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Everything written by Michel Bauwens

Video: Primavera De Filippi on Ethereum

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Michel Bauwens
23rd July 2014


Very clear explanation on the potential of distributed governance through the bitcoin protocol, the good and the bad:

“Ethereum is a contract validating and enforcing system based on a distributed public ledger such as the one implemented by the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. The system allows for the management of complex distributed autonomous organizations, which raises questions about legality. Could this new platform promote the establishment of an entirely decentralized society, or will its disruptive potential eventually be absorbed by the established system? In this talk Primavera De Filippi — Berkman fellow and postdoctoral researcher at the CERSA/CNRS/Université Paris II — explores the dangers and opportunities of Ethereum.”

Watch the video here:

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Posted in P2P Governance, Videos | No Comments »

Towards A Commons Approach for Developing Infrastructure

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Michel Bauwens
23rd July 2014


* Essay: Sharing Design Rights: A Commons Approach for Developing Infrastructure. by Nuno Gil and Carliss Y. Baldwin

From the Executive Summary:

“Traditionally, a commons is a natural resource that gives rise to the problem of collective action: Individuals who act alone without consideration for others will arrive at outcomes that are bad for all. Pioneering research by Elinor Ostrom, a scholar of economic governance, has revealed that the claimants to a common pool resource are sometimes able to organize themselves to manage the commons on a day-today basis and to adapt to changing circumstances. In this paper, the authors study the dynamics of a commons organization: In 2006-2007, the Manchester City Council created a commons organization to design a number of new school buildings. The Council had broad decision rights over school design and construction, but rather than delegating those rights to its own staff or to a joint venture, as were the typical practices, the Council gave each school co-equal rights to approve the design so that no building project could go forward unless signed off by both the school and the Council staff. As such, the Council converted the decision-making process from a controlled, centralized style to a commons-based approach. Using the principles of Ostrom’s commons theory the authors show that, overall, the commons form of organizing brought with it concomitant risk. This risk, however, was significantly lessened through the creation of a robust commons organization.

Key concepts include:

This study uses design theory to explain why the design process for school buildings can be viewed as a common pool resource, and explain what constitutes “tragedy of the commons” in this context.

* Sensible actions in terms of defining boundaries, making benefits proportionate to costs, and deferring to local rule-making can increase the robustness of the commons and increase its chances of success.

* A design commons organization should be considered as a potentially advantageous alternative to other ways of organizing design production processes.

* However, a design commons organization might not necessarily be the best approach to resolve design production problems in all environments.”

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Posted in Commons, Open Hardware and Design | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: A Critique of Posthumanism and Transhumanism

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Michel Bauwens
23rd July 2014


* Article: Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains. By Dale Carrico. Existenz 8/2 (2013), 47-63

From the Abstract:

“Seven basic distinctions seem to me key to grasping futurology as both a discursive and a sub-cultural phenomenon:

(1) technologies and technology: the actual constellation of artifacts and techniques in the diversity of their stakes and specificities as against technology as a de-politicizing myth disavowing these specificities;

(2) progress and destiny: techno-developmental social struggles in the service of avowed political ends in a material historical frame as against a paradoxical naturalization of progress into destiny, autonomy, convergence, and/or accelerationalist momentum;

(3) mainstream futurology and superlative futurism: hyperbolic techno-fixated norms and forms that suffuse popular marketing, promotional, consumer discourses as well as neoliberal administrative, developmentalist discourses as against the futurist amplification of this speculativeness, reductiveness, and hyperbole into faith-based, techno-transcendental, putatively scientific but in fact pseudo-scientific, quasi-theological aspirations toward superintelligence, supercapacitation and superabundance;

(4) superlativity and supernativity: posthuman/ transhuman against bioconservative/naturalizing futurisms, highlighting continuities and inter-dependencies of the two, as distinguished in turn from legible democratizing technodevelopmental social struggle, consensus science and sustainable public investment;

(5) posthumanism and transhumanism: post-humanisms as variations of superlative futurology against post-humanisms as variations of the critique of humanism, amounting to a distinction of moralizing prevalence as against ethical reconciliation;

(6) futurist discourses and subcultures: material differences in the objects and archives of discursive as against subcultural formations;

(7) futurity and The Future: distinguishing between the political openness inhering in the present in the presence of ineradicable stakeholder diversity as against instrumentalizing projections of parochial fears, fantasies, and stakes that would disavow and so foreclose futurity.”

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Posted in P2P Movements, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Various Dimensions of the Concept of Common Good

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Michel Bauwens
22nd July 2014


Excerpted from François Houtart:

“The notion of Common Good has known lately a new interest. For some it is the renewal of an old idea and the opportunity of giving to conservative forces of society the appearance of a modern approach. For others it is a way of coming out of a stereotyped vocabulary used by revolutionary movements and to propose a more acceptable way of expression. It may also be related with a radical criticism of the concept of modernity transmitted by capitalism and not challenged by real socialism. In order to develop this late conception, it is important to indicate three levels of its semantic utilization: Common Goods, Common Good and Common Good of Humanity.

The struggle for Common Goods is related with the history of capitalism. In England, the “enclosure” of the common lands has been one of the main origins of the capitalist system. To reduce the “commons” and to transform them in private property was the beginning of a process of accumulation. Common lands were considered as wasted lands. Land reforms like the ones of China and Vietnam have restored this notion, with the socialization of land.

Today, neo-liberalism all over the world has reduced the social conquests of more than a century, among them the organization of public services, social security and popular education, creating new forms of poverty. Struggles to restrain such a trend and to reorganize areas of solidarity, have been developed among social movements: labour, peasants, women, indigenous peoples. In Latin America post-neoliberal governments have reestablished or increased programmes against poverty, better access to health and education, social insurances, development of formal labour, public investments.

One aspect of the action has been the claim for a universal allowance. However two main philosophies are at the base of such a proposal. The first one is individualistic: the right of any individual too chose to work or not to work and still to exist. It is sometimes backed by a modern capitalism, understanding that the reduction of poverty is an efficient way of increasing the base of the market and that too big social distances are dangerous for the social order. Hence the notion of equity developed by John Rawls. The second one has a social approach, based on solidarity and aiming at reducing the inequalities, in order to promote the capacities of all human beings to contribute to general well being. This perspective is not compatible with an economic system giving priority to the exchange value aimed at capital accumulation and acting in the short time. On the contrary, it is based on the priority of use value, which includes other aspects than the market profit and adopts a long term vision for the relations between human beings and nature (equilibrium of metabolism). The second dimension is the idea of Common Good. Developed already by Aristotle, it covers all what is necessary for the collective live of a society: norms of common living and social behaviours, inter-communication, public spaces, peace and security, harmony, all what transcends the purely individual interests.

Thomas of Aquino, influenced by the Greek philosopher, made of the concept of Common Good the base of the social ethics for Christians living at the turn of the medieval societies and at the early beginning of market’s urban economies. It became the backbone of the Social Doctrine of most of the Christian Churches, especially in the Catholic Church, with Leo XIII (neo-thomism). This appeared as a good answer to socialism and even more to marxism, while still condemning the injustices of the capitalist economy (“salvage capitalism” as qualified by John Paul II). Indeed the achievement of Common Good was envisaged on a moral base, thanks to the collaboration of all social groups.

Such a position allowed an analysis of the capitalist societies, not in terms of social classes structurally linked by contradictory interests, but in terms of social strata called to build together the society. It had the advantage of negating the notion of class struggle, as a tool of analysis and as a means of action and it confirmed the role of the Church as a moral instance. Politically it bought about Christian Democracy. In the present situation of crisis, the concept of Common Good has known a new life. It is used by the struggles to restore public services. It became part of the discourse of neo-keynesians rightly afraid of the consequences of the economic turmoil. Post-neoliberal Governments in Latin America use the word to justify their political practices. International organizations like UNCTAD speak about “global common good”. Surely there is nothing wrong in emphasizing this concept, and in a short time it may be useful to alleviate the fate of million of people. However it should not serve as an argument to reproduce the existing economic system, with some improvements.

This is why the notion of Common Good of Humanity (Birgit Daiber and François Houtart, A postcapitalist paradigm: the Common Good of Humanity, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Brussels, 2012) is proposed as a new paradigm (fundamental orientation) of the collective life of Humanity on the planet. It means the possibility of creating, reproducing and bettering life on earth. This is proposed not in an idealistic platonic view, neither in the tradition of utopian socialism, but in response to a system destructing the earth and having adopted a sacrificial economy able to eliminate entire social groups in name of progress. It is a radical critic of the kind of modernity transmitted by the logic of the market and not completely abandoned by the socialist experiences.

Concretely, it means to transform the four ”fundamentals” of any society: relations with nature; production of the material base of all life, physical, cultural, spiritual; collective social and political organization and culture. For the first one the transformation means to pass from the exploitation of nature as a natural resource (merchandize) to the respect of nature as the source of life. For the second one: to privilege use value rather than exchange value, with all the consequences on the concept of property. The third one implies the generalization of democratic practices in all social relations and all institutions and finally interculturality means to put an end to the hegemony of Western culture for the reading of the reality and the construction of the social ethics. Elements of this new paradigm, post-capitalist, are already present all over the world, in many social movements and popular initiatives. Theoretical developments are also produced. So, it is not a “utopian vision” in the pejorative sense of the word. But an aim is necessary to organize the convergences of action. It is a long term process which will ask the adoption of transitions, facing the strength of an economic system ready to destroy the world before disappearing. It means also that the structural concept of class struggle is not antiquated (fiscal heavens and bank secrecy are some of its instruments). Social protests, resistances, building of new experiences are sources of real hope.

The concept of Common Good of Humanity is not in opposition to the notions of Common Goods or of Common Good. It helps to give an orientation to the concrete actions of both of them and therefore it adds a meaning and a coherence for a fundamental transformation.”

Source: the Common Good mailing list, March 2014

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Posted in Commons, Ethical Economy, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Information Machine and the Society of Metadata

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Michel Bauwens
21st July 2014


* Article: Italian Operaismo and the Information Machine. By Matteo Pasquinelli. Theory, Culture & Society February 2, 2014

From the Abstract:

“The political economy of the information machine is discussed within the Marxist tradition of Italian operaismo by posing the hypothesis of an informational turn already at work in the age of the industrial revolution. The idea of valorizing information introduced by Alquati (1963) in a pioneering Marxist approach to cybernetics is used to examine the paradigms of mass intellectuality, immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism developed by Lazzarato, Marazzi, Negri, Vercellone and Virno since the 1990s. The concept of machinic by Deleuze and Guattari (1972, 1980) is then adopted to extend Marx’s analysis of the industrial machine to the algorithms of digital machines. If the industrial machine can be described as a bifurcation of the domains of energy and information, this essay proposes to conceive the information machine itself as a further bifurcation between information and metadata. In conclusion, the hypothesis of the society of metadata is outlined as the current evolution of that society of control pictured by Deleuze (1990) in relation to the power embodied in databases.”

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Posted in Cognitive Capitalism, Economy and Business, Featured Essay, P2P Movements | No Comments »

Douglas Rushkoff on why we need a ‘Slow Science’.

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Michel Bauwens
20th July 2014


Republished with the permission of the author from: TECHNOLOGIST 01 JUN 23, 2014

Scientists have to keep their distance from the growing impatience of the modern world, says Douglas Rushkoff.

Douglas Rushkoff:

“If you get run over by a car or crack the containment shell around a nuclear reactor, you would most definitely want to avail yourself of the best that science has to offer. When your child gets a staph infection, it’s time for an antibiotic. When an oil tanker hits an iceberg and starts hemorrhaging, it’s time to call in the petroleum engineers.

That’s because scientists, as well as most of the technologies that arise from their research, are optimised for crisis. But is science as well positioned to prevent such calamities in the first place? Not with its current biases, I’m afraid.

Rather, I believe our scientific community is suffering from a symptom of what I have been calling “present shock” – the understandable but often self-defeating impulse to focus on what is happening right now, at the expense of everything else.

In finance, it takes the form of ultra-fast trading, which favours short-term extraction over long-term investment – ultimately robbing markets of their vitality. In digital media, it’s smartphones that interrupt us with trivial news, distracting us from our real work and relationships.

And for science, it’s an emphasis on obvious fixes to calamity, rather than long-term approaches to prevention. So in medicine, for example, we have developed some terrific chemotherapies for cancer, while refusing to grant serious attention to the role of nutrition, herbs or, dare I even mention them, chiropractic and homeopathy on a patient’s wellness. The real abhorrence of such modalities may have less to do with unscientific foundations than with their paucity of dramatic results. A patient population that is less likely to contract cancer or diabetes may be a statistical victory, but it’s hardly as dramatic as a cure.

It’s also less business friendly, which may be a contributing factor to this focus on crisis management. Sciences of prevention are often more time-consuming but less expensive or even unpatentable. Who is going to profit from the discovery that increasing one’s exposure to daylight reduces depression, or that limiting weeks doing “shift” work can reduce rates of cancer? SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are a more lucrative form of depression management than probiotics, and recombinant DNA therapy costs far more than writing up a new work schedule.

It’s just that the expensive approaches tend to work only after the fact. After all, only those already in a major crisis are willing to spend that sort of money. Thus, science comes to the rescue of a global topsoil depletion crisis, itself created by short-sighted application of science to agriculture. Ancient practices such as crop rotation, biodynamics or permaculture farming were deemed unscientific – even though they were developed over centuries of real world testing. Supposedly scientific synthetic fertilisers and mechanical soil management had no long-term studies before they were implemented.

Even when mainstream science takes the long view, as it has almost unanimously done over climate change, this only happens when there is a glaring crisis on the horizon. Dependence on apocalyptic thinking is one of the most destructive forms of present shock, and it’s the result of an intolerance for situations with no clear outcome, no winner or loser, no final “result”. It makes people and institutions almost constitutionally incapable of contending with chronic problems, adopting sustainable approaches, or even seeing sustenance as a victory in itself.

Unlike businesses and politicians, who have been forced by an always-on media to react to every bump in the road, science must take the long view. By engaging this discipline, science – as well as the technologies it inspires – stands a chance of reclaiming its place as a deliberate inquiry, capable of helping us avoid crises instead of just fixing them.”

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Posted in P2P Science | No Comments »

How the Iron Law of Oligarchy Extends to Peer Production

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Michel Bauwens
20th July 2014


I haven’t read this essay yet, but it is obviously crucial for a understanding of the real impact of peer production:

* Paper: Laboratories of Oligarchy? How the Iron Law Extends to Peer Production. By Aaron Shaw, Benjamin Mako Hill. Computers and Society (cs.CY); Social and Information Networks (cs.SI); Report number: ci-2014/96

Abstract

“Peer production projects like Wikipedia have inspired voluntary associations, collectives, social movements, and scholars to embrace open online collaboration as a model of democratic organization. However, many peer production projects exhibit entrenched leadership and deep inequalities, suggesting that they may not fulfill democratic ideals. Instead, peer production projects may conform to Robert Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy,” which proposes that democratic membership organizations become increasingly oligarchic as they grow. Using exhaustive data of internal processes from a sample of 683 wikis, we construct empirical measures of participation and test for increases in oligarchy associated with growth. In contrast to previous studies, we find support for Michels’ iron law and conclude that peer production entails oligarchic organizational forms.”

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Posted in P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Theory, Peer Production | 2 Comments »

Movement of the Day: the Network IT labor network in Germany

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Michel Bauwens
19th July 2014


Network IT (Netzwerk IT) is a platform for the employed and unemployed in Germany :

“Netzwerk IT, or, Network IT, to use its English name, is a platform for the employed and unemployed.

Individuals, groups of employees and campaigns can communicate with each other, organise in the workplace and network with each other.

Network IT has two principles: helping people to help themselves and openness. Helping people to help themselves assumes that people are not stupid.

Workmates know very well what they need. However, they are often isolated and do not believe that they can change things. Openness for us means in particular that we do not exclude anyone. We cannot stop at national borders when companies are globalising themselves. Undercutting each other only results in everyone losing out.

Network IT is not a trade union and does not want to become one. A union is based on representation. One elects representatives who then manage everything for you. The worker then withdraws from the company or political arena and usually becomes passive except in the case of wage negotiations or other particular events. The same is true of the workers’ legal representation in Europe, the works council.

Whether it is necessary to also work in the unions or works councils can be decided on an individual basis. The question is always whether such positions help or are detrimental to the basic principles of helping people to help themselves and openness.”

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Posted in Featured Movement, P2P Labor, P2P Movements | No Comments »

The real makers and takers are not those that you think

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Michel Bauwens
18th July 2014


Excerpted from Kevin Carson:

“The higher your income, in fact, the more likely you’re a taker who’s — all together now! — dependent on government.

It’s possible to get moderately wealthy — say, an income that qualifies you for the “top 1%,” which is somewhere under $400,000, or assets in the low millions — through genuine entrepreneurship. Even at this level, of course, it’s more likely you have an income heavily inflated by membership in a licensing cartel, or help manage a highly authoritarian, statist corporation where your “productivity” — and bonuses — are defined by how effectively you shaft the people whose skills, relationships and other human capital are actually responsible for the organization’s productivity. But it’s at least possible to get this rich by being a maker of sorts, by being more adept than others at anticipating and meeting real human needs.

But you don’t get to be super-rich — to the tune of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars — by making stuff. You get that filthy rich only through crime of one sort or another (even if it’s technically perfectly legal in this society). You get the really big-time money not by making stuff or doing stuff, but by controlling the conditions under which other people are allowed to make stuff and do stuff. You get super-rich by getting into a position where you can fence off opportunities to produce, enclosing those natural opportunities as a source of rent. You do it by collecting tolls and tribute from those who actually make stuff, as a condition of not preventing them from doing so. In other words you get super-rich by being a parasite and extorting protection money from productive members of society, with the help of government.

So don’t be fooled by the fact that some of us aren’t paying any income taxes. We pay lots of taxes — to rich takers who live off our largesse. The portion of your rent or mortgage that results from the enormous tracts of vacant and unimproved land held out of use through artificial property rights is a tax to the landlord. The 95% of the price of drugs under patent, or Bill Gates’s software, is a tax you pay to the owners of “intellectual property” monopolies. So is the portion of the price you pay for manufactured goods, over and above actual materials and labor, that results from embedded rents on patents and enormous brand-name markups on (for example) Nike sneakers over and above the few bucks a pair the sweatshops contract to make them for. So is the estimated 20% oligopoly price markup for industries where a few corporations control half or more of output. If by chance you do pay federal income tax, half of it goes to support the current military establishment or pay off debt from past wars — wars fought for the sake of giant corporations.”

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Posted in P2P Hierarchy Theory | 1 Comment »

Harvest, a novel of enclosure

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Michel Bauwens
18th July 2014


Harvest is located in a remote valley in England ‘around Shakespeare’s time’ , the late Tudor period when the medieval commons were facing the first great wave of enclosures. We are not certain where the village is exactly, but what we do get to know in great detail is all its specificity – its daily life, its lanes and barns, its middens and its pillories, and above all its soils and seasons.

Reviewed by Robin Murray (19-6-14):

“The scientist Brian Goodwin, reflecting on the evolutionary functions of play, suggested that one of its functions is to introduce disorder into entropied order. In animals, including humans, play is a central part of the generative process. The chaos of play is followed by the emergence of a modified order.

Reading novels is one form of play – in the imagination. The English novelist Jim Crace talks about his writing in this way. He is fiercely political but his attempts to write political novels turned out to be dead on the page. Instead, provoked by reading Marquez, he found himself making things up, giving himself up to his imagination,. Marquez he thought did it too easily. His 17 year old slf thought his work no more than bourgeois fantasy. But then he found that this very kind of fabulation is what freed him up.

Crace’s novels are located in imagined pasts, futures and places – at the end of the stone age, two centuries in the future, in the Palestinian wilderness at the time of Jesus. They are all intentional displacements, but only – he insists – so that they can address contemporary issues freely, allusively, and with an unconstrained imagination. Crace, who grew up on a working class housing estate in North London, has socialism running through him in his deep veins. But he has found that he can only approach the great political issues of today in the refracted form of dislocated imaginative play.

All this is relevant to his latest novel about the commons and their enclosure. Harvest is located in a remote valley in England ‘around Shakespeare’s time’ , the late Tudor period when the medieval commons were facing the first great wave of enclosures. We are not certain where the village is exactly, but what we do get to know in great detail is all its specificity – its daily life, its lanes and barns, its middens and its pillories, and above all its soils and seasons. The land is largely farmed in common, rather than commonly distributed private plots, (as was the dominant form in the Russian mir) and the produce that is not retained by the lord of the manor, is distributed according to need.

The reader interested in the exact forms of ownership is intentionally diverted. It is not clear what the terms of ownership of the village are – merely that the lord of the manor, a widower living in the manor house, whose barns are used for storage, has rights which he somehow delegates to the 20 families of the village. What we are shown, however, is the character of communal life and its structures of feeling. There is an annual beating of the bounds of the village, when the children are made to eat mouthfuls of the grass as the fruit of the soil on which they all depend. There is the process of communal scything, the stooking, and the threshing. There are the arrangements for sharing out the tasks of removing the night soil to the village cess pit and so on.

Only the gleaning provides the chance for the villagers to gather their own grain directly, but according to strict Ostrom like rules on priority. There are other Ostrom elements including village assemblies, the annual raising of common issues of concern, and the public settlement of individual differences. Crace has not read Ostrom (nor would he want to – it would make these arrangements too specific). But what he does is to create an imagined community where Ostrom’s rules of success would comfortably sit (even if the customary rules were interpreted and enforced by the manor’s lord).

On my initial reading I thought this an idealized pictures of the commons, with its collaborative ploughing, sowing and reaping, its collective routines, its harvest celebrations and other rituals. Aside from each households geese, hens and pigs, it lacked the individual usage rights that characterized much medieval communal agriculture. But on second reading I see that our communal economist’s eyes are looking for too much specificity – it is the looseness that Crace wants to preserve, not historical accuracy, so that this example – in 16th century England – can stand in for commons everywhere.

There are, too, many aspects of Crace’s communal life which have a dark side. Three of its young men set fire to a large puffball to frighten the doves in the village barn, which burns it down, hay, grain and all. Some know the culprits but keep quiet, and instead the village collectively projects the deed onto three strangers (themselves exiles from a neighbouring process of enclosure) who have settled in a mud-and-reed hut nearby. The consequences of this unjust projection provide the narrative spine for the novel – and are one aspects of the tension, the light and shadow, that runs through much of Crace’s writing (racism being one of common themes). There are other downsides as well – inbreeding, a closure of perspectives, the limits of imagination beyond the winning of the day’s food and the night’s companionship.

Into all this steps the encloser. He is a cousin of the manor’s lord, who has inherited the rights via the lord’s dead wife. He comes with the ruthlessness of the soya barons of today (in Harvest’s case sheep) and with the language we know so well of ‘productivity’ and ‘progress’. We wait for the villagers (who outnumber the new master and his retinue by 10:1 and who are scandalized like the reader by the brutality of the new project and its rape driven process) to rise up against the intruders. That would have been the course of a rural Germinal, or those socialist realist novels of the last century. But instead of voice and action, the villagers choose exit, family by family, on foot and oxen cart, fleeing to join the growing pauperized class of late Elizabethan England. What is left is not a new beginning but an old destruction, a tabula rasa, which the new rural capitalism will map according to its calculus, with fences replacing forests and the common fields and with a shepherd and a priest in place of sixty commoners.

Interviewed about this book, Crace said that enclosures and displacements of this kind are taking place every minute, in the Amazon, in Indonesia, in the areas of peasant farming whose land is being appropriated by the agro industrialists. He insists he is an optimist in the face of these forces. This is not evident in Harvest. I suspect Crace would say that a shallow optimism cannot guide his writing. Rather the narrative has its own force, its own drive, through the palaces of the imagination. In a post modern novel we might be offered alternatives ways out. Crace, the storyteller, is concerned rather that we follow him into the ways in.”

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