Community Self Help

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Richard White:

"Various forms of non-capitalist exchange which are embedded at the household and community level have been addressed under the collective title "community self-help" (see. Burns et al 2004). These are essentially:

•‘Self-provisioning ’, or self-help, which involves unpaid household work undertaken by household members for themselves or for other members of their household, and

• Mutual Aid, or unpaid community work, which involves unpaid help provided for and by friends, neighbours or other members of one’s community either on an individual basis or through more organised collective groups and societies.

The emphasis and importance of focusing on community economics is an important means of challenging and deconstructing the dominant capitalo-centric representation of "the economic". Moreover because the types of informal coping strategies which are relevant to community self-help are already familiar to many of us, and which we actively participate in, then this become even more accessible to us in terms of envisioning and enacting how these could be harnessed more fully to enact a "post-capitalist" future. Once again I submit the argument that it is not necessary to imagine some more empowered, inclusive and fairer economic mode of production exchange,and consumption. We do not need to build something new out of the ruined shards of capitalism, because the "post-capitalist" non-commodified practices of exchange that we should be looking to turn to are very much in evidence in the present. The focus of attention toward the familiar "everyday" non-capitalist economic practices at the community level is extremely important, and empowering, for other reasons.

Burns et al (2004: 6) for example advocated such practices as a strategy for survival and a model for a better society, because:

•They are the basis upon which communities survive, thrive and evolve

•The moral foundations of society are built upon reciprocity

•The dependency culture is corrosive of society

•The state as a welfare provider is in crisis.

There is certainly much overlap with this emphasis on community self-help,mutuality, non-coercive relationships and anarchist writings on economics (e.g. see Shannon et al, 2012).

As Burns, et al (2004: 7) elaborate:

- “One of the strongest arguments for community self-help in general and mutual aid more particularly, is that reciprocity is fundamental to human development. Whatever the ‘nature’ of people (individualistic, altruistic or otherwise) they undoubtedly live in relationship to each other. They are interdependent and both their survival and their happiness depend on that interdependence.” (

More Information

  • Burns, D. Williams, CC and Windebank, J. (2004) Community Self Help: Palgrave London.