Working and caring in a world of commons

5 November 2013, Hilary Wainwright

Conventionally, the concept of ‘labour’ is understood as referring to waged labour – the capacity to labour as exercised through a market. It was precisely this narrow understanding of labour that the discussions in this stream challenged from several angles.

This report on the very rich but diverse contributions to this stream will be organised around the main conference theme: ‘from seed form to core paradigm’. Applying this idea to labour, the vision is of a paradigm shift from an economy in which our capacity to work, to labour or, in other words, to produce is managed as a commodity, priced, bought and sold on the ‘labour market’, to one in which this human capacity is managed as a commons, the responsibility of society, for the benefit of society. (Of course this raises big questions of the organisation of ‘society’ and, as always, the management of labour as a commons)

Conventionally, the concept of ‘labour’ is understood as referring to waged labour – the capacity to labour as exercised through a market. It was precisely this narrow understanding of labour that the discussions in this stream challenged from several angles. They opened with a presentation by Daniella Gottschlich that drew on the work of feminists who have highlighted the unwaged and hence mostly invisible labour of reproduction carried out largely through the family based household and its gendered division of labour. This takes place outside the labour market, yet the market depends on this non- monetarised labour, which in its relations of mutuality and sharing has some similarities to the commons. This family-based process of reproduction is founded, however, on a systemic subordination of women and hence contradicts the egalitarian principles of the commons.

In addition to this report by Hilary a report of the conference “Economics and the Commons: From Seed Form to Core Paradigm.”  can be found here.

photo by Dominic Alves

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