Joseph explores the extent to which discourses about community suggest an antidote to or escape from capitalism’s depredations, while distracting us from the supplementary role that community actually serves with respect to capital, filling its gaps and smoothing over its rifts in ways that permit it to function untrammeled. The alternative presented by community allows the specter of socialism, or genuine state support for the needs of the public, to be dismissed. This relationship becomes particularly clear in Joseph’s discussion of the role of non-profit organizations — entities highly likely to participate in and benefit from the idealized discourse of community — which often fill needs left behind by a retreating state, allowing that retreat to go unchallenged.
— Kathleen Fitzpatrick in Community, Privatization, Efficiency
Also cross reference: Strategy and Solidarity
From the video at timecode [22:05]:
…raises the key question of what it is we mean when we talk about community?
As Miranda Joseph argues in Against the Romance of Community, the concept is often invoked as a place holder for something that exists outside the dominant economic and institutional structures of contemporary life. A set of estensibly organic felt relationships that harken back to a mythical pre-modern moment in which people lived and worked in direct connection with one another without the mediating forces of capitalism.
Now community is in this sense, in Benedict Anderson’s sense, an imagined relationship, and even an imaginary one. As its invocation is designed to yoke together bodies whose existence as a group is largely constructed. It’s a concept often used both idealistically and as a form of discipline.
A claim of unity that smoothes over and thus suppresses internal difference and disagreement. And as Joseph points out, the notion of community is often deployed as if the relationships that it describes could provide an antidote to or an escape from the problems created by contemporary political and economic life.
But this suggestion, serves to distract us, she says, from the supplementary role that community, in fact, actually serves with respect to capitalism. Sort of filling its gaps and smoothing over its flaws in ways that permit it to function without real opposition. So we call upon the community to support projects that the dominant institutions of the mainstream economy will not. And this is how we end up with social network-based fundraising campaigns to support people facing major health crises rather than demanding universal health care, and elementary school bake sales rather than full funding for education.
So community becomes, in this sense, an alibi for the creeping privatization of what should be social responsibilities.
Some interesting thought here with respect to economics, community, the commons, and education. While a large piece of the talk is about higher education, there are definitely some things that can be learned and used with respect to social media, and particularly the IndieWeb movement. I’d recommend everyone take a peek at it and think about how we can better deploy and give credit to some of our shared resources.