had come together in support of it prominent behind the podium, a coalition that, as Sophie Bloemen details in her excellent account of the intergroup’s formation, had required the mutation (dilution?) in its title, of ‘commons’ into ‘common goods’.
Such concerns were quickly overshadowed by the mix of culture shock, optimism, contradiction and sheer linguistic struggle that Europe-wide mutuality turned out to entail. But then this is 28 nation politics and I was new to it.
Shock and awe at the huge scale of the Brussels European Parliament building and the hushed modernity of its vast interior – the Charlie Hebdo effect piled onto the Bin Laden effect meant the whole place seemed imprisoned in that other aspect of modernity, security. There were also the twin Britshocks of realising during the meeting that what I was hearing were the voices of southern Europe, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, and that of the 50-60 participants, I was apparently the only Brit. Coupled with this was the reminder that however good the four-language interpretation was, it put a huge burden on attention, and being able to grasp what was being said – Italian man speaking in the room – English woman interpreter in the ears.
The meeting started half an hour late, which despite effective facilitation put all the speakers under pressure. And speakers there were in plenty, arrayed in one-to-many conference style. There were repeated calls for ‘the need for debate’ but debate was overwhelmingly subordinate to a series of charismatic and often vociferous presentations mostly from the podium, peppered with multiple exhortations that the commons and common goods ‘were a good idea’, ‘we must…’ ‘we need…’ ‘we have to…’ etc., etc. Lot’s of talk about commons not much apparently from commons. When I spoke to ask the other delegates ‘who we were’ and how many had direct experience of commoning, around a third of the audience put up their hands, an indicator perhaps that less preaching to the converted would have been appropriate.
This was an inaugural meeting, so uncertainty and clumsiness can be excused, however on balance the presentations had a lot to say about common goods resources, i.e. a city’s water supply and much less about commoning, often a fragile flower growing out of peer-to-peer governance, commitment and emotional competence. The meeting certainly seemed in no doubt that a wider extension of the common goods theme might be one way to shape a new and very necessary politics. As Marisa Matias the impressive Portuguese MEP who had convened the meeting said at the end of her introduction, ‘the Left is lost’.
Was this a meeting then, as it perhaps seemed, where the old left was trying to befriend a new and promising flavour of the political month? There was no coffee break and apart from casual chat before the meeting, no interaction between the assembled delegates –the old paradigm of a representative polity?
And yet… in her introductory remarks Marisa Matias outlined two agenda items, ‘how to think outside the logic of the state’ and ‘how to handle the management of the commons’, both radical contradictions of neoliberal preferences. Perhaps this Common Goods Intergroup event was a way of introducing to an old politics, news of political innovation that was proving unexpectedly and improbably successful.
Only days before, Barcelona and possibly Madrid had elected officials with a ‘commons’ agenda; and… Anne le Strat outlined the successful Eau de Paris return of the Paris water supply to municipal ownership (paralleled by at least one other commune I know of in the Ardeche); There were several references to commons rights progress in Spain, and in Italy a supreme court decision had opened constitutional protocols to commons forms of organisation, along with the adoption of ‘beni comuni’ as a legal concept. Alongside this, as Benjamin Coriat outlined, in Barcelona the recovery of the commons appeared to be afoot.
A delegate from Transform made a reminder that there was a continuing need for recovery of the many public goods had been given to exponents of capital, she also argued for the establishment of a federation of commons. Paoli Napoli from CENJ, a French judicial research centre argued convincingly in favour of questioning the validity of state monopolies as a way of discovering commons. Ricardo la Fuente a Portuguese Free Culture activist drew attention to the scale of the capture of the internet commons by Facebook and Google, US dominated vertical monopolies that threaten the integrity and freedoms of the internet. He argued that safe-guarding access to the public sphere of the internet was a vital aspect of the commons agenda.
Michel Bauwens, a long-time peer to peer exponent, spoke about the digital commons, a driver of the unprecedented social change that underlies the commons movement. Bauwens outlined three digital commons institutions, one: the huge numbers of people who are contributors to the building of open public goods such as Linux, Arduino and Wikipedia etc (not to mention the countless millions of blogs like this!); secondly: the digital enterprises that feature peer-to-peer governance and transparency, he gave as examples: Loomio, Inspiral etc.; and third: for-benefit foundations such as the P2P Foundation and many others.
Bauwens warned that digital innovation presently tends to be compromised, since to pick up the resources to expand and develop an innovation, means becoming a ‘start-up’ with the likelihood of capture by venture capital. Devising alternative ways of financing commons innovation, he seemed to be saying, will be a vital part of an emerging commons economy. Bauwens left early to talk to the mayor of Ghent about another current proposal – Assemblies of the Commons – he also mentioned generating Chambers of the Commons, mirroring, at least in the UK, the ubiquitous ‘chambers of commerce’ and lastly the need, as he put it, to develop an ‘operating system’ for the commons. All welcome news.
In conclusion: Encouraging evidence from across southern Europe that there were a variety of instances of participatory politics inspired by, or already implementing commons/common goods. Great resources: the whole meeting was streamed live and by the following morning a video of it had been posted by the EFDD group with English interpretation.
And… the meeting had a classroom format – people sitting in rows facing expert speakers. As a groupwork facilitator I long ago learned that such a format inhibits or prevents the kind of face to face (and peer to peer) cooperation and communal knowing that commoning requires. This is not a minor matter, conversations are shaped by context. If this is the only Parliamentary format for commons/common goods discussion/negotiation/interpretation, I’d be concerned that this infrastructure could inadvertently exclude the intended benefits.
And yet… perhaps too much should not be expected from a body such as the Parliament which is devoted to scrutiny and correctivity, not usually a recipe for innovation. The European Parliament is an extant political forum, it mends and bends the proposals of European institutions. Diemut Theato, an MEP I happen to have met, some years ago demonstrated this when, due to her leadership and financial perspicacity, the entire European Commission had to resign. The Parliament’s potential ability to bounce back European legislation that ignores, compromises or damages the common good is very welcome. With regard to the common good, every little helps!
Video of the meeting: https://youtu.be/2WYHEWTHDek
Common Goods Intergroup members: the Greens, the left group GUE, the Social Democrat party (S&D) and the EFDD (joint president Nigel Farage) and which now includes Beppe Grillo with his Cinque Stelle party.
The Common Goods Intergroup and this meeting was facilitated by Elisabetta Cangelosi and Pablo Sanchez Centellas
November 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
The psyCommons began as a flicker of intuition.
A decade of necessary resistance to the state’s attempt to capture psychotherapy and counselling in the UK masked a more important perspective – around 75% of the population have no need of ‘mental health’ services. What is it they know and do that keeps them psysavvy?
This video begins to examine and define these capacities – the ordinary wisdom and shared power of the psyCommons. If you have anything to add or subtract, let’s hear it.
The second in a series of videos about the psyCommons looks at how the basic human capacity to resolve and survive the ordinary difficulties of daily life through family, friends and local communities, is undermined by the psychological professions, along with their pharma allies.
The psyCommons and its Enclosures: Professionalized Wisdom and the Abuse of Power
A third video is a bit of a sideways step. Butterfly Therapy builds on some images I made a while back to honour the common sense capacity we have to survive, recover and flourish from many, if not all, of the challenges of the human condition.
May 1, 2018 § Leave a comment
A discussion paper from the Centre for Welfare Reform
Thomas Allan’s short article is an important one because it helps to map out the territory we need to rediscover between the State and the Market. The post-war period has been dominated by the conflict between these two forces and the result is a No Man’s Land where community, citizenship and most of the good things in life wither.
How we bring this warfare to an end will involve, as Thomas Allan suggests, three different strategies:
1. Recognise and respect the limitations of the Market, not by treating it as the enemy, but by recognising that productivity and efficiency give no measure of human worth.
2. Recognise the role of the State in ensuring our common welfare, but help it redefine its role as Partner, not as a substitute for community life.
3. Identify, reclaim and start to cherish the Commons, the space we all share, the space in which we meet, grow, learn, worship, take care of things and foster the sense of community, belonging and action without which human life becomes empty.
Read and download the free pdf in your browser here.
November 23, 2017 § Leave a comment
The Commons are not only resources. They are about the ways in which we live, survive, love and interrelate within our material and social worlds. They are infused with life, love and attachment; pain, loss and resentment.
Too often we are displaced, defined and alienated by the powerful enclosures and pathologies of the market and its state partner. Our real needs and experiences captured and reshaped by powerful cultural narratives of the ‘natural’ social order of things; by the relentless dictates of homoeconomicus, free markets and state bureaucratic systems. Blinded to the deeper connections between us, we are defined in ways we haven’t consented to or don’t understand. Too often our fundamental needs are left unmet and we are left with a lingering dissonance and fractured social world; a sense of distress and the unexplained and unresolved.
More than resources and production, the challenge of enclosure weighs heavy on our mind, body and spirit; where the commons of love, caring, intuition and the possibilities inherent to our social worlds come up against structural limitations.
Below is a passage of experience from the psyCommoner that depicts some of our often turbulent and confused responses as we try to make sense of experience; often in search of rebalancing, renewal and a more inter/subjective rationality:
The One Stop I carry our silent final terms past the one stop on my way to bed each night then dream of Sea Pinks in June over St Ives with peacocks in my wake, with headland chapel overlooking the Celtic sea and commemorative benches dedicated to those who loved the sea views; were reclaimed by the ocean spray and were loved and missed dearly by their family=========>>>>
Come morning I’ll reach with bleary eye for two cups then remember with a wrench of the heart this morning I’ll only need one and ponder what science is this that separates time from place and ends all my many beginnings – I’m homeless, rationalized and alienated. The riches; the slums of abject failure. But regardless I carry on with this stuff inside towards the end of your street, Winchester Avenue surrounds me like enclosure as if to prohibit my going back then lights dim, scenes fade and hope is still-born to the memory – and what business here now?
With wrought Iron neck and leadweight limbs I ache to prove those days meaningless through the ever changing oil paintings and charmed landscapes of my mind’s eye – so onwards to autumn and renewal in the dying of the year: Things that I remember today – by day, waterfall and mossy boulders, over beck grassy bridge with clear water pools swollen by the rainfall, overtures, a crescendo of sound, we conduct an orchestra of awakening now new born in this amphitheatre in the mountains.
By night, secluded beneath the trees and awoken by early birdsong tucked up behind modern fort – yellowed plates hang from the walls and comedic candlesticks lilt sarcastically from one another, hope emerges in crevices, musty carpets and crushed flowers found within book pages; in contradictions; three once-were armchairs face one another in silent communion, onwards to Autumn, the dimly lit industrial streetlamp struggles against darkening skies in ignorance to its’ grave warnings — stave off my early winter warning dreams with colourful crimson leaves in turmoil before leaving muddy incisions on the margins, soon to be frozen; leaves pile high against either side of the curb, red wine, reduced to clear, warmth, now I forget and thaw but I’ll wake within my fear again.
July 15, 2017 § Leave a comment
The Summer solstice marks the longest day of the year. The days are long and hopefully full of sunshine. And around about now it’s common to see newspaper and magazine articles celebrating the wild: wild swimming, wild gardening, wild food, wild camping and wild running.
These representations of a variety of human activities are usually set against backdrops of rare spaces of seemingly scarce natural beauty. Ancient woodlands, beautiful lakes, wooded dingles cut into hills, meadows with spectacular spreads of wildflowers where Owls and Kestrels hunt, hidden beaches and lost lanes. Fertile landscapes that awaken our senses, helping us get back in touch with our selves, with nature and leave the real world behind.
In fact, according to Community Psychologist and researcher Carl Walker, much research demonstrates the curative impact of green and waterside environments on mood, where regular use of the natural environment reduces the risk of mental ill health (1).
The wild, or ‘Nature’, however, is often represented as much by what it is not, as it is by what it is. It is places of natural beauty: countryside and rivers, mountains and creeks. It is not production or social organization: towns, roads, cars, offices, airports or factories. One, the profane, is ‘expressive of concepts of unfreedom’ (2); mundane individual and societal problems. The other, the sacred, carries ‘a promising but unspecified sense of an alternative’ (3). Manufactured objects, landscapes and the negotiation of social relations are not part of ‘nature’.
Nature, as noted by Environmental Historian William Cronon, is here seen as ‘an island in the polluted sea of urban-industrial modernity, the one place we can turn for escape from our own too-muchness’. Seen in this way, he continues, ‘wilderness presents itself as the best antidote to our human selves, a refuge we must somehow recover if we hope to save the planet.’ (4)
Still, it is reasonable to suppose that our capacity to access ‘nature’ depends on social opportunity and a range of contingencies embedded in everyday socio-economic life. You’ll need physical health, mobility, cognition and psychosocial wellbeing (or otherwise access to social support). You’ll need communication such as a phone, and affordable transportation such as a car, bike or public transport. You’ll need entitlement to time (paid or unpaid leave), money, food, clothes and equipment. You’ll probably want somewhere to stay and perhaps some company.
The point being that in our familiar notions of work, production and value, ‘nature’ is produced and repackaged as ‘leisure’ or ‘recreation’, apparently free time spent away from our work organizations, career building, formal education and domestic households. Yet this is a separation that ignores the economic and social forces that capture free time from an individual and sell it back to them as a commodity (5). Today, zero hours contracts, endless workplace restructures, austerity, reduced wages and social welfare cuts, anxieties, insecurity and a crisis in public health have left many without the means to traverse ‘real life’ into ‘nature’.
And if you are serious about leaving it all behind? You will need to consider other issues of accessing nature. According to an article in the Guardian, the UK has 60m acres of land; two thirds of which are privately owned by 0.36 percent of the population. The project of living within ‘nature’ is subject to the rules and exclusions of private or state land ownership and management. Historically, Simon Fairlie describes how the enclosure and privatization of hitherto common land in the UK has over a number of centuries led to extreme levels of land ownership concentration, depriving most British people of access to agricultural land (6).
Seen from another perspective, many decades living afloat on the Thames in London led to author, activist and group therapist Denis Postle’s extended experience of the wild. For Postle, ‘Wilderness’ serves as an integrating notion for the split between ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’ (7):
“Intimate appreciation of the dynamics of this wilderness led to the realisation that the city surrounding it and urban civilisation in general was also a wilderness and that the split between ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’ was a major category error. Cities, the Internet, aircraft, washbasins and supermarkets are also ‘nature’.”
Here, nature and civilization are two inseparable spheres in symbiotic relationship. One may be described as the natural environment, not altered by human intervention. The other perhaps analogous to what Critical Geographer Noel Castree and colleagues have termed ‘social nature’, referring to how societies physically re-constitute nature ‘intentionally and unintentionally’ to the point it becomes institutionalised and ‘internalised into social processes’ (8).
The natural environment: climate, weather and natural resources, impacts social nature: human survival and economic activity. The ‘economy’, originally conceived of as household management and by extension the commons, relies on nature in the form of resource extraction to produce commodities that we buy and sell in private markets for profit or use; while traditionally the state has harnessed ‘nature’ through investing in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports, railways, buildings and power stations to facilitate expansion, employment, taxation and growth. The idea of what became known as ‘The Welfare State’ developed in the 20th Century as a form of arrangement between market and state to provide for human need, giving the state new responsibilities for the social and economic welfare of citizens.
In summary, different forms of production and social organization for survival are not unique to the modern era. But the endless drive for market strategies of growth in the era of industrialization has fundamentally transformed human geography such as through extensive urbanization and agricultural land conversion, disturbing the ‘metabolic interaction’ between humans and the earth. In myriad ways, one ‘nature’ has modified, displaced or diminished the Other.
Interestingly, it was from within this false dichotomy and the ‘Great Transformation’ that followed that is said to have given rise to the subjective experience of the poet John Clare.
John Clare (1793-1864) has been described as ‘known for his celebratory representations of the English countryside and his lamentation of its disruption’. He is said to have written powerfully ‘of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self’ (9).
Clare was from the village of Helpston, Peterborough; a village affected savagely by enclosures. According to author, economist and corporate policy advisor Fred Harrison, Helpston and its inhabitants were subjected to a social reconfiguration designed to maximise the rent of landlords; a transformation that crushed the customs and the values of people who had innovated throughout the ages by cultivating and tending nature until it became fit for human habitation (10).
These values and customs were significant, as Clare’s formative years were shaped by his personal relationships, situated ‘within the interplay of a topography of spatial openness and the aesthetics of his temporal awareness…his aesthetic senses tuned to the rhythm of the seasons’ (11):
“In Clare’s world, there was an intimate relationship between society and environment. The open field system fostered a sense of community. You could talk to the man working the next strip; you could see the shared ditches. You could tell the time of the day by the movement of the common flock and herd from the village pound out to the heath and back. Once a year everyone would gather to ‘beat the bounds’, that is to say, walk around the perimeter of the parish as a way of marking its boundaries. The fields spread out in a wheel with the village as its hub…”
The customs and values of the commoner would not withstand the onslaught. The culture of economic improvement, a feature of John Locke’s political theory and English property law was cited as justification for the changes that followed. Court decisions on property rights followed in favour of exclusive private property rights and the dispossession of small producers (12).
Guided by the doctrine of classical liberalism, markets were recast as self-regulating institutions designed to fit humans supposed natural tendencies to maximise profit and exchange. Social progress was seen as best achieved by the unbridled power of self-regulating markets and self-interested entrepreneurs.
The rise of market norms and relations were ‘marked by ongoing attempts to commodify both labour and the biophysical environment’ (13) – what Karl Polanyi later termed ‘fictitious commodities’ (14) – and subject them to the demands of the market. Rather than understanding economic relations as embedded in society, and by extension between society and the natural world, human-environment relations became inverted as social relations were reengineered to serve the needs of self-regulating markets.
Insisting on markets as self-regulating institutions, free market ideology became the handmaiden of the new industrial interests (15):
“Promoted as ‘progress’ the fields were enclosed and the circular configuration ripped apart in favour of a linear landscape. Where people once roamed, now there were restrictions. Families which for years had traversed the landscape as free people were now outlawed from the places that were cherished by their forefathers. But this was more than an exercise in redefining property rights and economic practices. Mind and bodies were compressed in an unrelenting process of confinement.” (16)
Insightfully, Harrison points out how Clare was recognised as a poet who ‘registered the rupture at the interface between the commons of people’s culture, and the commons of nature (resources that they shared)’ (17). Within these ruptures, Claire suffered from a number of physical and mental health problems that, according to Harrison, would represent what today is called ‘Bipolar Affective Disorder’ or ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’. The commons had helped shape his identity; interconnected with a web of relationships and experiences with land, love and community. Yet by the end of the 19th century, these had been ‘compressed into legal and social abnormalities that redefined people’s status with each other and with the land’ (18):
“The separation of a population from its natural and social commons under the laws of the land created stresses of a schizophrenic character. These were evident in the decision makers, who had to balance the need to satisfy their ‘stakeholders’ – the landowners – with the need to keep the system operating. Rents had to be generated. The tensions were palpable in the paradoxes that tested the mental and moral landscapes”
Today, these beliefs and the complex interlocking of politics and economics still provide the organizing template for large parts of contemporary social and economic life. Private ownership, patriarchal forms of social organisation and market forces are seen as conducive to the ‘proper’ conservation and management of human and natural resources; while for most of us, our daily lives revolve around the continuous displacements and insecurities of the labour market – what Polanyi called ‘the pernicious nineteenth century dogma of the necessary uniformity of domestic regimes within the orbit of world economy’ (19).
Yet we are being stretched. As the forces of free market globalisation accelerate, inequality deepens and new demands are placed on individuals, social relations and communities. In submitting to the anonymous power of the market, people suffer structural unemployment, reduced wages and welfare and reduced entitlement to social assistance; continuously forced to adapt to new and shifting threats to develop new forms of coping strategies. As a number of studies have now shown, in today’s ‘turbo-charged and austerity-ravaged’ economy, anxiety, depression and insecurity have become the new normal (20).
Could what we have taken for so long as improvement and progress actually be damage and destruction of the psyCommons, as well as the social and natural commons? Despite extraordinary advances in science and technology, cultural critics, academics, artists, activists, concerned citizens and demonstrators alike have long drawn attention to the social consequences, ecological destruction and now ravaging psychological impact of corporate globalization.
What Clare’s experiences and poetry show us is that this Great Transformation was not only the recasting of economic orthodoxy and political power – associated primarily with the production, use and management of resources – but of the alienated self, and the destruction and reconstruction of subjectivity. It represents the psychological pain generated by the gradual devastation of people and place (21):
“Inclosure came and trampled on the grave / Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave … And birds and trees and flowers without a name / All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came.”
Still, the beautiful landscapes, lanes and secret beaches remain, yet more as a ‘reflection of our own unexamined longings and desires’ (22), rather than as an escape or antidote to real life. Wilderness, as Cronon points out, is not at all what it seems.
Cunningham, L. & Walker, C. Building a New Community Psychology of Mental Health
Linebaugh, P. Enclosures From the Bottom Up
Cronon, W. The Trouble with Getting Back to Wilderness
See Situationist International, Questionnaire: Section 12 (1964)
Fairlie, S. A Short History of Enclosure in Britain
Postle, D. Nature Vs Civilization: End of Life Notice
Castree, N. & Braun, B. Social Nature: Theory, Practice & Politics
Summerfield, Geoffrey. An Introduction to John Clare
Harrison, F. The Traumatised Society
Wood, E. Liberty & Property
Davis, R. & Pinkerton, E. Neoliberalism and the Politics of Enclosure in North American Fisheries
Polanyi, K. The Great Transformation
Stiglitz, J. Foreword to The Great Transformation (2001)
Harrison, F. The Traumatised Society
Polanyi, K. The Great Transformation
Taylor, JD. Spent? Capitalisms Growing Problem with Anxiety
Monbiot, G. The Poet of the Environmental Crisis 200 years ago
Cronon, W. The Trouble with Getting Back to Wilderness
February 14, 2017 § 4 Comments
The core psyCommons proposal emerged from enquiries into how it was that three quarters of the UK population have no need for the professional services of the counseling, psychotherapy and psychiatric professions.
I became convinced that we survive, navigate, enjoy and struggle with life more or less successfully via three elements, rapport, chat and learning from experience, presented, together with the psy professions context, in psyCommons and Professionalised Wisdom.
Such perspectives are never complete and recent inquiries for another movie, currently in production, sharpened up my sense that in addition to the first three capacities in play in our daily lives, there might be another one, trance-induction, that can shed light on the truthiness, brands, lies and alternative ‘facts’ that presently seek to enthrall us.
Comments, enhancements and feedback are welcome.
Trance induction, aka hypnosis, is a well-understood psychological intervention in which we are invited to give intense attention to a single sensory input, so that the context of where we are is suppressed. While entranced we are likely to be highly suggestible.
This innate human capacity through words and gesture and presence, to entrance others and be ourselves entranced by a desire, a belief, of what counts as desirable or a necessity, has recently become weaponized by political interests.
Benefits of trance-induction
Humankind is primarily a wilderness of bodyminds in relationship, bodyminds that are made up of an internal wilderness of bone, muscle, nerves, neurons and grey matter. Trance induction helps us cohere psychically, interpersonally and socially..
Disadvantages of trance-induction
Our bodymind wildernesses have been vastly extended by the rapidly accelerating growth of technologies in recent decades. The scale of both our ability to communicate with others and the scale of how much we do communicate has been astonishing, the global village throbs with a 24/7 plethora of files, messages, images and video.
This TV, phone, text and image-based chat is great and it acts to create and sustain new forms of relationship between humankind wildernesses across frontiers and different languages.
However, the benefit we get from them is always accompanied by amputation, especially the loss of context. We see and hear a video or read a message but we don’t engage with the sender’s presence. The clues from feeling and intuition we would pick up if we met in person are missing. These clues are an essential element of trust.
To repeat: focusing narrowly, so as to concentrate on a sound or an image or a thought while its context is side-lined or absent, is the basis of hypnotic trance-induction.
Being entranced is commonplace, it’s a basic human capacity that, coupled with frequent reality-testing, means that we can navigate through life reasonably well.
A huge part of what minds do in our daily life is the generation and interplay of trance-inductions, opinions about people and products, for example where we work and where we play, and the trance-inductions of music. Alongside this, a key feature of getting on with other people, is fielding trance-inductions, checking out how far we can trust somebody and checking out what they are offering or what they are demanding.
Abundant messaging but missing context
In the global village all of us now inhabit, while messages are more than abundant, context in our communications tends to more and more scarce. This means that we can be way more susceptible to predatory trance-inductions, lies, manipulation, coercion, ‘alternative facts’, ‘spin’ and ‘brands’.
Examples would include claims that something is ‘inevitable’, ‘natural’, ‘evil’, ‘the truth’, and ‘essential’ as a means of focusing attention away from the wider context of what is being proposed.
Along with the local subtleties of our daily relationships, trance-induction has become a core part of political ‘spin’, and business, advertising and marketing and how they work. The Trump presidential and Brexit campaigns have provided signal examples, ‘lock her up’, ‘fake news’, ‘take back control’, ‘enemies of the people’.
The elimination or suppression of context from the signals, images and messages we receive mean that we become very susceptible to trance-inductions that intend to manipulate us, or to coerce, control or persuade us. When context is absent, messages in the form of appetising lies can be difficult to refute. What goes missing is trust.
Capitalism and trance-induction
Capitalism continues to be a potent source of trance-inductions and interrupting its trance-inductions and those of its families and friends is very tricky. It means interrupting its ethos – that wealth does not equal righteousness – that capital accumulation may not be just or essential – that they are mistaken about the need for unlimited growth and unlimited debt – that the planetary damage and dissolution of trust this entails does matter.
Becoming trance-savvy seems to mean becoming alert, even to begin with, hyper-alert, about recognising trance-inductions when they are pointed at us, so as to have more choice in whether we follow what they are suggesting, plus diligently reality-testing those trance-inductions (such as this blog) that we generate.
Perhaps most important, when someone tries to insist that something is ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’, this is likely to be a trance-induction, if so, look for the missing context.
October 16, 2016 § Leave a comment
Current welfare policy is dominated by a pair of narrowly defined and contrasting concepts: the ‘public’, which is usually equated to the state, versus the private, which is treated as equivalent to narrow economic self-interest. This is an unhelpful framework for thinking about the welfare state as a whole and social care in particular. Thomas Allan, in this important essay, challenges the current thinking about care and asks us instead to return to an older and more useful conception of care – as part of the commons.
Care is something intrinsic to being human; a part of the human spirit that doesn’t lend itself well to the institutions we have created and the norms to which we are accustomed. Take its management, for example:
- How would we measure care?
- Can care be efficient?
- Can we optimize care or maximize returns on it?
- How can we incentivise others to care?
This is an economic or managerial representation of care; one that sees care as a transaction or economic process, and questions that revolve around policies that construe citizens as rational economic beings in every field of life – something that is profoundly misleading (Habermann 2012).
To care is to be intuitive; to perceive the intangible and experience the imprecise, formless, confusing and the painful dislocations; as well as the warm, comforting and reassuring. Care cannot be categorized, counted or separated for purposes of analysis, and includes attachments to time and place, patterns of life and thought, reproductive activities and habits of the heart (Harvey 2007) – something Denis Postle has termed a “Wilderness”(Postle 2016).To understand this wilderness is to perceive complexity and adopt a fully holistic approach.
Yet trying to care in a system that doesn’t is a thankless task. Bureaucratic systems legitimise poor standards (Jackson 2015). The marketization of care leads to repressed wages for frontline staff (Jackson 2015). Thoughtless and inhuman policies are leading to “a new wave of institutionalised practice,” and the ongoing managerial drive for cuts and ‘cost efficiency’ leads to organisational failures as well as personal crises (Jackson 2015; Griffin, McGrath & Mundy 2015).
The government pays lip service to ‘Big Society’ and ‘Strong Communities’. But in truth, our capacity to organize networks of mutual care is being endangered by the pursuit of economic power and political goals about which there is no real debate beyond the palliative consultation.
Part of this is that, as managers or employees, we seem to have fallen foul of the McNamara Fallacy: making decisions solely on the basis of what can be measured – something a management colleague once described to me as “looking through the wrong end of the telescope.” Seeking to reduce care to manageable proportions, we have become blind to the more intricate patterns of human interaction that are subtle, qualitative, long-term and complex (Bollier & Weston 2012).
In health and social services, management and professional services resemble a closely related exercise in the art of gate-keeping: extracting information from people who need support and their families to populate over lengthy and technical assessments, before data inputting into vast IT systems to ‘evidence’ preordained decisions on cost savings. Can you communicate the bad news nicely to the distressed and the disenfranchised? We speak of the person centred principle in our work, yet people are made to fit the system rather than the other way around.
The tendency has been to reduce care to the measurable and the technical, targeting the isolated individual. This thinking reduces personal experiences such as mental distress and social marginalization – challenges relating to the social environment in which people live (Griffin, McGrath & Mundy 2015) – to technical tweaks, ameliorative revision or, most perniciously, resorting to deficit based thinking and victim blaming (Ryan 1971) – problematic or maladapted individuals. It is blind to the social contexts in which personal and organizational issues arise. This is especially problematic when we are trying to promote a more caring, inclusive society.
In many organizations, foundational and much fetishised principles of management such as efficiency have taken on turbo charged and fanatical proportions, reinforcing the view that improvement in care is a question of ever more efficient resource allocation. Social economist Mark Lutz wrote presciently:
“One could see the present age as dominated by a religion of economic efficiency. Everything is to be interpreted in its light. Institutions must justify their existence in the name of efficiency, the state itself being no exception” (Lutz 1999).
Principles such as market competition and optimization dominate the debate, leaving little space for democratic decision-making, or critical reflection on the lived experience of people in their everyday lives; two vital considerations in the satisfaction of human need (Doyal & Gough 1991; Gough 1994).
In public, private and even nonprofit sector organizations, cost savings, cost efficiency, rapacious downsizing and restructures have become common sense and good business; or, for those less inclined, unfortunate side effects of economic downturn but necessary for survival.
Displaced and bewildered staff are the ‘engaged’ subjects of ‘necessary’ change in response to the ‘inevitabilities’ of economic globalization, managed through faceless systems of performance measurement to deliver efficiency, productivity and profitability to the market. Precarious employment, reduced wages and welfare, stress, anxieties, insecurity and a crisis in public health are all inconvenient ‘externalities’ to the mainstream economist’s efficiency models.
Contradictions and confusion reign. Human bonds are broken. Huge sums are invested in vast data systems to collect information for ‘efficiencies’ in the market, while poorly paid and over-worked care staff leave to be replaced by expensive agency staff or unreliable technology. On reassessing disability welfare entitlement, meanwhile, academic David Stuckler points out that “the government’s own estimates of fraud by persons with disabilities is less than the sum of the contract awarded to the company carrying out the tests.”
Most disturbingly, while evidence traces the actual human cost of austerity (Basu & Stuckler 2013), key decision makers press on, offering policies based on an impoverished conception of human welfare. Whether constrained within organisational hierarchies or blinkered by free market ideology, we are unable to find a way out of the impasse.
There is inevitably a human consequence of such organization. This political rationality – the logic of the market – imposes itself on our values, shapes our identities and our perception of ourselves and others, in a manner French Philosopher Foucault called governmentality. It extends its influence into our minds, our personalities, and inhibits empathy; isolating us from others (Meretz 2012; Verhaeghe 2015). It threatens the public ethos and reconstructs notions of citizenship in its image. The impact of austerity, belief in free markets and the doctrine of balanced budgets are undermining our human relations: the very bedrock of our free civil society.
But how can we make visible the human relations that underlie care? Is there a more caring alternative? The answer, I believe, lies in the notion of the commons.
Reconceptualising care and the commons
Social activist and author John Restakis points out it is profoundly false to refer to care as a product, or to the recipients as clients. Says Restakis:
“It is the unthinkable urge in a market society to commodify human and social relations. Neither state bureaucracy, which depersonalizes social service recipients, nor private sector firms, which instrumentalize recipients as a source of profit, can ever be suited to the provision of relational goods.” (Restakis 2011).
In this sense, care is not a ‘thing’ that we produce and distribute through standardized state systems or impersonal market mechanisms, but connections that are made on the basis of our natural predisposition to love, empathise, reciprocate and share meanings. As Restakis makes clear, both state and market take as its starting point an economistic assumption of deficit or scarcity of care in society, ignoring that care is an intrinsic human response to others in need.
As a set of free market policies dismantle the welfare state and privatise public services, the burden weighs heavy on the public sphere to provide the fix. This is the sphere – an often overlooked and taken for granted sphere sometimes referred to as the ‘commons’ – where community organizes and provides its own services: family carers, civic and voluntary associations, cooperatives, ‘user’ led advocacy or parents organizing their children’s playgroup.
Massimo De Angelis, author and Professor of Political Economy at the University of East London, explains:
We find commons in community organizations and associations, social centers, neighbour associations, indigenous practices, households, peer-to-peer networks, and the reproduction of community activities organized within faith communities. (De Angelis 2012)
But De Angelis urges us to be wary of the always ‘revolutionary’ management strategies we are exposed to, instead asking us to understand commons as an informal social activity from the bottom up known as ‘commoning’. This is where the real ideas for change are conceived and grow.
The Commons – “a vision of empowered citizens taking charge of their lives and their endangered resources”(Bollier & Helfrich 2012) – is a field of possibilities and new social practices, based on sharing, cooperation, reciprocity and socio-cultural change. These practices are providing pioneering solutions to the challenge of how to reproduce our livelihoods beyond market and state.
Yet a ‘commons fix’ (De Angelis 2012) is not a replacement for properly funded public services, so we can turn a blind eye to the social and ecological disintegration around us. To avoid being co-opted into neoliberal narratives of the ‘Big Society’ or ‘Strong Communities’, the act of ‘commoning’ also involves asserting our political rights, writes Brigitte Kratzwald:
Rethinking the social welfare state from the perspective of the commons means stepping out of the private sphere and reclaiming the state and the public sphere. In this context, “state” includes all levels of government, including the federal states and the municipalities. This means that commoners need to consider themselves part of the public sphere again, the sphere of politics. (Kratzwald 2012)
Can these commons really happen? They already are. According to recent publications by the Commons Strategy Group we are already showing an intrinsic desire as citizens “to collaborate and share to meet everyday needs as a powerful strategy for building a more fair, humane social order” (Bollier & Helfrich 2015); from people “organising to defend their forests and fisheries, reinvent local food systems, organize productive online communities, reclaim public spaces, improve environmental stewardship and re-imagine the very meaning of “progress” and governance” (Bollier & Helfrich 2012).
In health and social care, the Dutch Homecare organization Buurtzorg is a managerless network of 7,000 nurses formed by Jos De Blok in 2006. This not-for-profit organisation is drawing interest both in the Netherlands and elsewhere as a genuinely person focused and democratic organizational form, born out of former District Nurse De Blok’s passion and frustration with his profession falling foul to managerial principles of productivity, protocols and administration – losing its social value.
With District Nurses “alienated from their profession,” they had become “imprisoned in administrative tasks;” their skill and expertise “barely called upon anymore.” Tellingly, De Blok also felt the drive for efficiency was undermining the essence of what care is:
“The cause of the malaise is the product-oriented approach that first appeared around ten years ago in the homecare sector and is, by now, widespread. In this vision, care is seen as a product that you can chop up into various activities. You then try to carry out these activities as cheaply as possible.”
Restakis meanwhile presents a model of the social cooperative with improved accountability to people who need support; one that doesn’t compromise the obligations and prerogatives of government, while moving “beyond defensiveness” of the traditional political battles between supporters of either public or private delivery models.
This model is based on an experiment with new ways of funding social care by the foundation Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna. It involved 6 key principles, abridged below from his book Humanizing the Economy (2011):
- Shifting the production of social care delivery from government to democratically structured civil institutions, with government retaining its role as prime funder to these services.
- Government funding should flow direct to people who need support who would then select services they need from a choice of accredited organisations. Independent consumer cooperatives should be funded to assist people (e.g. without mental capacity) and their families in the identification, evaluation and contracting of care services.
- Social care organisations must have the legal ability to raise capital from members and civil society more generally on the basis of social investing.
- Surpluses generated by these social care organisations with public funding would need to be held as social assets and a reserve held for the expansion and development of that organisation and its services.
- The primary role of government would be to continue to provide funding for social care and establish the rules of the game, in partnership with service providers, caregivers and people who need support.
- Service design and the assessment of need would take place at the community and regional level of delivery. This decentralisation must include the democratisation of decision making through the sharing of control rights with people who need support and care givers.
These are some examples and a brief introduction to different ways of thinking about care and the means for its provision. In truth, it is unclear what the future holds. We often talk about ‘risk’ in care – risk to vulnerable individuals, groups or organisations – and to some these solutions may seem unnecessarily risky. But what is clear is that we can no longer talk only about risk to one individual, group or piece of the system, but of the failings of the system itself.
When we take a longer term view and understand the consequences of bureaucratic and free market thinking on human welfare, it is arguably more risky to leave things the way they are. Rethinking care should be a priority.
Given the certainty that we will all need care and support as we move through life, we should be very concerned about our leader’s willingness to accept the social consequences of economic ‘improvement’, and the modelling of our care delivery systems on decision making frameworks such as those designed to maximize efficiency in large For-Profits, such as Sports Direct.
The commons gives us a framework and generative power to take affirmative individual and collective action ourselves now, holding decision makers accountable and looking at how we can create, organize and manage our common resources as communities of free people.
Basu, S & Stuckler, D (2013) The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills. New York. Basic Books.
Bollier, D & Helfrich, S (2012) Introduction: The Commons as a Transformative Vision in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Bollier, D & Helfrich, S (2015) Patterns of Commoning. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Bollier, D & Weston, B (2012) Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
De Angelis, M (2012) Crises, Capital and Co-optation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix? in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Doyal, L & Gough, I (1991) A Theory of Human Need. New York. Palgrave Macmillan.
Gough, I (1994) Economic Institutions and the Satisfaction of Human Need. Journal of Economic Issues Volume 28 Issue 1 Pages 25-66
Griffin, V. McGrath, L & Mundy, E (2015) The Psychological Impact of Austerity: A Briefing Paper. Psychologists Against Austerity. Published online at https://psychagainstausterity.wordpress.com
Habermann, F (2012) We Are Not Born As Egoists in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Harvey, D (2007) A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Jackson, R (2015) Who Cares? The Impact of Ideology, Regulation and Marketization on the Quality of Life for People with Intellectual Disability. Sheffield. The Centre for Welfare Reform.
Kratzwald, B (2012) Rethinking the Social Welfare State in Light of the Commons in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Lutz, M (1999) Economics for the Common Good: Two Centuries of Social Economic Thought in the Humanist Tradition. New York. Routledge.
Meretz, S (2012) The Structural Communality of Commons in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Postle, D (2016) ‘Nature’ v ‘Civilisation’: End of Life Notice. Published online at https://wildernessweb.org/2016/04/21/nature-v-civilisation-end-of-life-notice/
Restakis, J (2011) Humanizing the Economy: Cooperatives in the Age of Capital. Gabriola Island, BC Canada. New Society Publishers.
Ryan, W (1971) Blaming the Victim. New York. Pantheon Books.
Verhaeghe, P (2014) What About Me? The struggle for identity in a market-based society. London. Scribe UK.
The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Beyond Efficiency: Care and the Commons © Thomas Allan 2016.
Posted here by permission of the Centre for Welfare Reform
August 9, 2016 § Leave a comment
Guest post by Thomas Allan
These representations of a variety of human activities in the wild are usually set against a backdrop of rare spaces of natural beauty. Ancient woodlands with spectacular spreads of bluebells, beautiful lakes and wooded dingles cut into hills, meadows where Owls and Kestrels hunt. These exuberant and fertile landscapes awaken our senses, helping us get back in touch with our selves, with nature and leave the real world behind.
In fact, according to Community Psychologist and researcher Carl Walker, much research demonstrates the curative impact of green and waterside environments on mood, where regular use of the natural environment reduces the risk of mental ill health.
‘Nature’, though, is often represented as much by what it is not, as by what it is. It is places of natural beauty: countryside and rivers, mountains and creeks. It is not production or social organization: towns, roads, cars, offices, airports or factories. One, the profane, implies ‘contemporary sources of unfreedom’; mundane individual and societal problems. The other, the sacred, carries ‘a promising but unspecified sense of an alternative’. Manufactured objects, landscapes and the negotiation of social relations are not part of ‘nature’.
Yet, to a large extent, an individual’s capacity to access ‘nature’ depends on a range of contingencies embedded in everyday social and economic life. You’ll need physical health, mobility, cognition and psychosocial wellbeing (or otherwise access to social support). You’ll need communication, and affordable transportation such as a car, bike or public transport. You’ll need entitlement to time (paid or unpaid leave), money, food, clothes and equipment. You’ll probably want somewhere to stay and perhaps some company.
In our familiar notions of work, production and value, ‘nature’ is produced and repackaged as ‘leisure’ or ‘recreation’: apparently free time spent away from our work organizations, career building, formal education and domestic households. Yet this is a separation that ignores the economic and social forces which capture free time from an individual and sell it back to them as a commodity. Today, zero hours contracts, endless workplace restructures, reduced wages and welfare, anxieties, insecurity and a crisis in public health have left many without the means to traverse ‘real life’ into ‘nature’.
And if you are serious about leaving it all behind? You will need to consider other issues of accessing nature. According to an article in the Guardian, the UK has 60m acres of land; two thirds of which is privately owned by 0.36 percent of the population. The project of living within ‘nature’ is subject to the rules and exclusions of private or state land ownership and management. Historically, Simon Fairlie describes how the enclosure (privatization) of land in the UK over a number of centuries has led to extreme levels of land ownership concentration, depriving most British people of access to agricultural land.
However, many decades living afloat on the Thames in London led to author, activist and group therapist Denis Postle’s extended experience of the wild. For Postle, ‘Wilderness’ serves as an integrating notion for the split between ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’: “Intimate appreciation of the dynamics of this wilderness led to the realisation that the city surrounding it and urban civilisation in general was also a wilderness and that the split between ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’ was a major category error. Cities, the Internet, aircraft, washbasins and supermarkets are also ‘nature’.”
Here, nature and civilization are two inseparable spheres in symbiotic relationship. One may be described as the natural environment, not altered by human intervention. The other as what Castree (2001) and colleagues have termed ‘social nature’, referring to how societies physically re-constitute nature ‘intentionally and unintentionally’ to the point it becomes institutionalised and ‘internalised into social processes’.
The natural environment: climate, weather and natural resources, affects social nature: human survival and economic activity. The ‘economy’, originally conceived of as household management and by extension the commons, relies on nature in the form of resource extraction to produce commodities that we buy and sell in private markets for profit or use; while traditionally the state has harnessed ‘nature’ through investing in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports, railways, buildings and power stations to facilitate expansion, employment and ever more production and accumulation (market growth).
Different forms of production and social organization for survival are not unique to the modern era. But the endless drive for strategies of growth in the era of industrialization has fundamentally transformed human geography such as through extensive urbanization and agricultural land conversion, disturbing the ‘metabolic interaction’ between humans and the earth. One ‘nature’ has modified, displaced or diminished the ‘other’.
More reflections from The psyCommoner to follow…