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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reimagining Development: Understanding the Alter-Globalization Movement from Ecovillages to Gross National Happiness

  • Author(s): Carpano, Daniela
  • Advisor(s): Madsen, Richard
  • et al.

Ever since the “Battle of Seattle” halted the World Trade Organization meeting in November of 1999, social movement scholars have debated whether the transnational activists who protested in Seattle and in subsequent international summits constitute a unified global movement with a shared identity, values and goals, or if they are an ad hoc, heterogeneous collection of people from separate movements. This study suggests that it may be useful to distinguish between a “negative” –or reactive –and a “positive” –or proactive –convergence. Studies that focus on the negative convergence see participants as protestors who are simply resisting market-

driven forces. In contrast, in a positive convergence approach, participants are seen as sharing common values and working together to build an alternative future.

This study focuses on the Alter-Globalization Movement to investigate whether there is an empirical basis for the positive convergence approach. Most of the research done on the Alter-Globalization Movement has focused on the participants at protest sites, which tends to overemphasize individual grievances at the expense of finding a shared common vision. I employ an alternative methodology by carrying out fieldwork across sixteen disparate communities in both the global North and South. Only by studying community practices in day to day life can we state whether a shared identity really exists. Following Karl Polanyi’s “double movement theory”, I look at how these communities are decommodifying man and nature by employing Standing’s formula of decomodification. Specifically, I analyze how Social Income increases by increasing Self Production and Community Benefits.

I find that all the communities and organizations studied employ most of the following decomodification practices: subsistence farming, organic agriculture, composting, seed saving, Fair Trade, Community Supported Agriculture, sharing goods and services and community currencies. I argue that these decomodification practices produce a new lifestyle that removes the self from the artificiality of consumer culture, creating a new self. The ecological identity of the new self, centers on relationships rather than acquisition, constructing a new world of meaning and a social imaginary that may be more powerful than political movements in bringing about large scale social change.

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