Salvage Redistribution

This will be a brief post because I have to run and attend a meeting this morning. Because of this meeting, I’ve been thinking a lot the last day or so about collaborative projects and what makes them “effective.” A lot of criteria are thrown around that I think are interesting, but coming from an at least quasi-materialist perspective, I’m not sure how relevant they are. Much of it involves changing perspectives – which I think might be great IF the perspectives you’re changing are those of the people who have power, make the decisions, and control the flows of resources. Changing the perspectives of anyone else is meaningless because their actions are far too constrained. Another oft-cited goal is “empowerment” but there is kind of a vague notion of what that actually means. The idea is that decision-making is done by the community, but lacking the material and social resources to implement the decision, I’m not sure how valuable decision-making ability is. So I’ve been thinking that the real measure of a collaborative project – or any project really – is whether or not it redirects flows of resources in a way that benefits communities (broadly defined). That made me think of Anna Tsing’s concept of salvage accumulation – the process whereby non-capitalist resources and values are translated into capitalist goods and then sometimes back into non-capitalist resources and values. It strikes me that maybe in this ruined landscape, we need an approach to salvage redistribution – a way of tapping, hacking, or mining the flow of capitalist value towards non-capitalist ends. It’s not a new idea, just a new term for one that’s been bouncing around for a while… Something to think with though.

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