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Considering exploitation, surplus distribution and community economies in the work of Gibson-Graham
Terry Leahy (2013)
The writings of Gibson-Graham have been well known to Australian geographers for some time but are rarely mentioned in sociological circles. This is unfortunate. One aspect of their work that is particularly useful is their critique of left pessimism – the view that capitalist hegemony is so pervasive that the only effective solution is replacement of the capitalist mode of production. In the mean time, left pessimism suggests, all that can be done is to alert the public to this necessity. The sense that creatively constructing alternatives within the present global economy is both possible and necessary is a salutary lesson from Gibson-Graham’s work which accords with much contemporary practice, ranging from the more obvious examples of development NGOs, environmental action groups, and worker cooperatives and going on to the numerous informal organizations of daily life inspired by feminist and queer politics as well as supposedly mainstream everyday culture. Likewise, their analysis of class as a concept that can be applied to gendered exploitation as well as to social class is a useful addition to dual systems theory or ‘socialist feminism’. The poststructuralist view of the individual as an intersecting point for various discourses is adapted to good effect when Gibson-Graham treat the class positions of individuals as multiple, in so far as people are involved in a multiplicity of different class practices within family, community and work situations. These concepts could do much to inform sociological research on class and gender politics.
This article is concerned to explore in more detail some of the ways in which Gibson-Graham construct the concept of surplus and necessity and use it to theorize class practices and to describe the alternative community economies that they favor as the political way forward. So the first part of this article is a critique of the way Gibson-Graham construe Marx’s concepts of necessary and surplus labor and use them to characterize non-exploitative situations as a type of ‘class process’ with various practices of surplus distribution. The next part of the article attempts to provide a more thorough understanding of the concept of exploitation and its use to characterize forms of unequal exchange related to gender, as well as to race, sexuality and class. I will do this through an analysis of the anthropological meaning of ‘work’ in the Marxist and feminist canon. As noted above, one of the most attractive features of Gibson-Graham’s account is the description and validation of alternative economic strategies whether in work places, families or voluntary organizations. Since they use their concept of ‘surplus’ as a key to explaining what is subversive in these forms of labor and distribution, it is incumbent on me to provide an alternative way of making a somewhat similar analysis. So in the final section of this article, I do this by introducing the term ‘hybrids of the gift economy and capitalism’ and explaining the criteria by which organizations are judged to be hybrids and described in terms of that analysis.
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