- Making Other Worlds Possible: Performing Diverse Economies ed. by Gerda Roelvink, Kevin St. Martin, and J.K. Gibson-Graham
This book is the latest installment of the diverse economies research program, a two decades long challenge of the representation of the capitalist economy and advocacy for new, more than capitalist and more than human economies. Diverse economies started with the work of J-K Gibson-Graham, pen name of Katherine Gibson and late Julie Graham, The End of Capitalism (as We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy, published in 1996. Written in the rampant years of neoliberal capitalism, The End of Capitalism argued that left-leaning intellectuals and activist representation of capitalism as an all-powerful and dominant enemy actually empowered the mainstream. Gibson-Graham proposed new visions of capitalism as limited and enmeshed in non-capitalist practices. Such intellectual exercise allowed to conceive a “world of economic difference” (The End of Capitalism p. 6), in place of a single capitalist order to which non-capitalist practices are subordinated. A decade later, in 2006 they published A Postcapitalist Politics, which developed “a language of diverse economy and a weak theory of the economy (A Postcapitalist Politics p. 60) that had the merit of both identifying and systematizing the wide array of often invisible economic practices. In so doing, they paved the way to both empirical research and activist engagement, because “it is only when the [End Page 138] economy is opened up in this way we can imagine [new economies], and the collective actions to realize them (Making Other Worlds Possible p. 5). In 2013, Take Back the Economy: an Ethical Guide for Transforming our Communities, written for an activist audience, outlined the strategies for collective action.
The authors of this book continue the project of documenting as well as performing diverse economies action by deepening the themes of Take Back the Economy. While the latter explicitly tied the theoretical effort to represent the economy as diverse with the action of performing ethical community economies, Making Other Worlds Possible “offers a more reflective and theoretically developed accompaniment to this popular guide” (p. 10). Its major strengths are intellectual maturity, the coherence of the diverse economies research program, and the methodological variety and sophistication of the contributions. The broad range of contributions is a strength, but also a weakness: thirteen different chapters, focusing on themes as diverse as agricultural and fishing co-operatives in the US (Cameron, pp. 53–72; Snyder and St. Martin, pp. 26–52) to household economies in Moscow (Pavlovskaya, pp. 269–295), from designing alternative markets (Callon, pp. 322–348) to the politics of mapping in the US and Brazil (Safri, pp. 296–321), from a reinterpretation of migration and remittances (Safri and Graham pp. 244–268) to rural household in the Philippines (Gibson, Cahill and McKay, pp. 164–224) to name just a few. Such variety inevitably has a cost in terms of coherence and readability, offset only in part by the editors’ considerable effort to tie them together.
Intellectual maturity stem from the intersection of theoretical continuity, methodological depth, and empirical variety. Theoretically, the book further develop Gibson-Graham focus on performativity of social representation (p. 6). In The End of Capitalism they portrayed capitalism as a powerful discourse that perform and re-perform its own dominance. In this book, they extended the notion of performativity beyond the human world to include materiality, through Callon use of actor-network theory (pp. 322–348). As a result, the political goal of diverse economies has broadened from representing non-capitalist economies to establishing a more-than-capitalist practice of coexistence between humans and the non-human world (p. 9). In Roelvink’s discussion of climate change the non-human world is represented as a subject, rather than an object, of economic action, opening to possibilities of partnerships between humans and parts of their environment to respond to...