» Archive for: July, 2015

by Constance, Wendy and Daniela, with comments by the participants in Italic, Bolsena 16 July 2015


Good food, good conversations, inspiration, welcoming, warmth, encouragement, intellectual luxury, exchange of economic(s) insights and perspectives and alternative practices, sharing (personal/academic) research experiences …

Over the first weekend in July, students and faculty from the Economics department at La Sapienza, Rome, and the Civic Innovation Research Initiative of the International Institute of Social studies, Erasmus University (ISS/EUR)came together, along with members of  the Lazio community based organization Punti di Vista and Tuscan  Hirschman Institute, to rethink economics with a focus on alternatives. Though coming from contrasting disciplinary backgrounds, the summer school was designed to explore how to address the political issues of equity and justice within economic theory and practice. The first day laid out and discussed key concepts underpinning political economy before moving on to discussions of alternatives in the second day.

I think it is interesting that things that are obvious in one discipline are not in another. Why are some things not obvious?

The morning began with a ‘back to basics’ discussion of Keynesian economics led by Claudio Sardoni of La Sapienza, the group opened up a discussion on how Keynesian principles play out outside of Europe/North America. Questions were raised about how to account for environmental degradation and informal economies. This was complemented by a mapping out of the history of money/currency as a means of exchange as an integral element to capitalist economics, led by the Modern Money Economics Theory Group. The discussion highlighted the importance of forms of taxation and central banking on monetary systems. Participants during the debate pointed out the absence of a discussion on the interplay between colonialism and the precious materials used as currency (or to guarantee the worth of currency, i.e. the gold standard).

Georgina Gomez of ISS broadened the morning’s discussions by discussing a Polanyian perspective on what constitutes the economy from the position that all efforts made to survive, be they included in GDP calculations or not, should be understood as part of the economy. With this in mind, she provided a detailed introduction into social and solidarity economies with examples of community currencies in Argentina (Redes de Trueque), Spain (Pumarejo) and Kenya (Bangla-Pesa). Georgina challenged the idea that mono-currency economies are ‘natural’ or most effective to meet people’s needs, these examples offer lived alternatives.

Rethinking economics

Capital markets and wage labour

A late afternoon discussion of the state led to questions about encroachment on civil society spaces and the failure of movements and civic action to propose alternatives.

Day two began by picking up on the previous evening’s conversations about civil society. Kees Biekart of ISS led a discussion comparing 1968 social actions with post 2010 actions. Building on  conversation about participants’ experiences, the discussion looked at the deep ideological roots of 1968 and the global reach of social media of post 2010 organizing.

Offering the contours of a place-based analysis, Wendy Harcourt of ISS and Punti di Vista spoke of the importance of the local and its relations with the questions on democracy, equity an as a concrete example of implementing alternatives within NGOs, Nathan Morrow of Tulane University and Punti di Vista discussed his work on rethinking wellbeing in the context of monitoring and evaluation. Pointing out the failures of conventional indicators to capture complex and difficult to quantify people’s understandings of their own wellbeing, Nathan explained the wellbeing framework he helped to develop for World Vision that captured some of this complexity. While offering examples of his work in Louisiana and community forests in Ethiopia, Nathan also spoke to the great potential of technological improvements that allow for constant, sometimes crowd-sourced, information about the state of natural environments.

I was exposed to many practical studies. When studying it is important to get our hands dirty like some of the alternatives we discussed this weekend

The summer school culminated with an afternoon session, led by Sabrina Aguiari of Punti di Vista, which explored lived experiences and possibilities for alternatives that allow for a sense of justice and equity within economic thinking. The exercise allowed participants to speak to their ‘alternatives’ work. Groups discussions took place along four broad themes: awareness and information; economic and social sustainability; care, consumerism and wellbeing; and governance, democracy and power.

I am thinking about the importance of imagination, when we are criticizing we forget to image what we would like.

As a recurring theme throughout the weekend while thinking through the unfolding situation in Greece, was what do alternatives look like and will they be ‘allowed’ by powerful states and hegemonic capitalist power?

We brought together different worldview in a beautiful place. Seeing common problems allows us to see how to move forward.

If I had any doubt about the contribution of our paper on “Towards new perspectives on work precarity and decent work of sex workers” to feminist debates, the key note lectures of the 9th European Feminist Research Conference “Sex & Capital” at the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi (Finland) made it very clear that many feminists would not be ready to accept sex work as work, let alone support the labour approach to sex work that Silke Heuman and I propose in our paper that was co-authored by the Empower Foundation, a sex worker organisation from Thailand. In her keynote address, Suvi Ronkainen, University of Vaasa saw the idea of reconstructing prostitution as sex work as one more argument for limitless commodification of women’s bodies.

I have been aware of the silences surrounding sex work in discourses about and interventions for decent work. If at all, prostitution is mentioned as a hazardous occupation in the context of the worst forms of child labour, of forced labour and as an issue for HIV prevention. Advocates and scholars of labour rights do not seem to take much interest in ordinary sex workers’ labour conditions and how they could be improved. Working together with Silke during the past year, I have started seeing this as an expression of the implicit refusal to see work and employment to be related to people’s sexuality – and vice versa.

blog foto KS 2Yet, I was surprised to see many fellow feminists’ faces freeze when you refer to ‘sex work’ rather than to the term prostitution. In our paper, we refer to sex work as the explicit exchange of sexual services for material gain. The term ‘sex work’ acknowledges the provision of such services as work, entitling sex workers to labour rights’ guarantees in principle. According to an abolitionist feminist stance, however, this acknowledgement brushes under the carpet that men’s paid access to women’s bodies forms an extreme expression of patriarchy and violence against women.

No doubt, sex work takes place in the context of patriarchy. But: are women the only providers of paid sexual services and are all customers men? And, true: sex work is often associated with violence and very hazardous working conditions. Yet, is this inherent in the occupation or rBlog foto KS 1ather a result of sex workers’ social and legal stigmatization? I asked Suvi Ronkainen whether the features and risks of sex work that she highlighted were not very similar to the conditions in domestic work, especially regarding the involvement of body and emotion as well as concerning the occupational hazards involved. Domestic workers have successfully fought for recognition and rights as workers, recently culminating in the ratification of an international convention on domestic work. Her answer was brief: The forms of commodification in domestic work and sex work cannot be compared.

I have yet to understand, why not.

The paper that Silke and I presented during the conference is based on the analysis of debates at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) around new regulatory instruments for forced labour. We argue that dominant discourses about ‘prostitution’ and ‘trafficking’ silence sex workers’ legitimate demands to implement policies that really end exploitative labour conditions in the sex industry. We propose an alternative labour approach to sex work that acknowledges sex work as work and argue that this helps strengthening sex workers’ agency and improving their working conditions. This acknowledgement alone is not sufficient, though. We point out that sex workers’ precarious labour conditions need to be understood in the context of a global (neoliberal) political economy that marginalises the majority of workers world-wide. Only then would action to empower them economically and socially succeed.

The concern for sex workers’ precarious labour conditions motivates antagonistic feminist discourses and policy prescriptions. We left Rovaniemi with the impression that a labour approach to sex work has the potential to help bridging this divide and setting modest steps towards decent work of sex workers.

Karin Astrid Siegmann, with Silke Heumann


This is the first blog of a CIRI roundtable on Complementary Currency Systems and South-North knowledge transfer. The event got together 25 academics and practitioners from several generations and European countries.

by Georgina M. Gómez

The meeting was an invitation to re-think the differences between the CCS in the developed and developing countries, and to explore learning from each other. While in Europe and North America the schemes with complementary currencies focus on promoting a sustainable economy and enhancing social cohesion, in Latin America they are mainly seen as tools for income generation and the improvement of welfare. The differences in terms of motivations are clear in the economic daily practices in the North and South, and have made the transfer of knowledge among practitioners quite slow. Attempts to reproduce in the North the methodologies of the South have been extremely rare, possibly because of the conception that the contexts are too different for those experiences to be useful or perhaps because they are not sufficiently well-known. In contrast with the geographical compartmentalization of CCS experiences, researchers in the academic field have studied CCS in the North and the South with the same theoretical tools and frameworks, which are almost invariably designed in the North, as if context need not affect the research tools and instruments. We started the meeting with two presentations of the largest scale CCS in the South.

blog georgina foto 1

Voices from the South

The first speaker was William Ruddick, from the Kenyan organization GrassrootsEconomics.org. Ruddick presented the case of which he was one of the main organisers, Bangla-Pesa, the first community currency implemented in a slum in Mombasa in 2012. A legal battle occurred then between the organisers, who were accused of currency forgery, and the government, until the later understood that the notes were similar to business vouchers that circulated within a closed network. The Bangla-Pesa has been used without problems since the courts’ allowed it in 2013 and the scheme has been replicated in two informal settlements in Nairobi in 2014. This year the Bangla-Pesa model has been implemented and expanded upon by FlowAfrica.org in South Africa, in the area of Bergrivier.

The Bangla-Pesa, is based on building a closed currency circuit of approximately 100 users to lock in production, circulation and consumption in the territory. Potential members are introduced to the scheme by four existing members who vouch for the new one. The organisers then issue the equivalent in complementary currency of 400 Kenyan Shillings or 500 Rand in the South African programmes, of which roughly half are given to the new entrant. The rest is a contribution fee of the new member to a community fund and will be used to pay community service work, like garbage collection done by youth. The daily value traded is about 10,000 Kenyan Shillings (1000 Rand in South Africa) and engages daily about 100 businesses. That means that Bangla-Pesa enables an extra 100 Kenyan Shillings worth traded daily per businesses.

blog georgina foto 2

The second speaker was Carlos de Freitas of the Brazilian Palmas Institute. Similarly to the Mombasa case, the financial activities of Palmas started in an undeveloped and poor informal settlement called Conjunto Palmeiras in the North of Fortaleza, Brazil. The aim was the same: to retain as much value as possible in the neighbourhood, so that local needs could be satisfied with local production, and to support local entrepreneurship. However, in the case of community Banco Palmas the physical currency was created in 2002 as a spin-off of a pre-existent micro-credit programme and not primarily as a means of payment. Banco Palmas bank provides small loans in palmas (not in the official currency) that allow the community enterprises and individual firms to start their production, which they would never be able to obtain from a regular bank. Much of their start-up capital is spent locally in wages, inputs, and space rent, so it generates local economic effects.

Banco Palmas is not a pure credit system as defined by Wicksell (1898) in ‘Interests and Prices’, because every palma in circulation has a back-up in official currency. Credits offered do not require collateral, because neighbors vouch for the person receiving it. Producers may obtain interest-free small loans in Palmas currency or regular money loans with a small interest rate. The approach of Banco Palmas articulates several projects to tackle social inequalities, participatory education, community organization and a general territorial development approach. In 2011 there were around 270 businesses using the Palmas currency and 46,000 Palmas in circulation (around 20,000 Euro at that time).  The scheme has created 1300 jobs but is presently in decline due to the availability of other welfare protection policies in Brazil.blog georgina foto 3


To wrap up, around 2000 experts on CCS were avidly looking at the case of the Argentine Redes de Trueque for an example of scaling-up, around 2007 they were looking at Brazil and the Community Banks, of which Palmas was the first and most prominent. The focus is now shifting to Africa with the examples of Kenya and South Africa, in which a number of the problems experienced in the other two are working to be corrected.

International Institute of Social Studies

CIRI aims to scale up and identify synergies between existing research at ISS on civic agency and change agents, as drivers of societal change and development. This blog is a forum on which to share and discuss themes and issues which fall within the broad framework of the programme.

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