Center for a Stateless Society
A Left Market Anarchist Think Tank & Media Center
Redefining Money: The Praxis of Local Currencies

Local currencies in their praxis have many shortcomings when it comes to economic applications. Issues of supply chains and the adequacy of developed economies of scale are lacking in many local currency systems. However, such an economistic view ignores the actual political ramifications of local currencies. Certainly local currencies have issues when it comes their active efficacy, but this takes the view that economies, and currencies in particular, are defined by capitalist discourses and practices rather than different conceptions of what constitutes the economic realm. Such ideas constitute an idea of economy determined by capitalist definitions of efficiency and take a view of money as a neutral veil, part and parcel of a market economy. This “absolutization of the market” [1] ignores much of what an economy is actually constituted of. Thus in looking at local currencies, we see many political statements and social practices that while not economically practical do show a different type of money, one more embedded in social structures of local communities and actors.

The economic praxis of local currencies is not important in viewing their political statements and actions. Rather, by viewing an economy as having diverse characteristics and elements, we see local currencies fitting into a political framework of alternative economies and actions that actively go against the grain of capitalism or reshape capitalist institutions. Gibson-Graham’s diverse economies perspective shows how capitalist practice in an economy is only one type of economic reality, and that in fact their exists an iceberg of potentials and alternatives, with conventional market systems only sitting at its tip [2]. Local currencies and their political statements are a part of the rest of the iceberg, informing different practices and discursive elements of an economy. It also raises questions of the position of money in society, redirecting it toward different concepts of ownership and use. Moving away from the utilitarian view to the idea of money as a social technology.

Such an attempt at reconceptualising money in different praxes of a diverse economy is an attempt to reterritorialise money in the capitalist economy. Rather than being a tool of currency traders and international markets, money is placed in spatial limits of the community and in new forms of social relations that re-embed money. This sees capitalism as a system of overdetermination, with different outcomes and positions creating the potential for a variety of economic organisation. This is particularly true in the idea of the social factory, where the limits of commodification and mercantilisation of the individual are moved from the realm of the factory to that of society, constituted by value created by social interaction and networks. A change in the position of power is seen, with the capacity for new monetary networks to develop alternative discourses of economy and create new social relations which supersede capitalist ones.

What comes out of this is a politics of resilience, embodied in the Greek TEM. It shows how the financial crisis in Greece has engendered the need for a rethinking of the entire realm of economy, particularly money. Both an increasing solidarity representative of resilience, and a recreation of what constitutes the realm of normal in an economy, are seen in the discourses and practices of the Greek TEM. The former represents the power of networked solidarity economies that allow for new social relations to come out of a crisis and show a new direction. Local currencies re-embed money within social structures of trust and networks. A discursive politics of a diverse economy that shows how economies can be rethought and changed from neoliberal ideas as seen in the social factory, the commodification of all realms of life, particularly money.

An economic perspective of local currencies shows many deficiencies in their application and workability. While there are many small-scale examples of working local currency systems, there are also many examples of these systems being kept in “closed circuits” [3] that aren’t able to spread to wider networks of firms and economic actors, pushing their users into niche positions in the wider capitalist economy that doesn’t necessarily encourage new value creation but rather maintains a small space of difference, giving them “a passive role” [4]. The Marxist critique holds a similar position, seeing them “as precapitalist hangovers or doomed utopian experiments that are unable to compete with capitalism” [5]. Due to their lack of a different overall narrative that can combat capitalist discourse and structure, local currencies simply exist as an alternative open to the economically disadvantaged or middle class small business owners. Any sort of revolutionary potential is limited if not completely impossible.

However, such a economistic view is mistaken in assuming that the point of local currency systems is simply to engage in purely economic activity as an alternative. It ignores the political statements and sociological conceptions that underpin and are brought out by such systems. They aren’t necessarily looking to bring the capitalist system down on its knees, but rather are an attempt to dislocate the idea of economy, moving it from “the hegemony of capitalocentric discourse” [6] toward a sea of different, multiplicitous alternatives that challenge the dominance of capitalist discourse in different locations and spaces. Such can be seen in the “vast literature on the informal economies of both “less” and “more” developed nations” [7], which show alternative praxis of economy. Gibson-Graham’s concept of a community economy presents such an idea, with an attempt to “reframe the identities and capacities of individuals” in a “diverse economy” [8] of different economic processes. It’s trying to show how economies are a diverse array of activities and concepts, as seen in the idea of an economy as an iceberg, with capitalist practices only being the visible tip of a much deeper variety. This then shows how economies are not purely defined by capitalist-market practices or wage labour.

The perspective of local currencies follows a similar position of looking at how economies are diverse in their application. In the same ways community economies are an example of an alternative that makes statements about the possibilities of economies that aren’t capitalistic, local currencies are “possible technologies for making change” [9] that allow for “communities to create a “harbour in the storm” of crisis-ridden neoliberal economic globalisation” [10]. Thus it needn’t have a totalising answer to capitalism and the role of money, but rather be a statement of intent to resubjectify money [11] in a “space of social interdependency and self-formation” [12]. Money is seen as a social technology, an abstract unit of account with transferability [13] rather than a commodity with complex variables. Local currencies want to place money back into the realm of social relations rather than the abstractions of international currency markets, putting it back in governance structures that allow for control over use and value. This isn’t an economic project as such, but rather an attempt at redefining money in a neoliberal world.

It takes opposition with the utilitarian view of money, which sees it as encompassed by the market, ignoring its social aspects [14]. Rather than viewing money in a quantitative manner, with importance relative to its amount, money is seen as qualitative, with different types of money having different levels of value. These hierarchies are seen as constituting types of special monies [15]. Special money “functions as a social and sacred marker, used to acquire or amend status or to celebrate ritual event” [16] that are restricted in use and space like coupons. Local currencies embody this practice, placing money in a space of use and practice restricted by the bounds set by actors, attempting to reterritorialise money as a practice of social as well as economic benefit. The statement being made is not that an economy of the local can exist as an island above capitalism, but that instead money is not defined purely by capitalist practice, and is actually within a whole range of economic customs that constitute a diverse economy. Money is an act as much as it is a commodity, with it representing a cornucopia of local social relationships that can resist the dominance of capitalism.

Capitalist practice produces “an awesome schizophrenic accumulation of energy or charge” which acts as a limit toward full accumulation and commodification [17]. Continually capitalism pushes up to and against these limits, leading to processes of deterritorialisation, “decoding and axiomatizing flows” [18], and its counterpart, reterritorialisation of such flows. In the monetary order of capitalism, this can be seen in the counter-movements of continuing complexity and abstraction in financial markets, fundamentally changing the perception of what money is when it represents different things for different classes. Take mortgages. For the working and middle classes, they represent increased indebtedness due to a belief in homeownership. For global elites, they represent an opportunity for the continuation of the extraction of surplus value through financial markets. This is a process of deterritorialisation, with such a concept of money removed from its terrain of existence for the act of surplus value extraction. As a counter-movement, governments encourage a narrative of home-owning so as to reterritorialise these practices.

“As currency deterritorialization accelerates, power is being radically redistributed” [19], moving away from control via governance to networks of abstract control, increasingly volatile, as seen in the recent financial crisis and the increase of household and private debts. Globalisation has created for money a vast network of stock markets and financial systems for international capital. “Activist monetary and fiscal policies” [20] are becoming increasingly ignored as capital mobility is favoured over the national economy. Thus a process of deterritorialised money is seen, encompassed by economic networks, “open structures, able to expand without limits, integrating new nodes as long as they are able to communicate” [21] with power invested in the switch-holders of the networks [22]. The vast array of economic networks that constitute capitalism, particularly in its monetary sphere are a major part of the social factory, that covers society as a whole, commodifying social and economic relations. Under this regime, society itself is presented as a realm conquerable to capitalism, thus showing a push into those accumulations of energy and charge and recreating surplus value extraction, with the whole of society “placed at the disposal of profit” [23].

However, with this development of an abstracted monetary capitalism, new discursive elements are opened up. There is a process of overdetermination where “each site and process is constituted at the intersection of all others”, leading to “an emptiness, complexly constituted by what it is not” [24]. This suggests that, in the realm of economy, there are multiple discourses and variables that cannot be defined purely by one of them. Linking this with networks and the social factory, due to the discursive power of these and its different distributions, new types of power and power-holders can develop, thus moving an economy into new directions. Such “a “weak theory” of economic dynamics” [25] opens up new possibilities of what constitutes an economy. With local currencies, this can be seen in placing money in a distinct part of an overdetermined diverse economy. By bringing new discourses to monetary economies, local currencies allow for a reterritorialisation of money itself, moving it back into different governance networks based around localities rather than the international spheres of finance capital. A Polanyian countermovement is developed that restores “a sense of social purpose and rootedness to the functioning of money” [26] that pushes against globalised finance.

Currencies are not markets and markets are not currencies. They may play in and throughout each other. All the factors of capitalist determination mean sites become useless within capitalism. To define something as capitalism becomes overdetermined by the variability of economic organisation. This is the case with money and its governance structures, which leads to a process of reterritorialisation as an alternative to the deterritorialisation created by capitalist monetary relations, which separate the being from its cultural mores and local anchors of life. Instead, monetary relations are re-embedded in social relations, remaking money as a social technology with new power relations held in local networks of protagonists, going “beyond visions, to bring into being that which they advocate” [27]. An example that enacts local currencies, the Greek TEM, shows how (to varying degrees) such an effort of reterritorialisation has worked.

Local currencies re-embed currencies within social structures of trust and networks, reterritorialising what capitalism had attempted to commodify. A politics of resilience is cultivated that pushes against the forces of capital. The Greek TEM in many ways is a part of this politics, aiming to requantify what the economy is and should be. It takes a “radical critique of the knowledge claims of actually existing neoliberalism” [28], positing an alternative praxis of monetary relations that is hedged within ideas of equality, parity, participation and solidarity [29]. It is a “positive action by the citizens themselves” [30], acting against neoliberal understandings of the wider Greek economy as something mouldable to outside actors, that can be privatised or de-socialised at will. Practices such as these are not in and of themselves economically efficient in the capitalist sense. But as I’ve said this misses the point in seeing the TEM as an example of non-capitalocentric practice, performing the idea of economy [31] and acting out visions of an alternative society. They needn’t be economically effective, but instead politicise the actualities of an economy, pulling them into new areas of socio-economic relations. By describing the actions of the TEM as the positive action of citizens, it is about making a political statement against economic orthodoxy.

The TEM itself is restricted in amount to each individual, with little possibility of debt and instead the continued encouragement of recirculation [32]. Again, emphasising the economic effectiveness of such measures may well show issues with its process, but the politicisation of these processes is much more important in understanding their discursive effects. The currency is embedded within networks, using the emergent relations of modern capitalism to its advantage in constructing alternatives. Further, by the TEM being mostly set within Volos, with little chance of expansion outside these boundaries [33], there is a clear reterritorialisation of money and monetary relations. This casts these relations into a completely different set of governance structures, moving away from the state-market dichotomy which epitomises the capitalocentric framework of financial affairs. Instead, there is “a system of systems, where all are interconnected and dependent” [34]. This then acts against the typicality of territorialisation described by Deleuze and Guattari, with deterritorialisation acted out by continued commodification and reterritorialisation being the response of states and bureaucracies to maintain some semblance of sociality [35]. Rather, money is placed back into social structures via this system of systems. In describing TEM, their website talks of “collective decisions and active participation in the formation of the Network through the forum members” [36], showing a move toward collectivity and shared sociality that is not embodied by a state.

The TEM represents the variety of political statements I’ve mentioned, placing money in a diverse economies perspective which sees it as overdetermined by economic activity, thus reterritorialising money away from the market-state dichotomy and into distributed systems of power. In terms of their political statements, they have been successful in creating an alternative perspective of what an economy is and can be. By taking a weak reading of economy, we see things like the TEM as part of a multitudinous system of different practices. Born of the Greek economic crisis, it has shown a way to weather the storms of neoliberalism and create new value systems. This is the point of local currency systems. They are not a totality, but rather a way of understanding an economy that doesn’t rely on the tracts of capitalocentric discourse. In place of economic crises, they are an attempt to “move beyond anger to creativity” [37], changing the face of the economy.

The political statements of local currencies show their importance in understanding what money is and how it can function. They are not wholly economic alternatives, but instead a way to look at an economy as made up of diverse characteristics and practices. They reject a utilitarian view of money as that of simply a medium of exchange, and look at money as a social project that has different governance structures and different functions. The special monies that Zelizer describes represent some of the discourses present in local currencies. Money is used as a way of garnering new socio-economic relations and placing money as a social technology.

This discursive framework of money that local currencies present can be seen as a way of reterritorialising money in a world of abstract, disconnected social relations. Within the social factory and its constituent networks, there exists the capacity for the building of new monetary relations removed from both states and markets. The overdetermination present in an economy means that many discourses can and do exist, with the frameworks of local currencies representing a large array of such diversity.

The TEM of Volos, Greece represents one of these local currency frameworks, building networks and systems that present an alternative to capitalism. While economically imperfect relative to the particular practices of capitalism, the real aim of local currencies is in their ability to simply say that they exist, and that they are one of many alternatives in the diverse economy.

As their political statements are that of showing that capitalism is itself not a totalising narrative, they are broadly successful, particularly since the financial crisis when alternatives and a politics of resilience have been sought. With the Greek TEM, networks have been cultivated that give users economic control in a world where such control is limited to particular classes of people. Local currencies are then an attempt at truly creating that system of systems, and moving the world of money out of the abstractions of financial capitalism and into the real world of the lives and experiences of individuals and citizens, re-empowering them both socially and politically. It re-embeds money, and redefines it outside the world of capitalism.

Notes:

1. Zelizer, V. 1989, 343
2. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 2006, 70
3. Ingham, G. 2004, 185
4. Ingham, G. 2004, 186
5. North, P. 2014, 247
6. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 2006, 57
7. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 2006, 58
8. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 2006, 144
9. North, P. 2014, 248
10. North, P. 2014, 249
11. North, P. 2014, 261
12. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 2006, 166
13. Martin, F. 2013, Chapter 1
14. Zelizer, V. 1989, 344
15. Zelizer, V. 1989, 348-349
16. Zelizer, V. 1989, 349
17. Deleuze, G. & Guattari F. 1977, 34
18. Deleuze, G. & Guattari F. 1977, 35
19. Cohen, B. 2006, 16
20. Andrews, D., Henning, C.R. & Pauly, L. 2002, 16
21. Castells, M. 2010, 501
22. Castells, M. 2010, 502
23. Gill, R. & Pratt, A.C., 2008, 10
24. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 2006, xxx
25. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 2006, 194
26. Helleiner, E. 1995, 159
27. North, P. 2014, 262
28. Brassett, J. & Holmes, C. Too be published, 6
29. https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=el&u=https://www.tem-magnisia.gr/&prev=search
30. https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=el&u=https://www.tem-magnisia.gr/&prev=search
31. Brassett, J. & Holmes, C. Too be published, 6
32. Henley, J. 2012
33. Graham-Harrison, E. 2015
34. Brassett, J. & Holmes, C. Too be published, 9
35. Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. 1977, 34-35
36. https://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=el&u=https://www.tem-magnisia.gr/&prev=search
37. Henley, J. 2012

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