“Another Economy [Is Possible] Already Exists”: Making Democratic Worlds One Day at a Time in Barcelona
Gimenez Aliaga, Victor
Faubion, James D.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation is an ethnography of the Social and Solidarity Economy movement (ESS) in Catalonia. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in Barcelona between 2014 and 2019, I show how ESS activists practice a political commitment based on constructing cooperative economic structures and performing, here and now, economic relations in accordance with the values of cooperation, horizontalism, and direct democracy. While the ESS movement centers on the everyday practice of democratic ways of being and relating otherwise, I focus particularly on the oft-overlooked theoretical and knowledge-making practices and modes of expertise that emerge enmeshed with them. Working from this focus, I found in Barcelona a democratic epistemic ecology that uses the tools of social theory, paired with an anthropological sensibility, to problematize and rethink what the good life is and to critically reflect on ways of being otherwise while practicing them. I argue that within the ESS movement, democratic ways of being and doing on the one hand, and democratic ways of thinking and looking at the social world on the other, are inextricably linked. ESS activists produce a democratic social theory of their own and practice parallel modes of non-hierarchical expertise. They bring to light that the epistemic is a crucial dimension of social transformation and that the processes of changing ourselves/changing our thinking/changing the world are co-implicated and co-constitutive. In this intersection between thought, action, and social reality, ESS offers a generative mirror for academia; I use this mirror to reflect on the potentialities and limitations of social theory and academic intellectual authority in processes of democratic, post-capitalist social transformation. Ultimately I argue that ESS activists build worlds otherwise fully shaped by the value of direct democracy. Through their cooperative projects and practices they shape their subjectivities, their knowledges, and their everyday social worlds. They make, one day at a time, the democratic worlds in which they live. Between ethnography, anthropological thought, and activist debates, this dissertation aims to disentangle and convey how they do so. What do politics, life, and knowledge look like when the value of direct democracy guides all collective and individual structures, practices, and relations?