Aberystwyth Transitions Reading Group Blog


Regional complementary currencies and mosh pit society


I still struggle to get my head around anything to do with economics but I guess it’s not meant to be easy, given the state of so many economies… I remain fascinated with the geography of complementary currencies, why – according to the article by Magrit Kennedy – they are best suited to a regional scale, and why they neccesarily encourage a more engaged relationality than currencies issued on wider scales. The demarcation of a region is also fascinating, since complementary currencies apparently work better in diverse economic regions (accepted). But how does the complementary currency region relate to current political regions, cultural regions and regional concepts from other schools of thought, e.g. bioregions? We also discussed the ‘complementarity’ aspect of a regional currency: These are not alternatives to capitalism, but rather geographic brakes on globalisation, it seems? The realtional social work done by some variants of complementary currencies also seemed a bit ‘big society’, fostering a voluntarism that let the state of the hook and yet was post political. What would give a regional complementary currency the critical mass to sustain?

Dunthorne’s radio piece on mosh pit society was also in a sense about quasi autonmous spaces – and the different social mores that could flourish therein. I’m very interested by the ethic of mutual care that persisits – indeed seems to flourishes – in rougher, franker, less governed spaces. There are barriers to bringing mosh pit society out of the mosh pit into everyday life – awkwardness, shyness, fear, mean-spiritedness… The parallel with complementary currency is interesting – between giving someone a shove on the street out of the mosh pit and offering someone a regional currency outside the region: These are spaces with borders. The mosh pit is a very alive place, a place of adrenalin and endorphines. This aliveness is a product of knowing a little more fear, showing a little more courage and – most of all – daring to trust ‘strangers’ (as a community more than as individuals?) Social friction takes practice – not only to speak up but also to take criticism without taking offence. We suggested a reading group meeting driven by the mosh pit ethic – I think it’s a great idea!


Alternative Economic Cultures – Manuel Castells

Possibly relevant to our upcoming Thursday discussion, and worth a listen regardless: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n9yg1


I just revisited this recording and felt compelled to write about it. Castells, who has written about the network society extensively, has a new book out called Aftermath: The Cultures of the Economic Crisis. In the recording Castells is interviewed about this new work as well   as some of his older ideas.

Paul Mason begins by summing up a key argument made by Castells in the new book. He notes that Castells seems to be outlining a kind of four-layer economy. This involves a much-weakened public sector, a highly concentrated and successful private sector based on high tech and financial arenas, a third layer of ‘survival models’ of traditional business, and finally, and most interestingly for me, a layer of ‘post-capitalist alternative economic cultures’. Upon being questioned about these last he argues they are expanding, giving the example of interest-free lending taking place in Barcelona in the aftermath of the economic crisis.

There are a few points about this that struck a chord with me. Castells argues that the economic crisis has provided a galvanizing force for the energy that exists in all societies towards change. He argues that the crisis is really a crisis of trust, wherein people no longer trust either the economic/financial systems, nor the political systems that sustain them. People have seen not only that the economic systems are based on highly unreliable economic models, but moreover that when they are at risk of collapse, the political systems change the financial systems in order to prevent their collapse, thereby demonstrating their allegiance to the economic systems at the expense of caring for the people.

As more people become aware of this situation, the possibility for change is enhanced. Elements of society who have been living differently either by choice or not are now poised to either create larger social change (or in some cases to fall into a pattern of complete rejection leading to extremism and an attempt to go back rather than forwards). As a potentially positive outcome of the crisis, Castells sees a more mainstream adoption of counterculture practices, a mainstreaming of the alternative if you like. He sees an increasing number of people beginning to reject capitalist consumerist culture in favor of models which allow to flourish the thing which he says statistically people value most: love. This represents a cultural shift. Rather than people thinking that a new car will bring happiness and therefore pursuing a lifestyle that will allow them to buy that new car, he suggests that people are waking up to the idea that they are trapped in the machine which affords more value to the car than to their time, to love, to family, to relationships, to the things that are really valuable to people… and are beginning to reject this.

Castells’ network society is one in which the hierarchy of government, alongside its connection to the capitalist system, is ever-increasingly rejected by the people, who, connected to each other through far reaching and supportive systems are able to bypass in many ways and in many cases, the hegemony of mainstream political and economic systems in order to live fulfilling lives. In some ways, this is still far off, as we are still beholden to so much control by the state, but the idea that the crisis could set us off on a trajectory of positive change is an appealing one indeed.


Rapid reading

Kathryn Redway is the author of ‘Beat the Bumf’ (Management Books 2000 Ltd) and gives day courses – at least at Cardiff Uni – on rapid reading. Her ‘twelve easy steps’ to rapid reading – with my annotations – is:
The dynamics of reading
0. Read normally for 5 minutes – count the words
1. WANT to read faster (who wouldn’t?)
2. Use peripheral vison (we move our eyes much more then we need to)
3. Group the words (I focus 3 times per line of a standard size book, twice is possible)
4. Use a guide (much less tiring for eyes to follow a pointer – finger, pen…)
5. Practice high speed conditioning (read as fast as you can, don’t reread, don’t worry about comprehension – race!)
6. Moderate – choose a cruising speed (between 0. rate and high speed)
Assimilating non-fiction
7. Recap your knowledge (2 mins warm up jotting down what you already know, working from title of article)
8. Establish objectives (know what you’re looking for)
9. Overview – high speed, paying attention to what stands out: bullet points,diagrams…
10. Preview – reject irrelevant material (strike out with a pencil) those parts of the article that don’t relate to your objectives
11. Inview – read for comprehension – cruising speed rhythm, mark key words/ideas…
12. Review – make notes and/or mindmap


To Bee, or not to Bee, that is the question.

Following a discussion started last year in the group on the subject of bees, Kelvin drew our attention to a new development in the analysis of what is going on with bee colonies. Over the last few years, beekeepers all over the world have been noticing a marked decline in bee colonies, including what has been termed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The cause or causes of this phenomenon have not been definitively discovered, however, there is a growing body of research that suggests that certain types of widely used commercial pesticides (known as neonicotinoids) may be at least partially responsible. The following film outlines the studies that have been done, and suggests some reasons why the growing body of evidence has as yet not resulted in more cautious behaviour from either industry or government bodies responsible for regulating the use of chemicals (here the Environmental Protection Agency).


It’s about bees, but it’s also about something bigger. It’s about the relationship between science and policy. What the interview subjects in the above film are suggesting is that the government body responsible for the regulation of chemicals allows for studies to be carried out by the industry producing the chemicals, allowing a very obvious bias into the process. This process in fact removes any impetus to find the products unsafe, particularly if any such evidence can be obscured. Since the policy is ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in the case of the pesticides, and the industries producing the pesticides are in charge of producing the evidence either of safety or dangerousness, the obvious impetus for industry is to simply obscure or discredit any studies that suggest a potential causal link between the pesticides and the harm (to bees in this case). They don’t have to prove it’s safe, all they have to do is effectively critique the studies of those trying to prove the causal relationship between the product and the harmful effects. This is an easy enough task because no experimental condition can be made to replicate the exact conditions in which the pesticides are used, so all experiments will be in some way only partially representative (see for example, DEFRA’s reasons for discrediting the studies: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/chemicals/pesticides/insecticides-bees/.) And secondly, in the non-experimental conditions of the actual use of pesticides, the disappearance of bees and CCD can be blamed on multiple causes or other causes, and the fact that there is no evidence to prove that allows industry and government to shift the blame without even pointing a finger. Cause unknown in this case means the pesticide producers can go ahead, assumed innocent until proven guilty, where the process of proving guilt is made extremely difficult.

Meanwhile, although the pesticides cannot be proven to be safe, because they can’t be proven to be necessarily the cause of the problem either, they continue to be allowed and are in very heavy and extensive use. If we were applying the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ idea to a person, where there was enough grounds to suspect a potential threat or danger (of massive public harm in this case), the usual procedure would be to hold the person away from that which they might harm until a thorough investigation is completed. In the case of the pesticides however, the investigation that needs to take place has not and is not taking place in the kind of impartial manner that it needs to be done in, and meanwhile the potentially harmful product is out there doing whatever damage it might be doing.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the UK, claims to have assessed the evidence on the relationship of neonicotinoid pesticides and bees and to have deemed it inconclusive due to not exactly emulating field conditions (http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/chemicals/pesticides/insecticides-bees/). Perhaps due to the public and media attention to the subject (for example: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/9257431/The-nerve-poison-harming-our-bees.html; and http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/no-ban-on-pesticides-that-threaten-bees-8114020.html) they also claim to be funding further studies looking into the exact relationships between the pesticides and bee colonies. One of their studies claims to be about the ‘normal’ levels of pesticide residue in bees, a depressing thought to begin with.

So, what are we left with. Well-meaning scientists are doing important work to try and produce research that is irrefutable, and to communicate this in such a way that it cannot be critiqued out of town. Meanwhile, the pesticide industry will no doubt be doing it’s best to attack the science and to produce other studies that meet its needs. For a comparable situation relating to the pharmaceuticals industry see the following report: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/sep/21/drugs-industry-scandal-ben-goldacre.

There are very obvious problems with the manufacturers of products being responsible for the research that proves the value, effectiveness, necessity and safety of those products. We like to think we have come a long way since the days of snake-oil peddling travelling salesmen, but have we really? We rely on government bodies to regulate industry and yet, such processes still fall so short of where we need to be. How do we start holding the government accountable for making possible and heeding independent research, even when the logical outcomes of that research mean that a lucrative and powerful industry will make less money? It’s a question that has bearing on not only whether the bees will continue to be, but whether and how our own lives and the lives of future generations will be.

*Update*: There is a petition on 38degrees related to this. Please sign and share: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/ban-the-pesticides-that-are-harming-our-bees#petition

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Reading/listenings/viewings for Autumn 2012

On October 11th several of us (Sam, Kelvin, Lotte, Carl, David, Yoann, and Katherine) met in the Arts Centre to discuss the schedule for the upcoming months. We agreed to continue meeting at the Arts Centre, in the quietest possible spot on the second floor to talk about the suggested items below.

6pm in the Arts Centre (quietest spot)

Thursday 25th October

Joe Dunthorne and Mosh Pit Society http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01m176r

Margrit Kennedy, Complementary Currencies http://margritkennedy.de/media/art_en_complementary_currencies_54.pdf

Thursday 22 November

Andy Merrifield, The Castle Within (Adbusters, copies from Kelvin)

David Harvey, Rebel Cities http://davidharvey.org/2012/05/video-rebel-cities-the-urbanization-of-class-struggle/

Thursday 13th December

Gill Seyfang & Alex Haxeltine

Growing grassroots innovations: exploring the role of community-based initiatives in governing sustainable energy transitions http://grassrootsinnovations.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/environ-plann-c-2012-seyfang.pdf

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Readings on Community (2011-12)

The Transitions Reading Group meets at the start of the academic year each to decide on readings, film clips, radio or other media items to look at and discuss during the course of the year. In the 2011-12 academic year, meetings took place in the Arts Centre on the last Friday of each month. A list of readings and other media that were discussed is included below.

Readings 2011 -12: COMMUNITY

Peters, Cynthia (2006) Kinship Vision. ZNet. Available at: http://www.zcommunications.org/kinship-vision-by-cynthia-peters

Solnit, Rebecca (2009) Falling Together (extract from A Paradise Built in Hell). Turbulencehttp://turbulence.org.uk/turbulence-5/falling-together/

Lezaun J, 2011, “Bees, beekeepers, and bureaucrats: parasitism and the politics of transgenic life”. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29(4) 738 – 756 [will be made available before meeting]

2012 (dates to be decided)

Jackson, Tim & Michael Peter (2008) Community Action: A force for social change? Some conceptual observations. RESOLVE Working Paper 01-08http://www3.surrey.ac.uk/resolve/Docs/WorkingPapers/RESOLVE_WP_01-08.pdf

Sonnenfeld David A.  & Arthur P.J. Mol(2011) Social theory and the environment in the new world (dis)order. Global Environmental ChangeVolume 21, Issue 3 pp 771 -775 [will be made available before meeting]

Jasanoff, S. (2010) ‘A New Climate For Society’. Theory Culture Study, 27(2-3), pp. 233-253. 775 [will be made available before meeting]

Albert, Michael (2009) Building a Society from Below. Available at http://www.zcommunications.org/michael-albert-julio-ch-vez-noam-chomsky-and-gregory-wilpert-speak-on-building-a-society-from-below-by-michael-albert

Sassen, Saskia & Natan Dotan (2011) ‘Delegating, not returning, to the biosphere: How to use the multi-scalar and ecological properties of cities’. Global Environmental ChangeVolume 21, Issue 3, pp 823-834 [will be made available before meeting]

Harvey, David (2008) The Right to the City. New Left Review. Available at http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2740

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New Blog!

Welcome to the Aberystwyth Transitions Reading Group Blog. We are an informal gathering of individuals who meet to talk about various inspiring bits of information, news, theory and thought and how they may be applied to creating a better world. This blog was started so that we could keep track of what we have read and discussed and potentially carry on our conversations in the blogosphere. The group is open to anyone with an interest. We meet at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre (though we may  decide on a new venue soon due to noise issues). We have a mailing list which helps arrange meetings and decide on what we’ll read, watch or listen to and talk about. If you are interested in joining in, please sign up using the link on the sidebar of the page.