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    Heterotopian markets for degrowth: an ethnographic inquiry

    Lloveras, Javier (2014) Heterotopian markets for degrowth: an ethnographic inquiry. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    The present work engages with the task of reinventing markets for degrowth by extending the work on heterotopia to the study of market practices. The literature review reveals that, as social and ecological constraints to economic growth have become increasingly apparent, emergent views on sustainability are calling for a transition towards degrowth rather than green growth. It is acknowledged that, whilst a transition to degrowth does not necessarily have to involve an abandonment of markets, the architecture of existing marketing systems has been shaped by two centuries of unprecedented economic growth. Therefore, if markets are to operate beyond the growth paradigm, it is argued that notions of the market will have to be radically reinvented. In this regard, scholars have argued alternative currencies as market devices that can be deployed with the aim of achieving a range of degrowth objectives, principally the creation of social capital, localization of economies, valuing non-productive labour, and enabling collaborative consumption to reduce environmental impacts of current life-styles. Given these arguments, alternative currency schemes have emerged as a suitable area of inquiry to explore the practices through which degrowth communities build sustainable systems of provisioning that retain a market form. An alternative currency scheme known as Puma, which is implemented in an area of Seville known as El Pumarejo, has been identified as a suitable empirical case to investigate these processes. The Puma is a type of alternative currency scheme known as Local Exchange Trading System (popularly known as LETS), which is implemented by a degrowth community of more than seven hundred members. Given that the emphasis was on markets as performances, which are enacted in webs of sociomaterial practices, this research was undertaken through an ethnographic strategy. Fieldwork was undertaken over a period of six weeks, which was followed by four revisits of approximately one-week duration each. Data was collected through a range of ethnographic techniques; including participant observation, ethnographic interviews, focus groups, research dairies and field notes, as well as organisational documents and archives. Research findings are presented in an ethnographic narrative, which has been articulated around a thematic analysis produced through a process of hermeneutic interpretation. Research findings highlight that the Puma currency scheme is embedded in concrete place dynamics, community ties and practical concerns, which are specific to the context of El Pumarejo. Moreover, this work identifies market practices and material devices through which a heterotopian market is enacted. For example, a detailed discussion is provided regarding exchange and bartering practices through which exchanges are accomplished between members. Furthermore, this research discusses various material devices employed in such practices, such as the Puma passbook or the CES software, which highlights the centrality of nonhuman elements in the enactment of heterotopian markets. Nevertheless, opening up the heterotopian market blackbox required an examination of infrastructural work through which members sustain the alternative currency scheme. In this regard, this work identifies a number of market-making practices beyond those of market exchange, namely epistemic practices, communication practices, community care practices, and enrolment practices, as well as other practices involved in the organisation of events such as Mercapuma and the Central de Abastecimiento. Ultimately, the symbolic dimension of the Puma currency scheme was examined. In this regard, members appear to be actively involved in the coproduction of meanings and identities which subvert prevalent notions of private and public property, gender, citizenship and consumerism, wealth and debt. Conclusions and implications of these findings for degrowth and marketing are discussed.

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