Collaborative Networks and the Productive Precariat

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* Article: Ivana Bentes (2013) Collaborative Networks and the Productive Precariat, Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies: Travesia, 22:1, 27-40, DOI: 10.1080/13569325.2013.779234



Collaborative networks and the P2P model in Brazil:

"The favelas are emerging as “symbolic capital”, as “wealth”, and as “commodities” in cities like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They are no longer the place of “excluded” non-subjects, as in some imaginaries and discourses, but rather a cyber-periphery, a place of “wealth in poverty” fought over by Nike, Globo Network Television, and the State, as well as laboratories for subjective production. The black bodies of the favelas, the possibilities for co-operation without hierarchy, the invention of other times and spaces (on the streets, in dancehalls, LAN centers, and rooftops) are all subjected to forms of appropriation, just like anything else in capitalism. However, the favelas are no longer seen simply as “poverty factories”, but rather a form of capital in the market of symbolic national and local values, having been able to convert the most hostile forces (poverty, violence, states of emergency) into a process of creation and cultural invention."


The favelas are emerging as “symbolic capital”, as “wealth”, and as “commodities” in cities like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They are no longer the place of “excluded” non-subjects, as in some imaginaries and discourses, but rather a cyber-periphery, a place of “wealth in poverty” fought over by Nike, Globo Network Television, and the State, as well as laboratories for subjective production. The black bodies of the favelas, the possibilities for co-operation without hierarchy, the invention of other times and spaces (on the streets, in dancehalls, LAN centers, and rooftops) are all subjected to forms of appropriation, just like anything else in capitalism. However, the favelas are no longer seen simply as “poverty factories”, but rather a form of capital in the market of symbolic national and local values, having been able to convert the most hostile forces (poverty, violence, states of emergency) into a process of creation and cultural invention. We are living in a unique moment, experiencing a change in the axis of contemporary cultural production with the rise and visibility of the cultural production that originates in the outskirts, suburbs and favelas – a cultural production that is laterally displaced, is capable of generating potential public policy initiatives, has the possibility of redistributing wealth and power, and constitutes a place of living labour rather than merely reproductive or repetitive work.

This culture of the favelas and peripheries (music, theatre, dance, literature, cinema) appears as a ‘displaced’ political discourse (one that does not originate in the universities, the State, the media or in political parties) and brings to the scene new mediators and producers of culture: rappers, funk musicians, B-boys, young actors, performers, favelados, the unemployed and the under-employed, and producers in the so-called ‘unofficial economy’. These groups and discourses are revitalising poverty- stricken areas and reconfiguring the urban cultural scene. They move around the city and often appear ambiguously in the media, giving voice to an urgent political discourse of change in the context of informational capitalism. This decisive change stems from our current context, where the means of cultural production have become widespread and the means of communication and information are easily accessed by the masses: the internet, digital cameras, mobile phones and printers serve anyone who wants to become a producer of culture. This context of informational and cognitive capitalism, where knowledge is the product, reaches all social classes, including those in the favelas, albeit in an uneven and asymmetrical form.

Through TV (free or subscription), music and new forms of sociability, young people in the favelas or in peripheral urban areas receive information and a general education and constitute a rapidly developing mass collective intelligence. These socio-cultural movements gain a political dimension when they become bearers of cultural expressions and lifestyles that emerge from poverty and are forged in the transition from a literate culture to an audiovisual and mediatic one.

The culture that originates in the favelas and peripheral urban areas also forms a counterpoint to the stereotypical view of favelas as simply factories of death and violence – a recurring theme in the media and cinema, which only present an image of the favela as hell, a pulsating territory of death, disregarding its culture of resistance and vitality and its relation to new forms of work and occupation.

The complexity and ambiguity of the Brazilian ‘fold’ in global capitalism show that these ‘factories of poverty and violence’ are also territories and networks of creation. These voices from the periphery, young artists and agitators, black people from the favelas and other sites of violence and aggression, take the place of the traditional cultural mediators, no longer objects of discourse, but its subjects. They contribute to a political renewal by creating a provocative discourse about racism, police violence and poverty that competes with the discourses of the universities and the media. The favelas and outskirts produce new neighbourhood relations and community volunteer work (‘mutiro ̃es’), as well as rhizomatic help networks – the culture of parties, religious rituals, samba, funk and hip-hop, an entire cultural and affective capital born in an environment of brutality shared by different social groups. From these territories arise cultural practices, aesthetics and networks of sociability and politics forged in the ghettos but connected to global flows (it was not just drug trafficking that has been globalised). Even the media have already recognised this new context. Local groups point to possible solutions that break with the old national, populist and paternalistic mould cemented in an idea of ‘national identity’. What emerge are expressions of a global ghetto, or a world-ghetto, just we speak today of global cities with common issues and problems. The new producers of culture from the favelas and outskirts are part of a precariat with no salary or employment. They are workers of the immaterial.

We are also witnessing the rise of new alliances between favelas and previously isolated groups, constituting networks (even electronic ones) which are potentially the next stage in local and global cultural movements – cities of co-operation that rival the nation-state and work parallel to it. Eschewing its welfarist and paternalistic impulses and recognising the political and aesthetic ‘quality’ achieved by cultural movements, an intelligent governmental policy must necessarily include these cultural experiences that have been constituted in a rhizomatic form and are revitalising urban peripheries and centres. These movements arise from the crisis of the State-as- provider model, which is based on a society of formal employment that effects income transfer but does not end inequality.

How can public policies foster these socio-cultural networks?

We are living through the restructuring of production and the cultural sphere is nowadays the place of informal jobs, with the primacy of immaterial work, consisting of groups, networks and movements that deal with information, communication, art and knowledge and are not to be found in big corporations. It is necessary to think of new strategic agendas independent of immediate market forces and free from the excessively centralised decisions of the State – a radicalisation of democracy that stimulates social productivity. This new cultural experience born of socio-cultural movements brings the possibility of a radical shift in public policy. It is not just a change from politics to culture, but rather a change of cultural politics itself. There are many initiatives with such potential and Brazil emerges as a laboratory for such cultural projects.

Among other phenomena, we might highlight the economy and culture of the Brazilian funk and hip hop movements, which are able to produce new identities and a sense of belonging to a community that goes beyond just music, creating a world of productive activities: DJs, sound equipment companies, van and transportation companies, party organisers, security workers, rappers and funk artists that may perform in up to 10 shows per night, all in different venues. This constitutes an entire economic cycle around hip hop and funk culture that points to a primacy of culture in the constitution of the cognitive economy of contemporary capitalism.

These local cultural networks contrast with the centrally organised, extremely hierarchical public policies that failed to resolve social inequalities or reduce them to a desirable level. We now have a historical opportunity to experiment with other, still embryonic models of public policy regarding socio-cultural networks that operate in a horizontal, de-centralised and rhizomatic form, organising their own production. These cultural movements work with the idea of non-formal education as a gateway to formal education and living labour. A movement such as the MST (The Landless Peasant Workers Movement) was able to construct schools and to offer educational programs with a greater speed than many municipal programs in the country’s interior.

The cultural production of peripheral urban areas is also not formal. It is precarious, informal, fast, and takes place in collaborative networks, promoting the transference of both symbolic and real capital while empowering socio-cultural movements without the aid of the traditional cultural mediators. These social movements have become able to manage the culture they produce and can become significant partners of those who own the means of production, distribution, etc. Socio-cultural movements can act in many areas, producing, managing and benefiting from the results of their own production. If cultural and social actors have the intellectual and material resources to become such protagonists, what is the role of public policy? To support, promote and form leaderships, agents and managers of culture and cultural events, offering the basic conditions for this development.

Collaborative networks and the P2P model

Never before in history have there been so many possibilities to decentralise the means of production with the emergence of digital equipment, video cameras and equipment for musicians, DJs and audio-visual producers, personal computers, open-source software, an enormous capacity for copying CDs, books and music. It challenges and disables traditional copyright laws and points to a capitalism of surplus with the possibility of the free circulation of knowledge. What is the ‘technological’ basis of these changes?

According to Michael Bauwens’s ‘The Political Economy of Peer Production’ (Bauwens, 2005), as social, economic and political systems turn into distributed networks, a new productive dynamic emerges: the peer to peer model (P2P), point to point. More than a new technology of communication, it is the operational model of new social processes, creating a third mode of production, authority and property that aims to increase the generalised participation of equipotential actors.

Some of these characteristics of collaborative culture mentioned by Michael Bauwens can be found in Brazilian networks and collectives:

– production of use value through the free co-operation of producers who have access to distributed capital ( . . . ) Its product is not exchange value for a market, but use value for a community of users.

– are governed by the community of producers themselves, and not by market allocation or corporate hierarchy: this is the P2P governance mode, or ‘third mode of governance’.

– make use value freely accessible on a universal basis, through new common property regimes. This is its distribution or ‘peer property mode’: a ‘third mode of ownership’, different from private property or public (State) property. (Bauwens, 2005)

The infrastructure of P2P and social collaborative networks needs some basic conditions, proposed by Bauwens in order to facilitate the emergence of processes between peers.

They could be summarized in five key points:

  •  The existence of a technological infrastructure. Movements towards digital inclusion, dissemination of personal and collective computers, public access to the internet and wireless community networks, the option for an open spectrum, as well as the existence of file-serving television systems (like TiVo) and alternative infrastructures of telecommunication based on meshworks are representative of this tendency. (Bauwens, 2005)
  •  Alternative systems of information and communication that allow for autonomous communication among cooperating agents. The web (in particular the Writable Web or Web 2.0) allows for the production, dissemination and ‘consumption’ of written material, as well as podcasting and webcasting, creating an alternative infrastructure of multimedia information and communication without the intermediation of the classic communication media – even though new forms of mediation can appear. (ibid.)
  •  The existence of a software infrastructure intended for autonomous global co-operation. An increasing number of collaboration tools are being inserted into social network software (like blogs and wikis), facilitating trust and the creation of social capital, allowing for the creation of global groups that are able to create use value without the intermediation of production or distribution from profit-oriented organisations. (ibid.)
  •  A legal infrastructure that allows for the creation of use value and protects social production from private appropriation. The General Public License (which prohibits the appropriation of code software), the Open Source Initiative, and certain versions of Creative Commons licenses perform this function. They make it possible to protect the value of common use and employ viral methods to disseminate themselves. The GPL and other similar licenses can only be utilised in projects that, in exchange, offer their adapted code source for public domain. (ibid.)
  •  Finally, there is the cultural requirement. For Bauwens, as well as Antonio Negri, Maurizio Lazaratto (Bauwens, 2005; Negri and Hardt, 2001, 2005; Lazzarato, 2006) and other theorists of cognitive capitalism, this condition stimulates the diffusion of mass intellectuality or, in other words, the distribution of human intelligence with a transformation in the ways of feeling and being (ontology), the ways of knowing (epistemology), and in the values that contribute to the creation of a ‘co-operative individualism’ – one of the new bases of collaborative networks.

To Bauwens’s propositions we can add the Brazilian fold. The groups, collectives and NGOs analysed or mentioned here do not fulfill all the requirements that characterise a P2P process, but they are nevertheless important actors for the emergence and visibility of new collaborative networks and socio-cultural movements, acting as accelerators of changes and providing some of the basic prerequisites for the constitution of hybrid P2P networks.

One important issue in Brazil is the horizon of cultural and social struggles to de-criminalise producers and consumers of cultural goods. If a street vendor sells copied music CDs or movie DVDs, if he stands outside a funk show to sell people the music they have just heard on stage, is it the role of the State and corporations to criminalise this consumer, creator and propagator, this agent of viral culture? Street vendors, teenagers, video rental stores, cultural collectives, bloggers and software exchange communities have become the new agents and consumers of local and global culture. Instead of criminalising, how can we legalize this ‘popular digital culture’ that is being formed? It goes beyond the question of piracy: it is the opportunity for a hip hop or funk group to form their sound crew, play in favelas, in communities and clubs, record their music, burn and sell their CDs during the shows, creating a productive network that offers work, jobs and meaning to one’s life. Today, low-cost personal computers and internet access are essential cultural goods in cognitive capitalism, since labour became communicational and relational. The challenge is to discover how to universalise and socialise these means of communication that are also means of cultural production. If only 10% of the Brazilian population has a computer at home, then it is important to offer cultural, communicational and informational subsidies to put a working computer in every house, cultural centre, neighbourhood association and public kiosk.

Communication and culture have become strategic for civil society. In this sense, one of the most significant advances of President Lula’s government was the program Pontos de Cultura, implemented by the Ministry of Culture throughout the country. It is necessary to recognise the productive dimension of these movements. They should not receive governmental subsidies with the expectation of return but rather investment subsidies – given that they themselves are already the appropriate returns. These productive agents transform local realities and function as embryos in a series of radical transformations of public policy. They are the ones who produce local culture, living in abandoned territories that consequently become revitalised from within. We can also speak of the crisis and extinction of an intellectual and economic ‘protection’ that the movements grew distrustful of, seeing in it asymmetrical relations that pilfer a symbolic capital, a highly valued good in the contemporary context: the production of worlds. Thus, it is the university, the media and social marketing (what I call ‘social washing’) that need the peripheries to legitimise themselves socially, intellectually, and even economically.

The examples are many. The theatre company Nos do Morro turns boys from the favela into actors by means of a rigorous training that includes a professional education in various complementary fields such as theatre, cinema, video, lighting techniques and cultural production. It creates opportunities for actors coming from the peripheries to get into Globo Network Television, the movies, and possibly star in films such as City of God. Others can simply become cultural industry workers or create their own cultural jobs and activities. The dance group Companhia Etnica de Dança brought contemporary dance to the hill of Andaraí, creating a dance school that employs non-formal education and prepares not just dancers, but also cultural producers, lighting technicians, choreographers and project administrators, giving youngsters the opportunity to receive a broad cultural training.

This includes discussions about racism, violence, sexuality, and other themes brought up by the students themselves. Companhia Etnica de Dança also manages a samba school in Andaraí, a ‘school of citizenship’ that teaches activities and occupations for a cultural market which is informal and precarious while also being formal and institutionalized.

Through its aesthetic and political work, the group AfroReggae took youngsters away from drug trafficking to work as musicians, project co-ordinators, performers, circus actors and project managers. AfroReggae also works as a conflict mediator in the ‘combat zone’, the ‘Gaza strip’ that divides the favelas of Maré and Complexo do Alemão, preventing deaths and negotiating peace from a status achieved through cultural work. AfroReggae has other projects, such as the Juventude Polícia, in Minas Gerais, which offers training for officers who want to become percussionists. These appear with the AfroReggae group in percussion shows that promote an important symbolic reversal and have changed the image of the police from a violent and arbitrary institution into a collaborative and ludic group.

The work of Jailson de Sousa in the favela of Maré resulted in the creation of Escola Popular de Comunicação Crítica [ESPOCC] and the ‘Observatory of the Favelas’, which produces new images, and questions the usual discourses about these marginalised areas. In the favela of Rocinha, the successful project Coopa Roca reunites artisanal workers and fashion designers in a co-operative that is now producing clothes on a large scale. Another interesting project, never fully implemented, C ́elula Urbana, brought German Bauhaus to the favela of Jacarezinho, creating hybrid architectural solutions with the use of local labour expertise and German design.

These and many other social movements are vital in designing new models and solutions for public policy. However, they are still fragmented and disconnected, viewed by the media and the government as isolated groups that do not really constitute a strong ‘network’. Aware that its cultural output is being constantly appropriated by corporations and the media, this new productive precariat struggles to obtain the ‘copyright’ of their own production and image. These new movements depend on an arrangement between different spheres ( favelas, universities, NGOs, the third sector, the State) that could result in a wider network of productive partnerships and promote a deep transformation in urban Brazilian culture.

Global periphery

These changes are highly visible in a city like Rio de Janeiro, a territory in dispute. The city, which has always been a meta-narrative for Brazil, is currently undergoing profound transformations that place it at the centre of cognitive, affective and communicational Capitalism 2.0.

Rio, the ‘beta-global city’, is at the centre of a symbolic conflict – the transition from a Fordist and developmentalist place into a global periphery where the margins are advancing towards the centre, a place that needs to reinvent itself and overcome its scarcities and negative aspects (poverty, violence, metropolitan crisis). Two symbolic mega-operators are key players in this new carioca imaginary: CUFA/Central U ́nica das Favelas [Unified Central of Favelas ], which has a broad network in activity throughout Brazil, and the group AfroReggae.

These organisations are successful symbolic transmutations of the city, bringing to the negotiating table former drug dealers, the police, the government, bankers, the media and the university. With strategies at once intuitive and paradoxical, they represent transitional experiences that shun the ‘movement’ of drug trafficking culture in the slums and become social and cultural movements that point to a new form of ‘social corporation’ while hacking the socio-cultural discourse of big enterprises, government and media. They may occasionally be used by corporations but proceed through invention, hits and misses, creating possibilities for the appearance of new social actors and movements. Pejoratively called ‘King ONGs’ (a wordplay on the Portuguese acronym for NGOs), CUFA and AfroReggae are the most visible examples of a subjective mutation that is spreading through hundreds of collectives, cultural centres, production agencies, favela observatories, DJs, cultural agitators and many other subjects of a discourse that is now seizing the city.

In cities like Rio the favelas are emerging as ‘symbolic capital’, as ‘wealth’, as ‘commodities’. They are no longer the place of ‘excluded’ non-subjects, as in some imaginaries and discourses, but rather a cyber-periphery, a place of ‘wealth in poverty’ fought over by Nike, Globo Network Television and the State – a transformation of these interconnected urban quilombos (1) into laboratories for subjective production. The black flesh of the favelas, the potent and desiring bodies, the co-operation without hierarchy, the invention of other times and spaces (on the streets, in dancehalls, LAN centres and rooftops) are all subjected to forms of appropriation, just like anything else in capitalism. However, the favelas are no longer ‘poverty factories’ but rather a form of capital in the market of symbolic national and local values, having been able to convert the most hostile forces (poverty, violence, state of emergency) into a process of creation and cultural invention.

Rio de Janeiro is a thermometer for the difficult and paradoxical task of calibrating post-Lula euphoria. Lula (2) is the president-Macunaíma that boosted the power and potential of the peripheries and, with the insertion of Brazil into a global symbolic arena and the core of cognitive capitalism, gave rise to ‘people managers’ – the managers of subjectivity that invest and monetise the potential of the favelas and peripheries, opening them up for tourism, corporations, banks, consumption and agents of the ‘creative economy’.

The construction of this common other, the rejection of the war against the poor (evictions, criminalisation, repression) and the strength of the peripheries are all growing tendencies. Cultural phenomena emerge, such as kids from the peripheries reinventing themselves as dancers, channelling all their energy and intensity into contests held on rooftops, alleys and favela squares, creating outrageous choreographies for the ‘Battle of Passinho’(3) using steps learned on the streets or viewed in YouTube posts.

We are thus witnessing a resignification of values whenever we hear a funk song composed and sung by women that transforms the pejorative discourse of ‘bitches’ and ‘popuzudas’ (4) into a neo-feminist affirmation of body ownership and libertarian sexual behaviour. This change in sexual behaviour can also be perceived among periphery boys. The musical group Os Hawaianos, for instance, is formed by blond-black boys (5) who sway their hips all the way down to the floor, invent slangs and create a peculiar mode of being in the world – a Brazilian popular intelligence that reinvents anthropophagi, a Cannibal- Brazil version 2.0, both local and global, drafting a new ‘Brazilian atlas’: a becoming- world of Brazil and, simultaneously, a becoming-Brazil of the world.

Once we understand that favelas are part of the city, we can also understand that they are historical formations and will eventually be deemed similar to Middle Age citadels – archives and living environments of a phase of capitalism. These lives- territories are exploding beyond their boundaries and might one day overtake the entire city with their inventions: a Favela-City. As AfroReggae founder Jose ́ Ju ́nior says ‘it is the elite which is living in a ghetto’.

Rio de Janeiro (as well as other major cities in Brazil) is fought over. The city is being struggled over by drug traffickers, by the State that attempts to recover territories lost to drug gangs by means of UPPs/Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora [Pacifying Police Units], by militias (paramilitary forces that ‘sell’ services and protection), and by real estate speculators bent on ‘removing’ residents from coveted tourist areas within the city. The city is also a site of struggle for a number of corporations on the eve of two gigantic world events that will take place in Rio and Brazil: the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. These events have been used to promote a violent redesign and re-ordering of the urban landscape, triggering real estate speculation, the removal of impoverished populations from areas within the tourist belt and a series of re-modelings of favelas and poor neighbourhoods.

Free formation in flux

Within this context, lines of flight and resistance involve an articulation of the edges, of social and cultural movements that are linked through common causes and cultural production, struggling for a space in the media and in public opinion, constructing new narratives around territories and cities. Many of these ongoing initiatives and experiences create their own formative methodology: free media, Grioˆ pedagogy, quilombola pedagogy, processes of technological appropriation by popular and traditional cultures (native Indians, ribeirinhos, caboclos, etc.), production of knowledge born in the Brazilian ‘fringes’ and peripheries – all pointing to the emergence of a digital popular culture, part of a broader mutation where culture becomes central in the production of knowledge and in the construction of a new economy.

These formative processes result from activities and practices in a variety of fields (audio-visual media, theatre, dance, music, multimedia), connecting and inextricably linking the lives and labours of these formative agents. Such effervescence and diversity can be found in the program Cultura Viva, sponsored by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture, with its pioneering approach that considers these new arrangements as part of public policy: a living culture, a living economy that offers visibility, and points to the innovative potential of these processes, broadening the very concept of culture used in public policy, stretching it beyond the so-called ‘cultural industry’, with an anthropological perspective that includes the way of being of the most diverse groups.

Among these cultural dynamics we must stress new educational processes. What is the role of education and training in a society where the technological devices for creation, production and distribution are characterised by free, open and strong collaborative dynamics based in direct action? What if they challenge the classic mediating structure of schools, universities, teachers and authorisers of knowledge?

In the transition from a Fordist to a post-Fordist capitalism (immaterial, cognitive, communicational), the processes of cultural production demand new models of knowledge production, experiences of free education, life experiences, life-languages that can explode the ‘factory’. The new cycle of production found in music and audio- visual media, the advances in free media, the crisis of recording and publishing companies, the crisis of intermediary agents and go-betweens, and the crisis of the copyright mentality, all require a new educational approach.

The factory/Matrix comes to be deregulated. The strict separation of knowledge and disciplines that reflected the industrial model of the 19th century – an assembly line with isolated and independent sectors – has become obsolete yet is still active: a fabrication by mean of discipline and control of ‘docile bodies’. Seen as spaces of ‘imprisonment’ (whether real or virtual) that exert power over life, it is hard not to place the traditional School within the same disciplinary paradigm that ruled factories- hospitals-prisons (as Michel Foucault has pointed out) or in the same model of life control, subjectification of bodies and production of desire that characterise ‘biopower’ (power over life).


The contemporary issue is that the whole of society has become educational. Cities and networks are themselves the cognitive environment. The city, says Antonio Negri, is the new ‘factory’. The time of work is intermingled with the time of life. Work is no longer dead and characterised by automaticity but rather a living ‘life-work’. In this context, the School should no longer prepare for life, but become life itself. Thus, we see the booming of initiatives in non-formal education, free schools and universities, a demand for education and training in Pontos de Cultura and Pontos de M ́ıdia, with autonomy and freedom as principles for a revolution/mutation in flux that is already under way.

The challenge is to recognise and make visible this potential, responding to the demand for education made by collectives, communities and different types of organisation, with their own dynamics and processes – experimenting with and systematising new forms of visibility, sharing and certification of knowledge.

Cultural circuit and social movement

In this sense, one should also point to the educational experience of Circuito Fora do Eixo, which mobilises a network of collectives involving some 3000 young people all over Brazil and has created its own Universidade Fora do Eixo (UniFdE) – an open and fluid educational process that offers a sharing and systematising of its methodologies: immersion, life experiences, observatories, workshops, online programs of TV and post-TV, manuals, caravans of cars and buses that cover the country’s territory, etc. With a long experience of free media and virtual activism, Fora do Eixo has become a reference point when it comes to turning the precariousness, fragmentation and atomisation of collectives into an integrated and de-centralised circuit sustained by a cultural and economic distributive network.

It is a singular and successful proposal for simultaneity in the processes of realisation, experimentation and education, where all the actions in the circuit become potential methodologies of free education to be shared and replicated. This involves different strategies of sustainability having the assets of the circuit (free time, work force, mastery of mediatic languages and multimedia narratives) at their core. By fostering and organizing territorial and virtual circuits (of music, audiovisual arts, stage performances, networks of political formation), by creating shared life experiences and spaces of communal interaction, by creating currencies and time banks (a living economy), the experiences of Fora do Eixo move beyond the boundaries between life/education and life/work in an experimental tangent where everything is a ‘laboratory’, everything is education. The educational process, its mapping and systematisation, does not ‘prepare’ for life: it is life experimenting and empowering itself.

Life economics

The idea of ‘life economics’ has a growing influence in Brazil thanks to a variety of experiences. Besides the discussion of a ‘universal minimal wage’ as the horizon of new struggles for the cognitive precariat, we could point to the experience of complementary currencies, social and community currencies, and the notion of co- operatives and the economy of solidarity, among other ways of empowering the autonomy of collectives and the invention of worlds. Once again we might select just one of these inspiring experiences: the Caixa Coletivo (or Banco do Comum) devised by Fora do Eixo. Here some 3000 young people from large and small cities throughout Brazil have channelled their time and lives into a common project, with a collective ‘kitty’ that pays for their food, clothing and collective lodging.

They reject the idea of an individual salary and take whatever they need from this common fund and have left their ‘slave jobs’ in traditional media, in commercial production, in publicity agencies, or other Fordist employment. Their time and life are thus freed up, produced from the standpoint of a different communal logic. New worlds are constructed. The experience of securing your basic needs changes the logic of cultural production. The time that had been stolen from us by capital, the State, by obligations and bureaucracy, is suddenly recovered and we no longer have to ‘sell’ our abilities, our communication and affect to ‘dead work’.

The experience of Caixa Coletivo points to a radicalisation of the model of sharing:

A synthesis of the aims of Caixa Coletivo can be found in the fact that every participant contributes all their available resources, both tangible and intangible, and makes them available for collective decisions. Dedication, stimulus,articulation, mobilisation, expertise, patience, agility, money, credit cards, cheques, names, cell phones, clothes, goods, products, contacts, plans, work, conflicts and dreams, under full individual management, are seen as resources of the collective fund. Everything must be put in circulation and be utilized in a shared fashion, functioning as a driving force for the sustaining of every step decided by the group.’ (Presentation of Caixa Coletivo 2013, part of an unpublished text written by Lenissa Lenza) This radical availability, this free and autonomous time invested in the Comum is at the genesis of the revolutions of the cognitive precariat. Those who have ‘lost’ everything, given up a normopathic family, a steady salary, or a university degree in order to invest their whole lives in a collective project are capable of anything. New challenges (such as security, difficulties in shared management, horizontality of relations) arise in this radical model of sharing and common funding, but having free time (collectively paid for), not having to ‘sell’ one’s time for food, clothing and lodging means having a minimal standard of sustainable life. This is not to be confused with ‘working for free’ and does not mean a minimal ‘income’ or ‘grant’. It means another kind of economy, a different horizon of collective agreements for the invention of worlds. Banco do Comum can be the basis for a new ‘life economics’.

In this context of networks and collectives we should also mention the experiences of free media (education through and for the media) that innovate by simply de-configuring the traditional spaces of speech: for example, the Escola Popular de Comunicaçãoo Crítica da Maré (ESPOCC), the Escola de Hip Hop created in Rio by the movement Enraizados, the agency Redes para a Juventude, the project Cinema Nosso, as well as different collectives and movements that convert lack/absence/precariousness into potential and power, re-signifying the vulnerable territories of favelas and peripheries, disputing narratives and inventing their own educational methodologies.

The notion that communication and media are no longer ‘tools’ but rather the very organisational mode of social and cultural movements is expressed in a transversal way in different projects and missions of collectives and Pontos, more explicitly in communication projects and media activism. The idea is directly mobilizing everyone in an intense mediatic process of political education that can activate and displace the niches of power/knowledge. A political education thus becomes the horizon and aim of many groups and the demand to deepen and develop this process is also part of the proposal of different collectives.

The idea that the production of knowledge should be open and free of charge (using flexible licences, Creative Commons, Recursos Educacionais Abertos/REA) is decisive in this new paradigm. In this sense, public policies such as free broadband, the Marco Civil for the internet or the reform of copyrights (de-criminalising the practice of sharing files, copies, exhibition of films for educational and cultural purposes) are the basis for the revolution of common shared goods, for the emergence of a mass intellectuality. Hence the decisive sponsoring of research into progress on the web, using Wiki language, the construction of a public free repository of data and content, public servers and platforms, dissemination of web TVs, and live transmission of heterogeneous audiovisual programming.

The principles behind Cultura Livre and Cultura Digital are yet another transversal platform, a condition for sustaining and empowering the field of free media – appearing occasionally or centrally as the project of different groups working with technological appropriation.

These are also some of the conditions for a wiki-school, a wiki-university, a P2P university of open education where the process of teaching/learning and the production of content involves, at different levels, every participant, and where the very formation of educators is based on the production of content for collaborative environments and free tools.

Another important aspect is the attention to language and narratives, which cease to be secondary issues and, together with technological appropriation, appear as a field of dispute and action in many collectives. Some contemporary art, performance art and political-mediatic actions regard aesthetics as something inextricable from the field of expression and political intervention, as an amplification of repertory and a means of possessing different languages in contemporary art.

Alternative futures

In the movie Minority Report, sensitive mutants hallucinate the future. These Pre-Cogs created by Philip K. Dick, considered ‘idiotic’, ‘sick’ and ‘drugged’ by the system, have predictive powers, glimpsing scenes, indications, fragments and signs of possible crimes – a paradoxical premonition that would be utterly useless if not for the possibility of altering the future and creating alternative realities.

The idea of multiple futures has begun to take shape in Brazil with the growing articulation between social and cultural movements, collectives, networks, supporters of free media, Pontos de Cultura, minorities and majority groups in transversal movements (for example, the Marchas da Liberdade that have taken place in Sa ̃o Paulo and another 70 cities throughout the country, the Marcha da Vadias, the Bicicletadas, the 2011 Marcha da Maconha, the 2012 Sa ̃o Paulo Existe Amor, etc.). These connect local and global struggles, demanding freedom of expression, and free culture, fighting against prejudice and conquering the city and its public spaces. They are our Pre-Cogs, a new transversal ‘class’, the Cognitive Precariat, sensitive people with their capacity to hallucinate or create new futures. This cultural precariat encompasses street vendors, homeless people, evicted people, agents of the informal economy, freelance, middle-class unemployed youths, everyone who needs to invent their own jobs, eco-activists, militants in the struggle for the legalization of drugs, homo-affective people, black people, the peripheries, those who dwell in terreiros, quilombos and digital landscapes. They form the new ‘class’ of cognitive capitalism and represent the motive force for the reinvention of the Brazilian fold within the global context.


(1)  Hinterland settlements formed by fugitive slaves in Brazilian Colonial times.

(2)  Former Brazilian president Luis Ina ́cio da Silva, creator of the social assistance program Bolsa-Fam ́ılia, which produced the greatest social mobility seen in the country in many decades and rescued some 30 million Brazilian citizens from misery, creating a ‘new 
middle class’.

(3) A dance style popular in the slums of Rio, combining choreographies from Brazilian funk balls and steps from different musical styles and genres. Funk dancers are often very young, raised in favelas or impoverished neighbourhoods of Rio. They utilise videos posted on YouTube to challenge rivals to live dance contests called ‘battles’.

(4)  Something like ‘big-booty ho’, a pejorative slang often used in funk lyrics to refer to sexually liberated and exuberant women.

(5)  Black teenagers who bleach or dye their hair blonde, imitating the style of their soccer player idols.


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Bentes, Ivana. 2007. Redes colaborativas e precariado produtivo. In Caminhos para uma comunicaçãoo democrática. Le Monde Diplomatique. São Paulo: Instituto Paulo Freire. Bentes, Ivana. 2012. Midiativismo: Formação livre e em fluxo, Overmundo.

Bentes, Ivana. 2011. Subjective Displacements and Reserves of Life. Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 20 (1): 5 – 19. 
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Lazzarato, Maurizio. 2006. As revoluções do capitalismo. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Record.

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Ivana Bentes is a Professor and Director of the School of Communication at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), as well as a film and arts critic and curator. She is the author of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade: a Revolução Intimista (Relume Dumará , 1996) and Avatar: o Futuro do Cinema e a Ecologia das Imagens Digitais (Ed. Sulina, 2010). She has also edited Corpos Virtuais: Arte e Tecnologia (Telemar/Oi Futuro, 2005) and Ecos do Cinema: de Lumiere ao Digital (Ed. UFRJ, 2007), and organized the book-length publication of Glauber Rocha’s collected letters, Cartas ao Mundo (Companhia das Letras, 1997). She is currently researching the global periphery and the aesthetics of communication and new theoretical models in cognitive capitalism.