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"The Dictionary of Alternatives"

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The Dictionary of Alternatives: Utopianism and Organization

Martin Parker, Valérie Fournier, Patrick Reedy

Zed Books | April 2007 | ISBN 1842773338

Extract from "Introduction":

One of the most common pieces of common sense nowadays is that there is no real alternative to market managerialism, to the sort of free market liberalism that currently dominates certain parts of the planet. We disagree, and think that this dictionary should convince you to disagree too. In fact, what we think this book proves (and we do think 'proof' is the right word here), is that there are many alternatives to the way that many of us currently organise ourselves.

The words 'organize' and 'organization' are important here. For us 'organization' refers no to a fixed entity - a corporation, a university, a hospital - but rather to the processes through which human beings pattern or institutionalize their activities in order to achieve a fairly stable state of affairs. Thus we understand organization as a verb, the act of structuring, ordering, dividing things and people to produce order, rather than a noun - the state of being organized. This conceptualization of organization means that it is not a term restricted to the economic sphere, but is relevant to all human activities and social relations: everything has to be organized: from the family, to the city, the community, the state.... And more fundamentally for the purpose of this dictionary, organization is an eminently political activity. Defining organization as a verb rather than a noun brings to the fore the many decisions and choices that have to be made in structuring and ordering human activities. Organization is contingent upon choices relating to questions of means and ends. What is organization for? What should its size be? How should activities be co-ordinated and controlled, and by whom? How should ownership be distributed? How should work be divided, rewarded? And so on.

All too often, ordinary people across the world are being told that the problem of organization is already solved, or that it is being solved somewhere else, or that it need not concern them because they have no alternatives. We think this is wrong in two ways. Wrong, because the evidence we have gathered here is that (both geographically and historically) organizing is a highly varied, continually contested and negotiated matter; not a matter which is easily reduced to certain inexorable economic laws. Wrong also because, in an ethical and political sense, it is an attempt to persuade people that they cannot organize themselves, and that they need to wait for experts to tell them how they should live.

 

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Taking the author's advice to "open the book at random, and then follow your nose" openDemocracy has selected the following two entries from The Dictionary of Alternatives:

 

CHIKPO MOVEMENT 'Tree-hugging' was developed mainly by women peasants in Uttar Pradesh, India, in the 1970s to oppose the commercial logging of forests. These forests are a critical resource for the subsistence of indigenous people both because of their direct provision of food, fuel and fodder and because of their role in stabilizing soil and water resources. As these forests have been felled for commerce and industry, villagers have sought to protect their livelihoods through mainly GANDHIan methods of non-violent DIRECT ACTION. Whilst tree logging had been going on in the area since British colonial rule and had already disrupted subsistence agriculture, the situation was exacerbated in the early 1970s when a series of landslides devastated the Uttar Pradesh region.

The first Chipko action took place spontaneously in April 1973 when a group of 27 women hugged trees to save them from the contractors' axes and stop further deforestation. Over the next five years similar actions spread to many Himalayan districts in Uttar Pradesh, and the movement has since developed in other regions of India. The Chipko movement has been successful in forcing a fifteen-year ban on felling in the hills of Uttar Pradesh and in generating pressure for a national forest policy which is more sensitive to people's needs and to the ecological development of the country. The movement is the result of hundreds of decentralized and locally AUTONOMOUS initiatives, with diverse experiences and motivations. Its leaders and activists are primarily village women, acting to save their means of subsistence and their COMMUNITIES. But although it is mainly a GRASSROOTS movement, Vandana Shiva, an ecofeminist writer and activist involved in the movement, has been an influential spokesperson. The Chipko movement has inspired ENVIROMENTALISM both nationally and globally, and contributed substantially to the emerging philosophies of ECOFEMINISM and DEEP ECOLOGY.

PIRATE UTOPIA Plato might have believed that a ship at sea required one captain and an obedient crew, but the history of pirate communities tells a different story. During the golden age of piracy seventeenth- and eighteenth-century pirate COMMUNITIES operating from free ports created an upside-down world of high living and DEMOCRATIC forms of self-governance, or pirates' UTOPIAS, amidst a lawless existence plagued by constant danger of death. During the emergence of competing colonial powers in the sixteenth century, state-backed practices of piracy (also referred to as privateering) were used by competing nations to raid each other's trade routes. The dividing line between privateering and unauthorized piracy was quite blurred and often changed with shifting political alliances. In time, the benefits of stable trade routes become more evident, leading to both a rejection of piracy by polite society and a rejection of society by pirates' communities. Huge numbers of seamen, many pressed against their will, found themselves caught between war, a disease-ravaged Europe and the possibility of a modicum of control of their own destiny through the lawless roving way of life.

Pirate havens tended to form around voids created by national contests for the control of territories, and shifted between bases in North Africa, the Caribbean, and the coasts of Madagascar. The ongoing existence and success of pirates in disrupting trade posed a great threat to imperial stability. Peter Lamborn Wilson also documents massive conversions to Islam, particularly centred around North African cities such as Rabat-Sale in Morocco. Pirate utopias were characterized by an egalitarian distribution of booty and forms of governance that embodied an ethic of liberty, equality, and freedom over one hundred years before the French REVOLUTION. There are tentative hints that practices of pirate MUTUAL aid, culture, and perhaps even a language emerged.

Linebaugh and Rediker argue that pirates' communities developed democratic organizational forms not as representatives of people but rather as a developing maritime proto-proletariat. They argue that during this early period of accumulation, piracy functioned as a strategy of class struggle where tactics of mutiny and desertion were employed. Piratologists argue that an instrumental relation to violence was held, where fiercesome displays of force and scimitar waving were favoured in hope of causing fear-induced surrender. Pirate utopias existed as a multi-ethnic melting pot of ongoing CARNIVAL composed of drop-out wage labourers, escaped indentured servants and slaves, and mutineers, many of whom mixed with native communities in North Africa and Madagascar. There are also tentative suggestions of influxes of political exiles such as RANTERS and DIGGERS from the radical wing of the English revolution. To this day the use of pirate imagery retains a good deal of cultural resonance and appeal and has continued to be used by ANTI-CAPITALIST organisers to symbolise their desires to push beyond the world of capital.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Martin Parker is a Professor of Organisation and Culture in the Management Centre at the University of Leicester

Valerie Fournier is Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies in the Management Centre at the University of Leicester

Patrick Reedy lectures at the Business School of the Unviersity of Newcastle upon Tyne

 

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