The global recession has caused a crisis of trust in both the political and financial systems. In his new book Aftermath, Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells turns his attention to the current financial crisis and life beyond the crisis. Speaking to the BBC’s Paul Mason recently, Castells talked about his particular interest in how the recession has forced people to reimagine their lives outside of their identity as a consumer. It has, he says, produced new, “non-capitalist” forms of economic behavior operating outside the financial system, rather than seeking to reform it.
A kind of protest counterculture, these growing alternative economies directly resist individualistic consumer culture through strategies such as no-interest lending, barter networks for goods and services, and co-operatives through which consumers can collectively access and raise resources. This financial system backlash also includes the rise of “ethical” banks, which forbid the kind of speculative investment and lending that created the financial crisis in the first place.
Another cooperative ethical model includes “crowdfunding,” in which individuals collectively raise money toward a specific goal. Made famous by websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, crowdfunding has been used for software development, independent movie and music ventures, and political campaigns. It has also been used as grassroots activism. This summer, as documented in a Christian Science Monitor article, the Spanish government refused to investigate the collapse of one of its major banks, which taxpayer money had bailed out. Through crowdfunding, the Spanish version of the Occupy movement raised enough money to initiate a class action lawsuit against the bank—an incentive for the government to launch its own investigation into the bank’s collapse.
The significance of alternative economic movements for Castells, then, lies in the control that it gives to individuals and groups otherwise rendered powerless by political and economic structures.