Conference Agenda

RN06_02: On the Materiality of Ecological Challenges
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Caroline Metz, Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute
Session Chair: Anne Engelhardt, Kassel University
Location: GM.332
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road


Energy, Sustainability, and State-Society(transnational)-Capital Complexes: the Enemy within and Hostage Labour "Aristocracy"

Yuliya Yurchenko

University of Greenwich, United Kingdom

Climate politics discourse is moving ahead while politics, policies and politico-economic transformations are lagging behind, global emissions are rising and optimistically only 12 years are left to halt the irreversible anthropogenic climate change (IPCC 2018). EU fancies itself a champion of sustainability reform yet in reality 2020 and 2030 targets have been widely criticised for being ill-conceived, ill-prescribed and insufficient, especially in the context of internationalised production and consumption of emissions. In this paper I draw on EPSU commissioned research into 20 years of EU energy sector marketisation to draw a historical materialist analysis of contradiction that arise in the state/society/capital complexes (Yurchenko 2018) on local, national, and global levels due to entanglement of transnational capital accumulation interest with state and labour in an uneven geography that reinforces climate inequality between states and classes globally. I show that transnational capitalism and state capitalism e.g. state-owned TNCs such as EDF and Vattenfall, is paralysing for progressive sustainability politics in a combined way. First, optimal allocation of public services i.e. energy, cannot be achieved in capitalist markets (Sen 1993) that they actively reproduce. Second, viability of state-owned capitalist enterprise is directly linked to labour as wage-earners and as benefactors of the budget contributions of the state asset TNCs making climate inaction a problem of ‘labour aristocracy’. I argue that energy democracy edvocated by NGOs and trade unions is unachievable without (1) national and local public form of ownership of energy (generation and supply) and (2) a poly-centric mode of governance (Ostrom 1990, 2010).

Water Struggles in the Web of Life: Social Reproduction, Ecology and Capitalist Accumulation.

Andreas Bieler

University of Nottingham, United Kingdom

Since the global economic crisis of 2007/2008, austerity and neoliberal restructuring have continued unabated in Europe. This has also included pressure on privatising public services including water. Greece and Portugal, for example, were asked to privatise their water companies as part of a bailout agreement during the Eurozone crisis. And yet, resistance to water privatisation remains strong with broad based alliances of trade unions, social movements, environmental and developmental NGOs organising across civil societies at the local, national and European level.

This paper focuses on the role of trade unions and social movements in the resistance to capitalist exploitation. I will first discuss how we can conceptualise these broad-based alliances. Rather than treating them simply as interest groups, competing with others over influence on government policy, I will argue that we need to conceptualise the way water privatisation reflects capitalist exploitation across the spheres of production and social reproduction. Hence, capitalist accumulation does not only depend on exploiting wage labour in commodity production but equally on appropriating unpaid work by humans in the sphere of social reproduction as well as unpaid work by extra-humans in the wider ecology.

In a second step, I will then focus on key examples of water struggles in Europe. Analysing these struggles through a focus on class struggle allows me to unravel the internal relations between class agency and the structuring conditions of capitalism, providing us with a clear understanding of why some struggles are successful, while others are not.

Resisting Hierarchical Governing Through Constructive Resistance: Consensus, Consentient And Circulation Of Power In Worker-Owned Cooperatives

Kristin Wiksell

Karlstad University, Sweden

This presentation explores how consensus-driven worker cooperatives in Sweden practice resistance to hierarchical governing in work organizations associated with traditional capitalism. Through constructive resistance of enacting the desired future in the present, co-ops oppose hierarchical governing by enacting a social order desired by the collective characterized by collective self-government with participatory democracy, in line with arguments of anarchistic voluntariness and freedom. This resistance extends beyond the borders of the co-ops in so far that the desired organizational form are articulated as a sought ideal for the society at large in opposition to hierarchical, exploitative capitalism. In line with the work by Foucault that emphasis the interconnectedness of resistance and power, the present analysis of interviews with member of five Swedish worker co-ops shows how resistance to one form of power opens up for different ways in which power is being circulated. The joint self-government of the co-ops involve certain relations between the individual and the collective which, on the one hand, is attempted for respecting the complete inviolability of the individual, but, on the other hand, necessitates members’ subordination in relation to the collective deliberation through a form of consentient collectivity. This means that individual members in organizations practicing consensus-driven direct democracy have to balance their enhancement of their own views vis-à-vis the unity of the collective. Thereby, the article contributes to resistance studies and research on co-ops by showing how resistance in co-ops entail other constructions power similar to the form of power that is being resisted.

Un-making The World In Struggles For Socioecological Transformation

Giuseppe Feola

Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Societal transformations toward sustainability imply a disruption of modern, capitalist socioecological configurations that inform destructive modes of interaction with the natural environment. Radical civil society initiatives prefigure alternative ways of knowing, being and doing, and may hold the potential for such transformations, but it remains unclear if they can generate transformative change at ‘societal’ level. Innovation and transition theories, which inform most sustainability policies, have usually assumed that the disruption of the dominant order is an automatic impact of innovation, and have therefore largely undertheorized this aspect of transformational change. They have postulated that change toward sustainability would occur within existing systems, exploit supposed ‘windows of opportunity’, or await the ‘natural’ decay of existing configurations. On the other hand, those scholars who have investigated forms of disruption, have made strong assumptions on how change comes about (e.g. class struggle in Marxist studies), and have failed to uncover the diversity of social change processes demonstrated by existing radical civil society initiatives. This paper discusses the notion of ‘unmaking’: processes to deliberately ‘make space’ (temporally, spatially, materially, and/or symbolically) for radical alternatives that are incompatible with dominant socioecological relations. The paper mobilizes and originally integrates literature from across studies of resistance, refusal, anarchism, degrowth and political ecology. Its findings are distilled in five propositions: (i) unmaking is a combination of emergent, situated processes; (ii) processes of unmaking involve both symbolic and material deconstruction; (iii) unmaking is a contradictory personal experience; (iv) unmaking is often hidden, but can be used strategically; and (v) unmaking is generative. Therefore, this paper underscores more proactive, disruptive, political and potentially conflictual transformation pathways than usually postulated in sustainability theories and policies.