Co-Designing Economies in Transition

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* Book: Ed. by Vincenzo Mario Bruno Giorgino, Zack Walsh. Co-Designing Economies in Transition: Radical Approaches in Dialogue with Contemplative Social Sciences. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018




"This transdisciplinary volume puts forward proposals for wiser, socially just and sustainable socio-economic systems in transition. There is growing support for the view that the end of capitalism is around the corner, but on which conceptual and ethical basis can we interpret these times? With investigations into feminist economics, post-growth environmentalism, socio-technical digital design, collaborative and commons economics, the editors create a dialogue between radical knowledge/practices and contemplative social sciences to transgress disciplinary boundaries and implement new visions of reality. This important book challenges our ways of thinking and outlines a pathway for new research."


"We are entering an era characterized by new social and economic forms beyond our understanding. In this introduction to Co-Designing Economies in Transition, we introduce the transdisciplinary vision intended to understand such changes, and we summarize each of the chapters that help map the Great Transition that is already underway. In particular, we explain why it is important to create dialogue between radical knowledge-practices and contemplative social sciences to meet the great challenges of the twenty-first century. As a new emerging paradigm, contemplative social sciences are based on systematic efforts to integrate the wisdom traditions with the social sciences. They are intended to help us develop a more open-minded approach to understanding social interactions within a participatory, but not pre-classificatory, scheme. As such, we contend that the transdisciplinary vision and methodologies offered by this book suggest avenues for new ways of thinking about and co-designing a socially just and sustainable future."


Part I: Transdisciplinary Foundations for Contemporary Social and Economic Transformation

  • In Search of a New Compass in the Great Transition: Toward Co-designing the Urban Space We Care About Vincenzo Mario Bruno Giorgino, Pages 15-41
  • Navigating the Great Transition Via Post-capitalism and Contemplative Social Sciences

Zack Walsh, Pages 43-61

  • Having, Being, and the Commons

Ugo Mattei, Pages 63-71

  • Par Cum Pari: Notes on the Horizontality of Peer-to-Peer Relationships in the Context of the Verticality of a Hierarchy of Values Michel Bauwens, Pages 73-88
  • Economics Beyond the Self

Laszlo Zsolnai, Pages 89-97

  • The Koan of the Market

Julie A. Nelson, Pages 99-107

  • Epistemology of Feminist Economics

Zofia Łapniewska, Pages 109-133

  • How to Make What Really Matters Count in Economic Decision-Making: Care, Domestic Violence, Gender-Responsive Budgeting, Macroeconomic Policies and Human Rights/ Margunn Bjørnholt, Pages 135-159
  • Contemplative Economy and Contemplative Economics: Definitions, Branches and Methodologies

Xabier Renteria-Uriarte, Pages 161-187

Descriptive summary by V.M.B. Giorgino and Z. Walsh:

In Part I, we examine the “Transdisciplinary Foundations for Contemporary Social and Economic Transformation.”

Vincenzo M. B. Giorgino leads off the discussion in the first part of Chap. 2 by specifically addressing the disruptive potential of distributed ledger technologies toward our social and economic relationships. Some of these technologies’ possible architectures can enhance our lives, while others may cause many challenges and enact certain prejudices in their support of collective well-being. Along these lines, the tokenization of nonmaterial values is the most intriguing area for its unexplored potentialities.

In the second part of his chapter, Giorgino maintains that it is important to pay attention to the forms of divisive thinking with which we interpret social relations and orient our social action so as to allow that kind of urban co-design that favors the joy of living and purposive action. He concludes, in the third part, by emphasizing the centrality of an enactive approach.

Then in Chap. 3, Zack Walsh continues the discussion by mapping the conditions under which a socially just and sustainable global future could emerge from large-scale structural transformations to contemporary society.

First, he considers how the global political economy is undergoing world-historical changes, in response to the pressures of mounting inequality, climate crisis, and the growing illegitimacy of neoliberal capitalism. Then, he examines how current political, economic, social, and technological changes could positively and negatively shape the construction of a new world system beyond capitalism. And, finally, he outlines possible avenues for exploring these world-historical changes by developing new fields of inquiry in the emerging transdisciplinary field of contemplative social sciences.

After the editor’s introductory chapters, Ugo Mattei and Michel Bauwens propose values frameworks for commons-based economics.

In Chap. 4, Ugo Mattei approaches the positivistic distinction between subjects and objects as derived from Cartesianism and as historically developed and currently applied in private law. From early modern times, the institution of property has been constructed as the relationship between a free subject and a legal “object.” Progressively abstracting from primitive relationships of material possession, private law has served as the main pillar in the foundations of capitalist extraction within current financial forms. Rethinking property as “being in common,” thus, constitutes the foundation of building a “generative” legal system.

In Chap. 5, Michel Bauwens offers an ethical evaluation of the emerging mode of commons-based peer production, and its associated governance and property regimes, in order to see how it stacks up as an implicit or explicit expression of a number of ethical values. In particular, he examines whether the peer to peer logic represents an opportunity for a more complete realization of the aims of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, which shares the vision of the centrality of civil society, with the market and the state function having a service orientation toward civil society. He concludes that there is a correspondence between the two value systems.

Chapters 6 and 7 present two different perspectives on Buddhist economics.

In Chap. 6, Laszlo Zsolnai argues that wisdom traditions of humankind require self-transcendence of the person to achieve a meaningful and ethical life. His chapter uses the example of Buddhism to show how “going beyond the self” can be realized in economic and social contexts. It is argued that Buddhist economics represents a strategy which helps Buddhist and non-Buddhist people alike to reduce the suffering of human and non-human beings by practicing non-violence, caring, and generosity.

Whereas Laszlo compares the major tenets of Buddhist and Western economics as two opposing frameworks, Julie Nelson argues in Chap. 7 that capitalism has no essential nature and that we should take a more pragmatic, less ideological approach to economics grounded in our own experience. Her agnostic view invites us to consider the adage “If you meet the Buddha kill him.” Nelson challenges the reader to consider the question “What is a market?” as a koan—an invitation for investigation. Many advocates for social justice, including many followers of wisdom traditions, call for an economy that is defined in opposition to what is assumed to be the essence of our current economic system. Believing that current economies are based on competition and globalization, for example, critics claim that the alternative must be defined by cooperation and local initiatives. But are these beliefs correct? Opening up to a recognition of the interdependent co-arising of economic relations reveals new avenues for advocating social justice.

Chapters 8 and 9 both give overviews of feminist economics.

Feminist economics broadly refers to the application of a feminist lens to both the discipline and subject of economics. It is explicitly interdisciplinary and encompasses debates about the narrow range of mainstream economic methods and researched areas, including questions on how economics values the reproductive sector and examinations of economic epistemology and methodology.

In Chap. 8, Zofia Łapniewska provides a brief overview of how feminist economics critiques established theory, methodology, and policy approaches and how it aims to produce gender aware theory, especially in defining economic activity. She argues for a reality check on how people actually live their lives as relational, vulnerable, and interdependent beings and emphasizes the urgency of rethinking mainstream economic approaches.

Then, in Chap. 9, Margunn Bjørnholt delves deeper into the development of feminist economics. She offers a reflection on 25 years of feminist economics providing illustrative examples of how feminist academic critique, within and outside of academia, in combination with civil engagement, has evolved, promoting change toward better economics, better policies, and well-being for all. Mirroring the widening scope over time of feminist economics, Bjørnholt discusses the following: the exclusion of care and other life-sustaining, unpaid work from systems of national accounts and efforts to make them count; efforts to achieve gender justice through gender responsive budgeting; the effort to bring society’s attention to the extent of domestic violence and its consequences; and understanding economics as social provisioning, which considers the responsibility to care for everything, including human rights and our shared living space (Earth), when assessing the consequences of macroeconomic policy.

Finally, Xabier Renteria-Uriarte concludes part I by outlining the foundations of contemplative economics. He examines the economy and economics from the perspective of contemplative knowledge. He argues that the economy is a manifestation of deep consciousness, and economic agents choose between alternatives by connecting or disconnecting their consciousness from it—that is, acting ignorantly as homo economicus, with more awareness as homo socioeconomicus and eticoeconomicus, or with full realization as homo deepeconomicus. Contemplation helps agents act according to wu-wei, karmayogi, and appamada actions, and in “flow” or “optimal experience”—states which cultivate absorption in tasks and remove the ego and its related rational cost–benefit analysis. This allows them to know the economy as it really is: a space of abundance without the illusion of scarcity, where self-realization, rewarding work, and constructive human relationships arise, accompanied by simplified consumption, equitable incomes, and stable prices.

Part II: Collective Awareness, the Self, and Digital Technologies

  • From Smart Cities to Experimental Cities?

Igor Calzada, Pages 191-217

  • FirstLife: From Maps to Social Networks and Back. Alessio Antonini, Guido Boella, Alessia Calafiore, Vincenzo Mario Bruno Giorgino, Pages 219-233

* The Organic Internet: Building Communications Networks from the Grassroots Panayotis Antoniadis Pages 235-272 [1]

  • Technocratic Automation and Contemplative Overlays in Artificially Intelligent Criminal Sentencing

Philip Butler, Pages 273-296

  • One Bright Byte: Dōgen and the Re-embodiment of Digital Technologies

David Casacuberta, Pages 297-315

Descriptive summary by V.M.B. Giorgino and Z. Walsh:

"In Part II, we examine “Collective Awareness, the Self, and Digital Technologies.”

The first three chapters focus on how the application of technology in cities and communities affects social and economic transformation.

In Chap. 11, Igor Calzada illustrates that the same technical ovations developed in smart systems can be used to enhance democracy or technocracy. He examines the ways in which the hegemonic approach to the “smart city” is evolving into a new intervention category, called the “experimental city.” While this evolution presents some innovations, mainly regarding how smart citizens will be increasingly considered more as decision makers than data providers, likewise, some underlying issues arise, concerning the hidden side and ethical implications of the techno-politics of data and the urban commons. These issues engage with multi-stakeholders, particularly with the specific Penta Helix framework that brings together private sector, public sector, academia, civic society, and entrepreneurs. These innovations in urban life and its governance will inevitably bring us into debate about new potential models of business and society, concerning, for instance, the particular urban co-operative scheme employed.

Chapter 12 is coauthored by Alessia Calafiore, Alessio Antonini, Guido Boella, and Vincenzo M.B. Giorgino. It shows how social network and Web-sharing sites represent a novel and ever-growing source of information that usually contains geographical information. They first present FirstLife, which is a specific social platform that has been recently awarded a prize from the national-level competition in the “Smart Cities and Social Communities” context. FirstLife aims to foster co-production (in the sense articulated by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom) and Do It Yourself initiatives, providing a virtual place connected via maps to concrete reality. Thus, the platform by itself is intended to involve different actors in developing new services, from institutions to associations, from citizens to enterprises. In conclusion, the authors propose a set of methodologies to face such complexity in terms of data management, integration, and smart functionalities, as well as social innovations that develop soft skills and life skills in workshops designed to ground smart Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) on a wiser approach to human interactions with living beings and things.

Then, in Chap. 13, Panayotis Antoniadis describes the dual potential for corporate versus autonomous control in new ICT infrastructure. Popular Internet platforms that currently mediate our everyday communications become more and more efficient in managing vast amounts of information, rendering their users more and more addicted and dependent on them. Alternative, more organic options like community networks do exist and they can empower citizens to build their own local networks from the bottom-up. This chapter explores such technological options together with the adoption of a healthier Internet diet in the context of a wider vision of sustainable living in an energy-limited world.

The final two chapters articulate ethical and philosophical issues in the development of technology and digital devices in a post-human era.

In Chap. 14, Philip Butler explores potential realities of technocratic automation at the intersection of criminal sentencing, artificial intelligence, and race. The chapter begins with a synopsis of the role automation plays in technocratic electronic governance. It then moves to demonstrate how the implementation of automation has adversely affected Black communities. Butler then illustrates how artificial intelligence is currently outpacing human performance, implying that soon, in the realm of criminal sentencing, artificially intelligent judges will emerge, outperforming and eventually replacing human judges. Next, he applies the lens of race to outline how current concepts of artificial cognitive architectures merely reiterate oppressive racial biases. The chapter concludes by imagining how contemplative overlays might be applied to artificial cognitive architectures to allow for more mindful and just sentencing.

Finally, in Chap. 15, David Casacuberta discusses the potential outcomes of designing technologies with respect to the mind–body relation. He argues that key functions of digital apps are based on the disembodied nature of our selves, which is not compatible with our human nature. The solution is not just to redesign those digital apps—a proposal that blindly accepts the premises of technological determinism—but to reconsider the whole concept of what it means to be human. He concludes by giving a brief sketch of the practical philosophy and metaphysics of the thirteenth-century Japanese philosopher Eihei Dōgen to present another view of what it means to be human, in order to conceptualize a reembodied self in the World Wide Web.

Taken as a whole, this book is a call for repurposing structures, technologies, and fragments, not of the past, but of possible futures—futures characterized by resiliency, hope, and flourishing. We think that the time is ripe for a systematic dialogue between the radical perspectives, which this book provides. Furthermore, we expect that this book will be a step forward in our understanding of social suffering and in our pursuit of individual and collective well-being. Alfred North Whitehead (1968) said the job of philosophy is “to maintain an active novelty of fundamental ideas illuminating the social system” (p. 174), and it is our hope that this book provides new ideas for envisioning a socially just and ecologically sustainable system. We hope you agree that the dialogue between a contemplative approach to social sciences and radical knowledge-practices has great potential, and we sincerely hope that the ideas we sketch may inspire a broader community of researchers to develop this field in a richer, more substantive way."


Vincenzo Giorgino:

"All economic interactions are a kind of specific set of relationships, belonging to the more general type of social relationships.

In other words, all kinds of economies are based on relational work. From the capitalist economy to that of the commons, no form excludes human interaction and all the components that characterize it: cognitive, emotional and sensorial.

The secularized contemplative knowledge and practices of our traditions of wisdom can inspire actions oriented towards the alleviation of social and economic suffering and to forms of provisioning for oneself and others that sustain the flourishing of life in general.

The secular translation of contemplative knowledge/practices as a commons is a pathway worth of exploration and experimentation ([2]).   Beyond Zelizer’s focus on interaction (only) between actors, I sustain that what happens at individual level – inner/action - is of the utmost importance.

Individuals, even if taken alone, are never isolated atoms, as assumed in mainstream sociology, but living beings who are able to influence the world as such (and, obviously, the other way round).

Said this, in social sciences we should not only concentrate on finding patterns but recognize the chaotic processes beyond their emergence. At the roots of our knowledge there is one’s own personal experience, that is deeply interactional (M. Polanyi). On this epistemological level, the secular contemplative approach contributes to the emerging enactive paradigm in the social sciences. As I do not believe in rigid disciplinary boundaries, I am oriented to a transdisciplinary approach, ie an approach that transcends not only the barriers between academic disciplines but also between academic, professional and the personal knowledge of non-experts.

Pragmatically, we, as sentient beings, can know intellectually that our life is finite, but our awarenesss of it grounds on some existential work we do, systematically or not, during our existence, especially in specific painful situations. This existential work, if based on systematic set of practices usually coming from the traditions of wisdom, is called contemplative work and contributes to the cultivation of life skills (Giorgino and McCown 2018 [3]).

A fully secular perspective is, in my view, a contemporary social need, especially after the remarkable success of the movement of mindfulness, so much so that it has become a respected strand of academic research and an industry that only in the US is worth of $2B annually. A critique to these developments cannot legitimate a deterministic view according to which these and related phenomena, are interpreted as the “commodification of the soul”. In my view, they are reductionist and fail to focus of what matters most. They are the outcomes of the dominance of a divisive thinking in those who wish to transform our society." (email september 2018)


Available in open access:

  • The Organic Internet: Building Communications Networks from the Grassroots. By Panayotis Antoniadis, Pages 235-272 [4]

From the Foreword: Toward Contemplative Social Science

Sander Tideman:

"Thanks to discoveries in many scientific disciplines, most notably in social psychology and neuroscience, there is a new worldview emerging that is more suitable to the modern context. It is a view in which people, business, economy, environment and society are no longer separate worlds that meet tangentially, but are deeply interconnected and mutually interdependent. This matches with the view of sociologist Norbert Elias (2000) who said that humanity should see itself as homines aperti, in which people are in open connection with each other and their environment, being formed by and dependent on others and nature. For example, Daniel Kahneman (1979), who received the 2003 Nobel Prize in Economics for his studies on intuitive judgment and decision- making, has explored the intersection of neuro-science, psychology and real economic behavior. The significance of this work lies in its ability— for the first time in the history of economics—to describe the neurobiological basis of economic behavior. This work is bridging the heretofore distinct disciplines of psychology and economics.

These insights are revelatory because they provide empirical evidence derived from a physical-biological basis for the notion that human nature is not driven by greed, materialism, extrinsic motivation and egoism alone; at least equally important are pro-social motives, such as inclination to cooperation, moral fairness, altruism and psychological wellbeing. This not only uproots the classical model of homo economicus but also challenges the deep-felt belief that only external gratification through money and consumption can meet our needs.

The financial crisis that erupted in 2008 and the increasing impact of social technology has made it clear that this interconnected worldview is not merely academic: it best describes the reality of global society, business and finance, which functions as a tightly interwoven web of human relationships and interaction. This web extends into our global climate and ecosystems, which has been recently recognized by the global community as evidenced by UN Global Sustainable Development Goals.

They are built on the scientifically determined notion that in order for our economies to function and societies to survive, we need to respect planetary boundaries and ecological laws (Rockstrom et al., 2009). In the new reality “business as usual” or “politics as usual” is no longer an option from a long-term survival viewpoint. Indeed, leading companies have recognized the new reality—which is generally labeled as “sustainability”—as the next business “Megatrend”, just like IT, Globalization and the Internet did earlier, determining their long-term viability. Or in the words of management scholar, Frank Horwitz (2010): “The only business of business is sustainable business”.

The shift toward sustainability implies a departure from the simplistic three-pronged production-consumption financing model xiv Foreword: Toward Contemplative Social Science economy to the real economy, not only in a macroeconomic sense but also in terms of understanding the real drivers of economical value and sustainable performance.

Matching real needs and resources entails a focus on the way we think and relate to each other. Given the central role of human thinking and interacting in the new economic paradigm, we should shift our perception of markets as anonymous transactional trading places to a community operating in an interdependent economical and ecological context. The members of the community are all interrelated stakeholders who are engaged in a continuous complex inter-dependent process of co-creation of value, while fulfilling needs, both short and long term. These needs go beyond merely material economic needs, but also include emotional, social and ecological needs. Therefore, the rules of the new economic game should no longer be to maximize return on invested capital, but to create optimum resilience of the system by enhancing well-being, shared value creation and performance of all participants within the system. This presents a major shift in economic thinking indeed!

The leading management thinker Gary Hamel (2007) described this shift as follows:

- The biggest barrier to the transformation of capitalism cannot be found within the observable realm of org charts, strategic plans and quarterly reports, but rather within the human mind itself […..]. The true enemy of our times is a matrix of deeply held beliefs about what business [and economics] is actually for, who it serves and how it creates value.

The reinstatement of the mind as a prime driver in economic value creation and the revolutionary insights into the mind’s pro-social nature are giving rise to a new economic science. It is here that one can find the exciting intersection with Contemplative Science. "

More information

  • Bauwens M. (2018) Par Cum Pari: Notes on the Horizontality of Peer-to-Peer Relationships in the Context of the Verticality of a Hierarchy of Values. In: Giorgino V., Walsh Z. (eds) Co-Designing Economies in Transition. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018