Feminist Next System Literature Review

Julie Matthaei

Matthaei and the global network of Social and Solidarity Economy theorists and practitioners focus their work on pointing out and researching "solidarity economy" practices--or economic activity that, despite its place in global capitalism, contains and holds up "solidarity" values. Very much linked with J.K. Gibson Graham and other feminist economists, Matthaei sees hope in the ways in which all people, but especially women, prove that a new system is possible because it already exists (even if at the micro scale).

From the 2007 introduction to Solidarity Economy: Building Alternatives for People and Planet

The economy we have been waiting for is here! It has been growing up in our midst, pushing out of the cracks in our dysfunctional economic practices and institutions, and immigrating here via people, practices, and places once thought too marginal, too utopian, or too “underdeveloped” to matter. In this book, we share with you a wealth of new economic alternatives springing up in our country and around the world, and we invite you to become part of this courageous, creative, and diverse global movement to build a solidarity economy.

Our country’s emerging solidarity economy embodies wisdom earned through countless manifestos, meetings, demonstrations, and experiments with change. It is led by our country’s vibrant social movements – worker and anti-class, civil rights and anti-racist, feminist, welfare rights and anti-poverty, ecology, lesbian and gay liberation, disability, and peace movements – in connection and interaction with movements abroad. These movements have engaged millions of Americans in processes of individual and social transformation. They have taught us to recognize and overcome our prejudices; to become more whole and balanced; and to honor our bodies and the Earth. They have taught us to question the competitive consumerist “American dream” which denies us the well-being it promises, while destroying our planet. They have pointed out, each from their own lens, the many ways in which our economic practices and institutions must change if they are to truly embody the American ideals of equality, democracy, and freedom. In this way, our social movements have laid the groundwork for an epochal shift in our country, out of a paradigm based on polarization, hierarchy, competition, and domination, to one based instead on equality, democracy, freedom, and solidarity.
The turn of the millennium saw these social movements, which had cross-fertilized one another for decades in the U.S. and in the world, begin to come together in a global “movement of movements.” The first expressions of this movement of movements came together globally to express a resounding “no” to the current reigning neoliberal economic agenda. This agenda, driven by corporate greed – and epitomized in “free trade,” privatization, and the destruction of social safety nets – had been wreaking havoc on communities across the globe and on our planet itself (see Chapter 1). What Dr. King called the “fierce urgency of now” was further intensified by the impending climate change crisis. The Seattle 1999 demonstration against the World Trade Organization (WTO) – and the many similar demonstrations since then, at gatherings of the world economic powers – represent a dynamic convergence of social movements around this opposition to neoliberalism and corporate-run globalization.

Two years later in 2001, the first World Social Forum (WSF) was organized in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Its goal was to bring people and movements together, based on a shared Charter of Principles, to share visions and solutions, under the motto, “Another World is Possible.”The principles which unify the WSF include opposition to neoliberalism, commitment to nonviolence, and respect for Human Rights, the practices of real democracy, participatory democracy, peaceful relations, in equality and solidarity, among people, ethnicities, genders and peoples, and condemns all forms of domination and all subjection of one person by another. Unity around a shared commitment to these basic principles is accompanied by a commitment to valuing diversity. In conscious contrast with traditional leftist discourse, the WSF was organized according to the Zapatista saying, “Un solo no, un million de si” (One no, and a million yeses) – that is, to invite and showcase a diversity of opinions and strategies, and create conversations and linkages among them.

Anyone who agrees with the Social Forum principles and belongs to a social change group is welcome to attend, and the program is largely “self-organizing,” that is, created by the participants, who propose workshops via the Internet. The WSF was created to encourage civil society organizations around the world to introduce into the world dialogue “the change-inducing practices they are experimenting [with], in building a new world in solidarity.” The first forum drew an astounding 20,000 people from all over the world. Since then, World Social Forum meetings have been held almost annually, in Porto Alegre, Mumbai, Nairobi, and Caracas, drawing up to 155,000 people at a time. Other Social Forums, based in cities, regions, countries, or even in particular issues, have also sprung up like mushrooms – for example, there were 2,560 Social Forum activities in the world in 2005.

These Social Forums reflect the flowering of a new form of consciousness on a grass-roots level – and they, in turn, help educate, develop, and direct this new consciousness. It is a consciousness which stands in solidarity with all struggles for equality, democracy, sustainability, freedom, and justice, and seeks to inject these values into every aspect of our lives, including our economic lives. It is a consciousness which is locally rooted, but globally connected, involving what the WSF Charter calls “planetary citizenship.” It is a consciousness, a set of values, which has the power to transform our economy and society from the bottom up. This new consciousness is the heart and soul of the solidarity economy.

From her 2015 essay "Inequality to Solidarity: Co-Creating a New Economics for the 21st Century"

Capitalism represents a transitional stage between the old, inequality paradigm, and the emerging solidarity paradigm. The inequality paradigm has existed for millennia; capitalism emerged in the last three centuries, based on the affirmation of equality. Capitalism has generated four great, interconnected movements against the four main types of inequality created by the inequality paradigm: the anti-class movement, the anti-racist movement, the feminist movement, and the ecology movement. In our research, Barbara Brandt and I have identified seven distinct solidarity processes which shape each of these movements: questioning/envisioning, equal rights and opportunity, valuing the devalued, integrative, discernment, combining, and glocalizing. These solidarity processes occur within organized movements, as well as within peoples’ individual struggles for healing and selfactualization, and in family and friendship networks (including on Facebook!). These rich, multifaceted movements are deconstructing and transforming the inequality paradigm prison brick by brick, while creating the fertile soil of solidarity within which the new solidarity paradigm is emerging. 

From her 2016 essay "Beyond Hegemonic Economic Man: Economic Crisis, Feminist Economics, and the Solidarity Economy"

More research needs to be done by feminist economists to identify and analyze solidarity economy practices and institutions world-wide – especially those which are organized by women, or which destabilize or transform gender hierarchy and polarization. This involves searching out non-capitalist economic practices and institutions and analyzing them from a feminist, solidarity economy lens, as I have done above. Questions to be answered include a determination of whether they are “in” or “out” of the solidarity economy, and why; in what ways do they fall short in terms of feminist solidarity economy values and goals; and how can they be improved upon. This process is, in itself, valuable to feminist economics; as Jenny Cameron and J.K. Gibson-Graham put it, such a discourse “open(s) up a myriad of ethical debates in all nooks and crannies of the diverse economy about the kinds of worlds we as feminists would like to build” (2003, 20).

Another important role for feminist economists is to analyze practices and institutions which are viewed by others as part of the solidarity economy with a feminist lens. How do they affect women? What is their impact on gender polarization and hierarchy? How do they address feminist concerns such as gender inequality, provisioning, and the valuation of caring labor? How could they be improved on, from a feminist perspective? What other “best feminist practices” could they adopt?

As the solidarity economy continues to grow in the context of the current interconnected crises, it is crucial that feminist economists be present to counteract masculinist tendencies in the solidarity economy movement and critique male domination of solidarity economy institutions. In these ways, feminist economists can participate in the feminist project of constructing an economy that moves beyond hegemonic economic man, towards one whose core agenda is the liberation – not only of women, but of all people -- from the oppressive class, race, gender, and man/nature hierarchical polarizations which are at the heart of neoliberal capitalism. 

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