ECC2013/Working and Caring Stream

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Working page for the "Doing away with labor" - stream of the Economics and the Commons Conference.

As of 2013-02-05 everything is incomplete, draft, subject to change.

Please edit, comment, contact at [email protected] as appropriate!



This stream challenges the deeply rooted mental coordinates on one fundamental question: How do we (re)produce our livelihoods? We therefore consider the stream´s thematic focus as structurally important and cross-cutting all other streams. It might seem difficult at first as we are using terminologies that do not necessarily mean the same thing to different people, which is further complicated by our multilingual conversations, with us sometimes be getting lost in translation. The stream therefore invests into building common ground in understanding the issues and terminology.

Labor is predominantly understood and used as the term for paid work/employment or debt based labor. The labor term does not reflect the time spent in work (or human activity) that needs to be done before paid labor can even start. The majority of our human activity is nevertheless done in the sphere of social reproduction, which is also often referred to as care work. Yet, social reproduction entails more than caring for people, it also means work invested in the material reproduction of the household, often referred to as household reproduction. To recognize the “the whole of (necessary) work” (for livelihood subsistence) is a prerequisite to overcome the separation of economic spheres of production (debt based economy) and reproduction (time based economy) and its different value allocations. This is an inherently feminist thought. Yet, commoners and some feminists do not want to turn the time based reproductive economy into the debt based paid labor sphere. They recognize that the risk is too high: the danger of an all-encompassing commodification and economization of life (and nature).

Yet, we need transition strategies. While we can state that all people are workers, women are too! And therefore, Indian women, for example, demand social protection and renumeration for their work in the household and for livelihood sustenance outside of the paid formal labor market. They advocate their demand under the slogan “All Women are Workers!”


In this stream we follow two intentions:

One is a sensitization for what it (structurally) means to “do away” with the limited notion of labor as employment and with an understanding of labor as a separated sphere of human activity that is subjected to the utilization rules of the market. It is here where we can carve out the genuine potential of the commons.

Another is to explore what it means to imagine the paid labor/employment of today as a common pool resource, and then how to organize and manage the “whole (of) work” necessary for our livelihood provisioning and social reproduction as a commons in a world of tomorrow.

What questions are we likely to discuss

  1. What does work, productive activity and labor mean in the context of a commons-based economy?
  2. What is the relationship between work and the commons, i.e., in a context where production and reproduction are not separated ?
  3. How can we imagine to de-commodify labor, what terms and conditions were needed?
  4. Can a historical review of the enclosure and commodification processes contribute to strategic orientation in addressing these questions?
  5. Can the discourse related to the commons strengthen the power of traditional labor unions and if so, to what extent? What kind of reforms in thought, perception, values, and judgment are necessary?

Issues that are not on the agenda of this debate

  • How to create more jobs and full employment for all?
  • Minimum wages...
  • Employment market politics and policies
  • Regulation of working hours


The framing keynote by Daniela Gottschlich from Lüneburg University will introduce the basic concepts, assumptions and ideas to capture the imagination of the conference participants and indicate the direction of the following joint explorations.

In the first break out session we will initially provide the opportunity to move around 6 thematic “speakers corners” where particular sub-issues of the framing key-note will be featured repeatedly 6 times 8 min each with a short time for discussion, Q&A if possible. Participants can move from speaker to speaker by their own choice of sequence.

The purpose of this round is serving predominantly the sensitization for the issue in the hope that it will feed into other streams and nurture the “structural embedding” of the notion the “whole of work” to provide for "the whole of life" in a World of Commons.

The second break out session will provide intensive working time for expeditions into re-thinking the role of human (re)productive activity and its inherent nature in a generative commons network.



Pre-conference on-line planning

May 21: possible side-events

May 23 am: 30 minute keynote to frame “labor” stream.

May 23 pm: first breakout session with 6 thematic speakers corners and debate

Suggestions for the 6 speakers corners and their speakers are (60 min):

  1. Refreshing old terminology or inventing new - a sensitization for the embedded old and new thinking culture” (Brigitte Kratzwald)
  2. “Direct reciprocity versus indirect reciprocity and stigmergic polycentrism as new phenomena of socialized, needs oriented production processes” (explained by Stefan Meretz, www.
  3. “Digitized work, distributed economies and the changing conditions of labor in the 21st century” (Michel Bauwens) )
  4. The potentials and limits of a basic income as a policy toward acknowledging “the whole of work” approach - an assessment from a feminist and commons perspective (Friederike Habermann)
  5. Fighting for recognition, valuing social and household reproduction for social security provisions in the emerging economies: “All wo/men are workers!”(Soma Parthasarathy)
  6. Existing Economic Alternatives and organising the work needed for livelihood provisioning in Intentional communities (Allen Butcher, The School of Intentioneering)

Reflection session and open debate (60 min)

We still have another hour after the speakers corner to meet in a smaller plenary setting and debate and reflect the “intake” from the two previous sessions. I am suggesting to direct the session toward mapping learning points, open questions, lines of tensions, doubts or conceived contradictions, inconclusive issues. Such a mapping will indicate areas of future information and research work and also the need for better communication.

May 24 pm:

- 150 min second breakout session

kick off by Tom Walker: The capacity to work (or labour power), whether paid or unpaid, is the outcome of an intrinsically social, co-operative activity. As such, this capacity can best be understood as a "common-pool resource" in that it could most effectively be engaged, valued, enjoyed and protected as a collectively-shared asset rather than as a fragmented assortment of individualized units, which is the current model of labour-as-a-commodity. From this outset it is possible to discuss how turn labor as a common pool resource into a commons and what this means for the work of the unions in the future.

But the discussion can also take any other direction, you decide!

- closing plenary session with stream organizers; report-back, discuss, synthesize

May 25 am:

for those who chose to stay: How to get there from here?

Post-conference followup