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Intervention – “Vernacular Values: Remembering Ivan Illich” by Andy Merrifield |
"Illich had it in for professional institutions of every kind, for what he called “disabling professions”; this is what interests me most in his work, this is what I’ve been trying to revisit, trying to recalibrate and reload, in our own professionalised times. I’ve been trying to affirm the nemesis of professionalism: amateurs. Illich said professionals incapacitate ordinary peoples’ ability to fend for themselves, to invent things, to lead innovative lives beyond the thrall of corporations and institutions. Yet Illich’s war against professionalism isn’t so much a celebration of self-survival (letting free market ideology rip) as genuine self-empowerment, a weaning people off their market-dependence. We’ve lost our ability to develop “convivial tools”, he says, been deprived of our use-value capacities, of values systems outside the production and consumption of commodities. We’ve gotten accustomed to living in a supermarket.

Illich’s thinking about professionalisation was partly inspired by Karl Polanyi’s magisterial analysis on the “political and economic origins of our time”, The Great Transformation (Beacon Press, 1944). Since the Stone Age, Polanyi says, markets followed society, developed organically as social relations developed organically, from barter and truck systems, to simple economies in which money was a means of exchange, a mere token of equivalent worth. Markets were always “embedded” (a key Polanyi word) in social relations, always located somewhere within the very fabric of society, whose institutional and political structure “regulated” what markets could and couldn’t do. Regulation and markets thus grew up together, came of age together. So “the emergence of the idea of self-regulation”, says Polanyi, “was a complete reversal of this trend of development … the change from regulated to self-regulated markets at the end of the 18th century represented a complete transformation in the structure of society.”

We’re still coming to terms with this complete transformation, a transformation that, towards the end of the 20th century, has made the “disembedded” economy seem perfectly natural, perfectly normal, something transhistorical, something that always was, right? It’s also a perfectly functioning economy, as economic pundits now like to insist. Entering the 1990s, this disembedded market system bore a new tagline, one that persists: “neoliberalism”. Polanyi’s logic is impeccable: a “market economy can exist only in a market society.”

Inherent vices nonetheless embed themselves in this disembedded economy. Land, labour and money become vital parts of our economic system, of our speculative hunger games. But, says Polanyi, land, labour and money “are obviously not commodities” (his emphasis). “Land is only another name for nature, which is not produced by man”, he says; “labour is only another name for human activity which goes with life itself”; “actual money … is merely a token of purchasing power which, as a rule, is not produced at all, but comes into being through the mechanism of banking or state finance”. Thus “the commodity description of labour, land and money is entirely fictitious”, a commodity fiction, the fiction of commodities.

Still, we live in fictitious times (as filmmaker Michael Moore was wont to say): land, labour and money as commodities provide us with the vital organising principle of our whole society. So fiction remains the truth, and fictitious truth needs defending, needs perpetuating; the postulate must be forcibly yet legitimately kept in place. But kept in place how, and by whom? By, we might say, a whole professional administration, by a whole professional cadre, by a whole professional apparatus that both props up and prospers from these fictitious times. Professionalism is the new regulation of deregulation, the new management of mismanagement, an induced and imputed incapacitation."

"Vernacular values are intuitive knowledges and practical know-how that structure everyday culture; they pivot not so much—as Gramsci says—on common sense as on “good sense”. They’re reasonable intuitions and intuitive reason: words, habits and understandings that inform real social life—the real social life of a non-expert population. Illich reminds us that “vernacular” stems from the Latin vernaculam, meaning “homebred” or “homegrown”, something “homemade”. (We’re not far from the notion of amateur here.) Vernacular is a mode of life and language below the radar of exchange-value; vernacular language is language acquired without a paid teacher; loose, unruly language, heard as opposed to written down. (“Eartalk”, Joyce called it in Finnegans Wake, a language for the “earsighted”.) To assert vernacular values is, accordingly, to assert democratic values, to assert its means through popular participation."

"Illich chips in to add how professionals peddle the privileges and status of the job: they adjudicate its worthiness and rank, while forever tut-tutting those without work. Unemployment “means sad idleness, rather than the freedom to do things that are useful for oneself or for one’s neighbour”. “What counts”, Illich says, “isn’t the effort to please or the pleasure that flows from that effort but the coupling of the labour force with capital. What counts isn’t the achievement of satisfaction that flows from action but the status of the social relationship that commands production—that is, the job, situation, post, or appointment”.

Effort isn’t productive unless it’s done at the behest of some boss; economists can’t deal with a usefulness of people outside of the corporation, outside of stock value, of shareholder dividend, of cost-benefit. Work is only ever productive when its process is controlled, when it is planned and monitored by professional agents, by managers and the managers of managers. Can we ever imagine unemployment as useful, as the basis for autonomous activity, as meaningful social or even political activity?"

"Perhaps, during crises, we can hatch alternative programmes for survival, other methods through which we can not so much “earn a living” as live a living. Perhaps we can self-downsize, as Illich suggests, and address the paradox of work that goes back at least to Max Weber: work is revered in our culture, yet at the same time workers are becoming superfluous; you hate your job, your boss, hate the servility of what you do, and how you do it, the pettiness of the tasks involved, yet want to keep your job at all costs. You see no other way of defining yourself other than through work, other than what you do for a living. Perhaps there’s a point at which we can all be pushed over the edge, voluntarily take the jump ourselves, only to discover other aspects of ourselves, other ways to fill in the hole, to make a little money, to maintain our dignity and pride, and to survive off what Gorz calls a “frugal abundance”.

Perhaps it’s time to get politicised around non-work and undercut the professionalisation of work and life. In opting out, or at least contesting from within, perhaps we can create a bit of havoc, refuse to work as we’re told, and turn confrontation into a more positive device, a will to struggle for another kind of work, where use-value outbids exchange-value, where amateurs prevail over professionals. If, in times of austerity, capitalists can do without workers, then it’s high time workers (and ex-workers) realise that we can do without capitalists, without their professional hacks, and their professional institutions, that we can devise work without them, a work for ourselves. Illich throws down the gauntlet here, challenges us to conceive another de-professionalised, vernacular non-working future. He certainly gets you thinking, has had me thinking, and rethinking, more than a decade after I’ve had any kind of job."
via:javierarbona  ivanillich  professionals  experts  amateurs  economics  conviviality  karlpolanyi  politics  capitalism  neoliberalism  empowerment  self-empowerment  unschooling  deschooling  production  consumption  corporatism  corporations  institutions  self-survival  invention  innovation  markets  society  labor  land  commodities  nature  money  michaelmoore  andymerrifield  bureaucracy  control  systems  systemsthinking  deregulation  regulation  management  incapacitation  work  vernacula  vernacularvalues  values  knowledge  everyday  culture  informal  bullshitjobs  andrégorz  antoniogramsci  marxism  ideleness  freedom  capital  effort  productivity  socialactivism  maxweber  time  toolsforconviviality 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Theaster Gates: How to revive a neighborhood: with imagination, beauty and art | Talk Video |
"Theaster Gates, a potter by training and a social activist by calling, wanted to do something about the sorry state of his neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. So he did, transforming abandoned buildings to create community hubs that connect and inspire those who still live there (and draw in those who don't). In this passionate talk, Gates describes his efforts to build a "miniature Versailles" in Chicago, and he shares his fervent belief that culture can be a catalyst for social transformation in any city, anywhere."
theastergates  chicago  community  housing  reclamation  redevelopment  art  ceramics  2015  urban  urbanism  cities  socialactivism  activism 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Chris Hedges: As a Socialist, I Have No Voice in the Mainstream - Pt 6 of 7
"I think we’re in this kind of strange period when the language we use to describe our economic and political system no longer matches the reality. I mean, laissez-faire capitalism—we don’t live in a system of laissez-faire capitalism when the federal government bails out these institutions to the tunes of trillions of dollars and then keeps pumping out free money from the Fed and handing it to—that’s not laissez-faire capitalism. And yet I’m sure that if you went to Wharton or Harvard Business School, they would still be teaching this fictional system. And we haven’t yet moved into a period where the vocabulary we use to describe our reality matches that reality. And that’s always a revolutionary period, because there’s a disconnect between the way we speak about ourselves and the way we actually function. And that’s where we are. And so we in many ways are searching for the words to describe what’s happening to us and then to articulate another vision of where we want to go. And we haven’t gotten there yet."

[via: ]

[The rest in the series at The Real News website with transcripts:
part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 7

And on Youtube:
part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7 ]
change  revolution  chrishedges  socialism  economics  language  capitalism  corporatism  environment  sustainability  2013  ows  occupywallstreet  politics  bailouts  corporatesocialism  businessschools  corruption  society  reality  transition  disconnect  nationalization  coldwar  neoliberalism  activism  socialunrest  socialactivism  movements  barackobama  trends  pauljay  elites  elitism  liberalelite  justice  gender  multiculturalism  identitypolitics  workingclass  nafta  outsourcing  stagnation  labor  wallstreet  finance  power  us  history  poverty  journalism  radicalism  radicalization  class  nytimes  socialjustice  goldmansachs  moralimperative  ralphnader  alternative  christiananarchism  anarchism  anarchy  richardnixon 
july 2013 by robertogreco
Erin Watson: nonprofits, startups, and the middle place
"That center – where internet culture, creativity, and social justice intersect – is where we want to live, but neither of us knows how there’d be money in it. And that’s the real frustration: it seems like startup culture contains this vast pit of money and talent going towards selling ads and mining data. How do you get to the middle place? How do you build a life and thrive there? Thinking larger, how do we make a culture that values communities and their human needs over the next big thing? (I’m counting creativity among these human needs: I believe in the arts as an external immune system and a vector for transformative change.)

Because isn’t the real root issue that there’s no common denominator of what we value beyond how much money we make? There’s no atomic unit of satisfaction, or of social good, in the dark crevasse of late capitalism. There’s no winning at doing charity."
erinwatson  nonprofit  startups  middlegrounds  middleplaces  2013  art  community  socialactivism  change  creativity  culture  socialjustice  labor  work  latecapitalism  capitalism  satisfaction  socialgood  income  charity  charitableindustrialcomplex  vectors  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  nonprofits  power  control 
july 2013 by robertogreco
My Right Turn at the Intersection of Good Ideas | PlaceMakers
"Setting the context, this is what Bill Fulton, preeminent planner / writer / Mayor of Ventura, writes and thinks about the state of California planning today:
The entire planning business in California is changing, and I cannot quite predict where we are headed. So many of the conditions we have lived with for the past generation or two are changing. Real estate development is flat and we can’t predict when the market’s coming back, meaning we can’t use development to leverage needed change in our communities – nor use developer money to fund our practices. Local government revenue is flat and probably going down – meaning advance planning in California is extremely dependent right now on state and federal money, which could dry up anytime. And, of course, nobody knows what’s going to happen with redevelopment in the long run. Cities are on the verge of bankruptcy, planning departments are being rolled up, and planners are out on the street.
In the short run, all these things are harmful to the profession and to California’s communities as well. But it’s possible that some kind of shakeout and rethinking of how planning works in this state is long overdue. Maybe we’ve become too dependent on the same ol’-same ol’ – tax-increment funds, developer impact fees, and so forth. Maybe it’s time to find a new model – one where the local governments play a smaller or at least different role, and developers and nonprofit organizations play a bigger one.

No argument there. And look where it fits with this NGO model presented by architect Teddy Cruz:
Our projects primarily engage the micro scale of the neighborhood, transforming it into the urban laboratory of the 21st century. The forces of control at play across the most trafficked checkpoint in the world has provoked the small border neighborhoods that surround it to construct alternative urbanisms of transgression that infiltrate themselves beyond the property line in the form of non-conforming spatial and entrepreneurial practices. A migrant, small scale activism that alters the rigidity of discriminatory urban planning of the American metropolis, and search for new modes of social sustainability and affordability. The political and economic processes behind this social activism bring new meaning to the role of the informal in the contemporary city. What is interesting here is not the ‘image’ of the informal but the instrumentality of its operational socio-economic and political procedures. The counter economic and social organizational practices produced by non-profit social service organizations (turned micro-developers of alternative housing prototypes and public infrastructure at the scale of the parcel) within these neighborhoods are creating alternative sites of negotiation and collaboration. They effectively search to transform top-down legislature and lending structures, in order to generate a new brand of bottom-up social and economic justice that can bridge the political equator.

An interesting convergence. Now allow me to add my ‘Community Character Corner‘ synopsis, which heroically attempts to bridge the brilliant points of both these perspectives together…"
2011  teddcruz  billfulton  california  sandiego  planning  urbanplanning  urbanism  neighborhoods  small  border  borders  transgression  migration  socialactivism  informal  affordability  sustainability  policy  politics  economics  cities  housing  collaboration  bottom-up  top-down  politicalequator  entrepreneurship  change  covernment  redevelopment  ventura  socal  howardblackson 
june 2013 by robertogreco

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