Collaborative Networks and the P2P Model in Brazil (2): Rio’s fought-over p2p economy

The idea of ‘life economics’ has a growing influence in Brazil thanks to a variety of experiences. Besides the discussion of a ‘universal minimal wage’ as the horizon of new struggles for the cognitive precariat, we could point to the experience of complementary currencies, social and community currencies, and the notion of co- operatives and the economy of solidarity, among other ways of empowering the autonomy of collectives and the invention of worlds.

This is the second part of a must read essay by Ivana Bentes on the p2p economy in the favellas of Brazil:

* Article: Ivana Bentes (2013) Collaborative Networks and the Productive Precariat, Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies: Travesia, 22:1, 27-40, DOI: 10.1080/13569325.2013.779234

Ivana Bentes continues:

“These changes are highly visible in a city like Rio de Janeiro, a territory in dispute. The city, which has always been a meta-narrative for Brazil, is currently undergoing profound transformations that place it at the centre of cognitive, affective and communicational Capitalism 2.0.

Rio, the ‘beta-global city’, is at the centre of a symbolic conflict – the transition from a Fordist and developmentalist place into a global periphery where the margins are advancing towards the centre, a place that needs to reinvent itself and overcome its scarcities and negative aspects (poverty, violence, metropolitan crisis). Two symbolic mega-operators are key players in this new carioca imaginary: CUFA/Central Unica das Favelas [Unified Central of Favelas ], which has a broad network in activity throughout Brazil, and the group AfroReggae.

These organisations are successful symbolic transmutations of the city, bringing to the negotiating table former drug dealers, the police, the government, bankers, the media and the university. With strategies at once intuitive and paradoxical, they represent transitional experiences that shun the ‘movement’ of drug trafficking culture in the slums and become social and cultural movements that point to a new form of ‘social corporation’ while hacking the socio-cultural discourse of big enterprises, government and media. They may occasionally be used by corporations but proceed through invention, hits and misses, creating possibilities for the appearance of new social actors and movements. Pejoratively called ‘King ONGs’ (a wordplay on the Portuguese acronym for NGOs), CUFA and AfroReggae are the most visible examples of a subjective mutation that is spreading through hundreds of collectives, cultural centres, production agencies, favela observatories, DJs, cultural agitators and many other subjects of a discourse that is now seizing the city.

In cities like Rio the favelas are emerging as ‘symbolic capital’, as ‘wealth’, as ‘commodities’. They are no longer the place of ‘excluded’ non-subjects, as in some imaginaries and discourses, but rather a cyber-periphery, a place of ‘wealth in poverty’ fought over by Nike, Globo Network Television and the State – a transformation of these interconnected urban quilombos (1) into laboratories for subjective production. The black flesh of the favelas, the potent and desiring bodies, the co-operation without hierarchy, the invention of other times and spaces (on the streets, in dancehalls, LAN centres and rooftops) are all subjected to forms of appropriation, just like anything else in capitalism. However, the favelas are no longer ‘poverty factories’ but rather a form of capital in the market of symbolic national and local values, having been able to convert the most hostile forces (poverty, violence, state of emergency) into a process of creation and cultural invention.

Rio de Janeiro is a thermometer for the difficult and paradoxical task of calibrating post-Lula euphoria. Lula (2) is the president-Macunaíma that boosted the power and potential of the peripheries and, with the insertion of Brazil into a global symbolic arena and the core of cognitive capitalism, gave rise to ‘people managers’ – the managers of subjectivity that invest and monetise the potential of the favelas and peripheries, opening them up for tourism, corporations, banks, consumption and agents of the ‘creative economy’.

The construction of this common other, the rejection of the war against the poor (evictions, criminalisation, repression) and the strength of the peripheries are all growing tendencies. Cultural phenomena emerge, such as kids from the peripheries reinventing themselves as dancers, channelling all their energy and intensity into contests held on rooftops, alleys and favela squares, creating outrageous choreographies for the ‘Battle of Passinho’(3) using steps learned on the streets or viewed in YouTube posts.

We are thus witnessing a resignification of values whenever we hear a funk song composed and sung by women that transforms the pejorative discourse of ‘bitches’ and ‘popuzudas’ (4) into a neo-feminist affirmation of body ownership and libertarian sexual behaviour. This change in sexual behaviour can also be perceived among periphery boys. The musical group Os Hawaianos, for instance, is formed by blond-black boys (5) who sway their hips all the way down to the floor, invent slangs and create a peculiar mode of being in the world – a Brazilian popular intelligence that reinvents anthropophagi, a Cannibal- Brazil version 2.0, both local and global, drafting a new ‘Brazilian atlas’: a becoming- world of Brazil and, simultaneously, a becoming-Brazil of the world.
Once we understand that favelas are part of the city, we can also understand that they are historical formations and will eventually be deemed similar to Middle Age citadels – archives and living environments of a phase of capitalism. These lives- territories are exploding beyond their boundaries and might one day overtake the entire city with their inventions: a Favela-City. As AfroReggae founder Jose ? Ju ?nior says ‘it is the elite which is living in a ghetto’.

Rio de Janeiro (as well as other major cities in Brazil) is fought over. The city is being struggled over by drug traffickers, by the State that attempts to recover territories lost to drug gangs by means of UPPs/Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora [Pacifying Police Units], by militias (paramilitary forces that ‘sell’ services and protection), and by real estate speculators bent on ‘removing’ residents from coveted tourist areas within the city. The city is also a site of struggle for a number of corporations on the eve of two gigantic world events that will take place in Rio and Brazil: the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. These events have been used to promote a violent redesign and re-ordering of the urban landscape, triggering real estate speculation, the removal of impoverished populations from areas within the tourist belt and a series of re-modelings of favelas and poor neighbourhoods.

* Free formation in flux

Within this context, lines of flight and resistance involve an articulation of the edges, of social and cultural movements that are linked through common causes and cultural production, struggling for a space in the media and in public opinion, constructing new narratives around territories and cities. Many of these ongoing initiatives and experiences create their own formative methodology: free media, Grioˆ pedagogy, quilombola pedagogy, processes of technological appropriation by popular and traditional cultures (native Indians, ribeirinhos, caboclos, etc.), production of knowledge born in the Brazilian ‘fringes’ and peripheries – all pointing to the emergence of a digital popular culture, part of a broader mutation where culture becomes central in the production of knowledge and in the construction of a new economy.

These formative processes result from activities and practices in a variety of fields (audio-visual media, theatre, dance, music, multimedia), connecting and inextricably linking the lives and labours of these formative agents. Such effervescence and diversity can be found in the program Cultura Viva, sponsored by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture, with its pioneering approach that considers these new arrangements as part of public policy: a living culture, a living economy that offers visibility, and points to the innovative potential of these processes, broadening the very concept of culture used in public policy, stretching it beyond the so-called ‘cultural industry’, with an anthropological perspective that includes the way of being of the most diverse groups.
Among these cultural dynamics we must stress new educational processes. What is the role of education and training in a society where the technological devices for creation, production and distribution are characterised by free, open and strong collaborative dynamics based in direct action? What if they challenge the classic mediating structure of schools, universities, teachers and authorisers of knowledge?

In the transition from a Fordist to a post-Fordist capitalism (immaterial, cognitive, communicational), the processes of cultural production demand new models of knowledge production, experiences of free education, life experiences, life-languages that can explode the ‘factory’. The new cycle of production found in music and audio- visual media, the advances in free media, the crisis of recording and publishing companies, the crisis of intermediary agents and go-betweens, and the crisis of the copyright mentality, all require a new educational approach.

The factory/Matrix comes to be deregulated. The strict separation of knowledge and disciplines that reflected the industrial model of the 19th century – an assembly line with isolated and independent sectors – has become obsolete yet is still active: a fabrication by mean of discipline and control of ‘docile bodies’. Seen as spaces of ‘imprisonment’ (whether real or virtual) that exert power over life, it is hard not to place the traditional School within the same disciplinary paradigm that ruled factories- hospitals-prisons (as Michel Foucault has pointed out) or in the same model of life control, subjectification of bodies and production of desire that characterise ‘biopower’ (power over life).

* Life-work-education-expression

The contemporary issue is that the whole of society has become educational. Cities and networks are themselves the cognitive environment. The city, says Antonio Negri, is the new ‘factory’. The time of work is intermingled with the time of life. Work is no longer dead and characterised by automaticity but rather a living ‘life-work’. In this context, the School should no longer prepare for life, but become life itself. Thus, we see the booming of initiatives in non-formal education, free schools and universities, a demand for education and training in Pontos de Cultura and Pontos de M?dia, with autonomy and freedom as principles for a revolution/mutation in flux that is already under way.

The challenge is to recognise and make visible this potential, responding to the demand for education made by collectives, communities and different types of organisation, with their own dynamics and processes – experimenting with and systematising new forms of visibility, sharing and certification of knowledge.

* Cultural circuit and social movement

In this sense, one should also point to the educational experience of Circuito Fora do Eixo, which mobilises a network of collectives involving some 3000 young people all over Brazil and has created its own Universidade Fora do Eixo (UniFdE) – an open and fluid educational process that offers a sharing and systematising of its methodologies: immersion, life experiences, observatories, workshops, online programs of TV and post-TV, manuals, caravans of cars and buses that cover the country’s territory, etc. With a long experience of free media and virtual activism, Fora do Eixo has become a reference point when it comes to turning the precariousness, fragmentation and atomisation of collectives into an integrated and de-centralised circuit sustained by a cultural and economic distributive network.

It is a singular and successful proposal for simultaneity in the processes of realisation, experimentation and education, where all the actions in the circuit become potential methodologies of free education to be shared and replicated. This involves different strategies of sustainability having the assets of the circuit (free time, work force, mastery of mediatic languages and multimedia narratives) at their core. By fostering and organizing territorial and virtual circuits (of music, audiovisual arts, stage performances, networks of political formation), by creating shared life experiences and spaces of communal interaction, by creating currencies and time banks (a living economy), the experiences of Fora do Eixo move beyond the boundaries between life/education and life/work in an experimental tangent where everything is a ‘laboratory’, everything is education. The educational process, its mapping and systematisation, does not ‘prepare’ for life: it is life experimenting and empowering itself.

* Life economics

The idea of ‘life economics’ has a growing influence in Brazil thanks to a variety of experiences. Besides the discussion of a ‘universal minimal wage’ as the horizon of new struggles for the cognitive precariat, we could point to the experience of complementary currencies, social and community currencies, and the notion of co- operatives and the economy of solidarity, among other ways of empowering the autonomy of collectives and the invention of worlds. Once again we might select just one of these inspiring experiences: the Caixa Coletivo (or Banco do Comum) devised by Fora do Eixo. Here some 3000 young people from large and small cities throughout Brazil have channelled their time and lives into a common project, with a collective ‘kitty’ that pays for their food, clothing and collective lodging.

They reject the idea of an individual salary and take whatever they need from this common fund and have left their ‘slave jobs’ in traditional media, in commercial production, in publicity agencies, or other Fordist employment. Their time and life are thus freed up, produced from the standpoint of a different communal logic. New worlds are constructed. The experience of securing your basic needs changes the logic of cultural production. The time that had been stolen from us by capital, the State, by obligations and bureaucracy, is suddenly recovered and we no longer have to ‘sell’ our abilities, our communication and affect to ‘dead work’.

The experience of Caixa Coletivo points to a radicalisation of the model of sharing:

A synthesis of the aims of Caixa Coletivo can be found in the fact that every participant contributes all their available resources, both tangible and intangible, and makes them available for collective decisions. Dedication, stimulus,articulation, mobilisation, expertise, patience, agility, money, credit cards, cheques, names, cell phones, clothes, goods, products, contacts, plans, work, conflicts and dreams, under full individual management, are seen as resources of the collective fund. Everything must be put in circulation and be utilized in a shared fashion, functioning as a driving force for the sustaining of every step decided by the group.’ (Presentation of Caixa Coletivo 2013, part of an unpublished text written by Lenissa Lenza) This radical availability, this free and autonomous time invested in the Comum is at the genesis of the revolutions of the cognitive precariat. Those who have ‘lost’ everything, given up a normopathic family, a steady salary, or a university degree in order to invest their whole lives in a collective project are capable of anything. New challenges (such as security, difficulties in shared management, horizontality of relations) arise in this radical model of sharing and common funding, but having free time (collectively paid for), not having to ‘sell’ one’s time for food, clothing and lodging means having a minimal standard of sustainable life. This is not to be confused with ‘working for free’ and does not mean a minimal ‘income’ or ‘grant’. It means another kind of economy, a different horizon of collective agreements for the invention of worlds. Banco do Comum can be the basis for a new ‘life economics’.

In this context of networks and collectives we should also mention the experiences of free media (education through and for the media) that innovate by simply de-configuring the traditional spaces of speech: for example, the Escola Popular de Comunicaçãoo Crítica da Maré (ESPOCC), the Escola de Hip Hop created in Rio by the movement Enraizados, the agency Redes para a Juventude, the project Cinema Nosso, as well as different collectives and movements that convert lack/absence/precariousness into potential and power, re-signifying the vulnerable territories of favelas and peripheries, disputing narratives and inventing their own educational methodologies.
The notion that communication and media are no longer ‘tools’ but rather the very organisational mode of social and cultural movements is expressed in a transversal way in different projects and missions of collectives and Pontos, more explicitly in communication projects and media activism. The idea is directly mobilizing everyone in an intense mediatic process of political education that can activate and displace the niches of power/knowledge. A political education thus becomes the horizon and aim of many groups and the demand to deepen and develop this process is also part of the proposal of different collectives.

The idea that the production of knowledge should be open and free of charge (using flexible licences, Creative Commons, Recursos Educacionais Abertos/REA) is decisive in this new paradigm. In this sense, public policies such as free broadband, the Marco Civil for the internet or the reform of copyrights (de-criminalising the practice of sharing files, copies, exhibition of films for educational and cultural purposes) are the basis for the revolution of common shared goods, for the emergence of a mass intellectuality. Hence the decisive sponsoring of research into progress on the web, using Wiki language, the construction of a public free repository of data and content, public servers and platforms, dissemination of web TVs, and live transmission of heterogeneous audiovisual programming.

The principles behind Cultura Livre and Cultura Digital are yet another transversal platform, a condition for sustaining and empowering the field of free media – appearing occasionally or centrally as the project of different groups working with technological appropriation.

These are also some of the conditions for a wiki-school, a wiki-university, a P2P university of open education where the process of teaching/learning and the production of content involves, at different levels, every participant, and where the very formation of educators is based on the production of content for collaborative environments and free tools.

Another important aspect is the attention to language and narratives, which cease to be secondary issues and, together with technological appropriation, appear as a field of dispute and action in many collectives. Some contemporary art, performance art and political-mediatic actions regard aesthetics as something inextricable from the field of expression and political intervention, as an amplification of repertory and a means of possessing different languages in contemporary art.

* Alternative futures

In the movie Minority Report, sensitive mutants hallucinate the future. These Pre-Cogs created by Philip K. Dick, considered ‘idiotic’, ‘sick’ and ‘drugged’ by the system, have predictive powers, glimpsing scenes, indications, fragments and signs of possible crimes – a paradoxical premonition that would be utterly useless if not for the possibility of altering the future and creating alternative realities.

The idea of multiple futures has begun to take shape in Brazil with the growing articulation between social and cultural movements, collectives, networks, supporters of free media, Pontos de Cultura, minorities and majority groups in transversal movements (for example, the Marchas da Liberdade that have taken place in Sa ?o Paulo and another 70 cities throughout the country, the Marcha da Vadias, the Bicicletadas, the 2011 Marcha da Maconha, the 2012 Sa ?o Paulo Existe Amor, etc.). These connect local and global struggles, demanding freedom of expression, and free culture, fighting against prejudice and conquering the city and its public spaces. They are our Pre-Cogs, a new transversal ‘class’, the Cognitive Precariat, sensitive people with their capacity to hallucinate or create new futures. This cultural precariat encompasses street vendors, homeless people, evicted people, agents of the informal economy, freelance, middle-class unemployed youths, everyone who needs to invent their own jobs, eco-activists, militants in the struggle for the legalization of drugs, homo-affective people, black people, the peripheries, those who dwell in terreiros, quilombos and digital landscapes. They form the new ‘class’ of cognitive capitalism and represent the motive force for the reinvention of the Brazilian fold within the global context.”

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