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Progress in Human Geography 34(1) (2010) pp.


Classics in human geography revisited

Gibson-Graham, J.K. 1996: The end of capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist critique of political economy. Oxford: Blackwell.
Commentary 1 Even the title is a classic. A dramatic assertion – surely that can’t be right? – followed immediately by a teasingly ambivalent parenthesis. So not the end just yet. Just the end of what we had become accustomed to. Or is it, rather, the end of how we had come to know capitalism as the overwhelming structures and effects of ‘a discourse of Capitalism’ (p. 252)? Reading further is, clearly, not just desirable but necessary. The subtitle is critically important too. Taking its lead from relational thinking in feminism – ‘[I]dentity, whether of the subject or of society, cannot … be seen as the property of a bounded and centred being that reveals itself in history. Instead, identity is open, incomplete, multiple, shifting’ (p. 12) – the book applies it to Capitalism (as we had come to know it). Thus is the profound agenda of this book announced – tightly, provocatively and, above all, with deep political and intellectual sensitivity. This is the way it is throughout. Of course, many books scale such heights, but there is more here, much more. Much of this derives, I think, from the collaboration which drives the book. Collaboration involves far more than mere cooperation. More than the ability to develop a productive division of labour better to handle complex and profound issues. More even than the engagement in, as JKGG put it (p. xii), ‘a much more adventurous approach to reading, writing and the practice of research’. It involves, above all, an openness to argument, to positive self-critique and self-decentring. In short, an openness to difference and to other. But collaboration is not merely a (highly) effective authorial strategy. In this book, it extends to countless others – the range of whom may be discerned from the Community Economies website ( and the Diverse Economies mail list and online bibliography (http://phg – and to the ‘more arduous project’ (p. 5) of practice in diverse communities around the world. This, then, is a book which, through collaboration, engages. It goes far beyond declamation – no matter how intellectually well-founded that may be – to expose futures realizable not just in thought, but through thought and action. So it engages not just with ideas but with politics, with possibilities, with people. Not only collaborative then, but generous and humane. Its concern is with those distant others whom, by its very nature, it is able to reach and to mobilize. Collaboration also involves commitment beyond the immediate here and now. This book was never a one-off to be followed (or not) merely by other one-offs. Ten years after its initial publication, not only did the University of Minnesota Press put out a second edition (Gibson-Graham, 2006b) but, at the same time, published the post-deconstructive sequel (Gibson-Graham, 2006a) setting out a map of potential futures. Thus The end of capitalism

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DOI: 10.1177/0309132509337654

necessary or essential constituent of social systems and heroic events’ (p. be inherent in any economy. the economy is. if class is not a relation of exploitation. full of admiration and. I hope. This. nevertheless – and in a critical sense – singular. despite such heroics. 24) with all the essentialist nonsense that flows from that. Indeed. then. One major concern of the book is with anti-essentialist thought and the critique of essentialism. however the relations of capitalism may appropriate and even encourage them. it seems to me. 5) is not merely that ‘most economic discourse is “capitalocentric”’ (p. It lies apart – far apart – from the heroics of the often male-authored critiques of capitalism. As an active relation of exploitation class must. does The end not end with analysis and critique. So why go there in the first place? Capitalism is. a wide variety of notions of value are always simultaneously at work. Some of the great achievements of class politics – the welfare state. economy is necessarily diverse – more so maybe than even JKGG allow. appropriately responsive). also on my own list of classics in human geography (and for which. So ‘the straw man’ (p. Similarly. It is necessarily exploitative – relations of power are inherent – and it necessarily presents all the constraints – social and material – inherent in the struggles to make a living. there is an argument to be made around the insecurities of capitalism in the face of such diversity – insecurities reflected not merely in the decisive interventions of the ‘executive committee of the bourgeoisie’ but in the ever-widening processes of education and socialization involved in the attempted naturalization of capitalism. always informing economic action. It is aimed at critique and change. And it lies even further from those critiques of human geography made from within a totalizing discourse which can. Thus it is not necessary to highlight diversity by recourse to the multiple institutional relations characteristic of finance (p. But essentialist thought is. surely. Diversity is there in all economic spaces and times and is not merely to be found in those practices – like household production – which work outside the social relations of capitalism. As The end demonstrates so is no mere exercise in (re-)establishing a heroine’s/hero’s claims as an intellectual piedpiper. an ongoing set of performative and contested social relations. more generally. thereby. for example – elements of which are prefigured in The Communist Manifesto – reflect the political ability to think outside present conditions of existence. to do with the (heroic?) championing and advocacy of theory out of dialectical relation with practice. I can only be grateful. . it points forwards to consequences. Indeed. 18) – a great example though that is (even more so in the wake of the financial crisis which began in 2007). the representation of hero involved in the purifications of totalizing theory. has profound discursive and hence practical and political consequences. it seems to me. 6) for he is. Not only. regardless of its inherent quality (or lack of quality) or its objectives. But. of course. Thus the book is feminist not just in inspiration and approach but in practice. vital and strategic passage from critique to the diversity of possible action. Diversity is marginal neither in substance nor in geography. What is also true of collaboration and feminist practice is the space it leaves for the reader to disagree and to question. Even within capitalist practices. offer only negative. at understanding and transformation. those consequences are the point of the book. what is it? Certainly not an attribute – however dynamic. at the same time. but a considered. And – albeit diffidently (I am only too well aware that my reading is inherently limited) – there is much which I question here in the sense simply that I do not understand why certain issues are addressed and hence given further credence. at exposition and engagement.118 Progress in Human Geography 34(1) Thus. although ‘the “economic” has often been privileged as the fundamental. self-serving and – irony of ironies – binary assessments on the grounds simply that other work does not conform.

Something which continues variably to resonate differentially across space and time.Classics in human geography revisited 119 clearly. In refusing totalization and in its profound understanding of overdetermination. Something which does not reduce but which opens out. The collaboration which gave rise to it continues to engage with countless others in their struggles to make their geographies and histories in conditions which they may not necessarily choose but which are never reducible to supposed totalizing relations. the point of critique. Even more significantly. however. in Geography of all ways of thinking – in and across context rather than through pregiven universals – the widespread rejection of Althusserian thought should have been resisted (as it is so perceptively and clearly in The end). in the wonderful potential of human geography to . and others as contingent and peripheral. the ‘existing conditions’ are its ‘conditions of existence’ (1969: 208) … The process of existence implicates all exteriors. It will be the death of us. is that their critique offers them further sustenance just as the ‘discourse of Capitalism’ is sustained by totalizing accounts. (p. every identity is reconstructed as uncentred. Indeed. Great scholarship is – perhaps above all else – modest and anti-heroic in its practice. it will continue to speak and to act. Ironically. as markers of critical intellectual virility. It recognizes both that there is very little that is new under the sun and that grand theory is grand in the worst of ways and so needs taking down a peg or two. notwithstanding the repeated imposition of such discourse. for example – than attempting to sustain heroic – and hence exclusionary – status by totalizing theorization which both stops just there and is so pure as to be elegantly ineffective. for example. The danger. as in process and transition. Such conditions may remain full of possibilities only if both the real constraints of economy and its potentially infinite (if practically limited) diversity are taken seriously. It thereby occupies a central position in its critical understanding of capitalism. it acts. Central to the classic status of this book is the notion of what Althusser (eg. they remain in circulation and hence in practice – and not only in circulation and practice but. Rather like The end. Here is a further pointer to classic status: a resistance to going with the flow combined with a level of insight which recognizes that scholarship is more then merely a marginal enterprise – another brick in the wall. the critique of messy and complex reality in The end stands – not least in biographical terms – in dialectical relation to those of heroes. such thought has reappeared in different guises throughout human geography – in ‘entanglements’. there are. this is precisely what The end of capitalism does. 28) Also. and by virtue of this implication undermines the hierarchy of importance that defines some attributes as causes as necessary or essential. Every event is constituted by all the conditions existing at that moment (including the past and the future) or. in the words of Althusser. for some. Where are the dialectics in such a hopelessly ineffective binary? Yet that is. surely. complex and unstable to sustain such nonsense. to a particular locus of being. The closed critique of heroes is recognized but – rightly – marginalized. or in relational thinking. the world is too messy. perhaps. 1972) termed ‘overdetermination’ which provides the analytical starting point for Chapter 2 – and hence for the book: Via the (onto)logic of overdetermination. Yet great scholarship is able to transcend the here and now and to say something which challenges thought and action. Despite the limited ways of thinking exposed in such curious totalizing projects (the limitations of which are subtly but so effectively exposed in the book). Difference is all. The end of capitalism (as we knew it) does not simply speak. far more important things to do – endeavouring to change minds and economic practices. But. in fact. as having no essence to which it will tend to revert.

it was widely considered to be an area of the discipline that had run out of intellectual steam and. well. It is difficult to convey just how wonderfully different it seemed when it first appeared in the mid-1990s. Peel argued. and many did not want to spend five minutes with it. in which the process of capitalism expansion is viewed through the enable such understanding. 2006a: A postcapitalist politics. the response was an expression of surprise that a contribution so relatively contemporary could be seen as a ‘classic’. even for students with a professed taste for the avant garde it was strong stuff. Indeed. and even whether there might be a finite supply of classic contributions in human geography which meant that the long-term future of this very feature might be called into question. particularly in his early years. for example.120 Progress in Human Geography 34(1) of postwar Britain. above all. which positioned itself at the centre of the cultural turn then sweeping the discipline. I should quickly make clear I think this book is clearly a classic: it is a highly significant publication both in human geography in general. Minneapolis. Even if they did not quite view the economic geography module as apostasy. and the Department was particularly proud of its MSc in Society and Space which attracted mainly bright. the publication of The end of capitalism (as we knew it) was greeted with some considerable enthusiasm on my part. and in the possibilities it opens up to see and. However. and the initial reaction to this book was mixed. the audacity and daring of the book contained a remarkable ability to disconcert. because most were fired up by intellectual developments in social and cultural theory. When the book was first published I was working in the Department of Geography at Bristol. in short. Even among what one would think would be a sympathetic audience. Of course. it is. at the time. the nature of systems of worth and justification. University of London Althusser. A classic. and I quickly incorporated it into the economic geography teaching programme.K. J. and in economic geography in particular. I am reminded of the comments of the late British broadcaster and DJ John Peel who often commented on the impossibility of describing to subsequent generations the seismic impact that the music of Elvis Presley had on him and other teenagers growing up in the austerity . or at least become rather more sporadic than it is at present. 2005: 47). Elvis had as many detractors as followers. a mere 10 years old. able graduate students. Faced with such an audience. In attempting to do so. for some more sober practitioners of political economy. London: New Left Books. The excellent chapter on ‘Querying globalization’. Indeed. ‘had the effect … of a naked extraterrestrial walking through the door and announcing that he/she was going to live with me for the rest of my life’ (Peel and Ravenscroft. let alone the rest of their lives. just boring. Commentary 2 When I mentioned to one of my colleagues that I had been asked to write this piece about a book that was. was. many of whom who were attracted by the ability to study human geography at the edge of theoretical and conceptual developments. the book seemed to suggest that the authors were having a joke at everyone’s expense: the use of the hybrid authorial name seemed enough evidence for that. — 2006b: The end of capitalism (as we knew it) (second edition). Teaching economic geography to such students was always something of a challenge. Listening for the first time to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. Gibson-Graham. L. 1972: Politics and history. if ever there was one. to go beyond capitalism. Roger Lee Queen Mary. Minneapolis. MN: University of Minnesota Press. It prompted one of the more memorable corridor discussions which covered topics such as the length of time that needed to pass before the proper significance of a work could be properly evaluated. most damning of all. a quite remarkable book. MN: University of Minnesota Press.

I was reminded of this quite forcefully in a presentation that David Harvey gave in Nottingham in December 2006 to mark the official opening of the University’s Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice. was what he identified as the ‘surplus absorption problem’. . and the process of producing knowledge in service to politics has estranged rather than united understanding and action’ (p. 1996). Thus. While the talk was fascinating. 1997). Given their size and continuing potential for longterm solutions to the surplus absorption problem. A key feature of his talk. who the same year published Logics of dislocation (Barnes. seemed to be rather bemused by the GibsonGraham project. to bring about practical change through an imaginative revolution. Harvey reminded us. As the authors point out. potent and productive within political-economy narratives that it would suggest an anti-capitalist reaction of monumental scale to dislodge and disrupt it. rather than today. complete with allusions to erections and seminal fluid. for Harvey and other Marxists the end of capitalism involves its total and comprehensive overthrow in a revolutionary process that eradicates its last vestiges from the face of the earth. Indeed. he argued. as it is always revolution tomorrow. Gibson-Graham draw attention not only to the limitations but also to the contradictions of such projects. you will be assimilated. This can be a recipe for despair and resignation. is unrealizable (Barnes. was that they are constantly haunted by the need to search out new destinations for investment and returns. that had brought about the extraordinary levels of investment in both China and India in recent years. as capitalism has sought to transform these most populous developing countries in its own image. 2000). In other words. capitalism is akin to the Borg: resistance is futile. It was this imperative. the requirement that surplus value extracted from the circuit of capitalist production be reinvested into further productive ventures so that capitalism is able to reproduce itself. such projects might run from capitalism but they cannot hide. However. or even a bestiary. In his review of the book for Society and Space he managed to raise at best only two cheers. Even Trevor Barnes. Although in due course the limits to accumulation will no doubt be encountered in each of these economies. but rather embarrassment. the body of capitalism is depicted as so powerful. From this perspective. there are other parts of the world that would present a future project space for capitalists seeking a new geographical solution to the surplus absorption problem. which shared with The end a bold agenda to push back the boundaries of economic geography inquiry in highly innovative ways. political-economy critiques have inflated and exaggerated its power. as Gibson-Graham put it.Classics in human geography revisited 121 lens of a ‘rape script’. that is. China and India would seem to be fairly effective medium. produced among some students not enthusiastic debate about the critical power of metaphor. he ended with a rather pessimistic conclusion. In other words. such an imaginary is hardly new and they acknowledge the considerable Marxist legacy of anti-capitalist projects in this regard. The problem of the spatial fix applies as much to anti-capitalist as it does to capitalist endeavour. The ambitions of the book are indeed considerable. which ranged over the current constitution of global capitalism and its contradictions. which is what gives capitalism its geographically restless qualities. ‘the project of understanding the beast has itself produced a beast. and include an overt attempt to cultivate an anti-capitalist imaginary. The problem for capitalists. 1). As he argues in his critique of anti-capitalist utopian projects in Spaces of hope (Harvey. although he praised the creative and imaginative use of poststructural theory in the book. it seemed to me that what it offered was a prescription for despondency and a politics of disappointment. nervous coughs and an eagerness to move onto less contentious material. arguing that the objective of the book. by worrying so much about defeating capitalism.

while Gibson-Graham’s enthusiasm for self-employment seems a little misplaced. it is certainly not futile. an ontology of optimism. 2005). They challenge the taken-for-granted nature of capitalism. They take odds with what they describe as capitalocentric accounts.J. cooperatives. the focus on the small-scale and often intimate practices of alternative or diverse economies in the work that it has inspired can seem somewhat at odds with the increasing scale and scope of capitalist activity. However. attempting to locate its discursive roots and origins. The book was the catalyst for a new body of research mainly from within. On the one hand. it is clear that some parts of it stand up better than others. 1996: Logics of dislocation. Moreover. 247–48. perhaps what The end offers most of all is a set of resources of hope. McCarthy. although not limited to. taken to its extreme. Oberhauser. 2006. Andrew Leyshon University of Nottingham Barnes. 2005. they undertake an etymology of capitalism.. Williams. 2005. 2006. as it seems to exert its presence over even the most seemingly insignificant nooks and crannies of everyday business and domestic life (Glyn. 2007). and they seek to mobilize the possibility of emphasizing economic difference and of supplanting the discourse of capitalist hegemony with one that properly acknowledges the plurality and heterogeneity of economic forms. They seek to illustrate that capitalism is a far more fragile. 2003. Froud et al. could be seen as an endorsement for a cellular economy composed of self-employed people. Gibson-Graham. its arguments seem less unusual now as they have sunk into the academic patina of everyday economic geography. More than 10 years on from its publication. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 15. Leyshon et al. — 1997: Book review: The end of capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist review of political economy. may suffer as many retreats as it does advances. 2006. but see also Samers. for example. This work. 2006. having a repertoire of non-capitalist practices and activities to fall back on can be absolutely essential for survival in places where the formal capitalist economy breaks down and fails (see Ferguson. . I have never really been that enamoured with the concept of overdetermination which runs through large parts of the book. By thinking the economy differently. While it may be categorically noncapitalist. in the face of such developments.122 Progress in Human Geography 34(1) On rereading the book. local welfare initiatives. has sought to provide exactly the form of recognition and give voice to non.or anti-capitalist activities that Gibson-Graham call for in The end (see. it remains a theoretical tour de force. In order to do so. which conjures up in my mind at least a Hong Kong-esque economic dystopia. Research such as this seeks to demonstrate that capitalism does not necessarily act like a cuckoo chick that will not tolerate cohabitation in its nest. 2005. it is hardly an example of alterity and. Moreover. etc – actually draw attention to the real limits to capital. economic geography. So while resistance may be hard work. However. New York: Guilford. Gibson-Graham’s approach to revolution is more understated but arguably also more radical in that it is based on the politics of recognition and difference. we can see what might on the surface appear to be a set of inconsequential small acts – such as local currency systems. which is becoming ever more financialized and influential. which has focused on alternative or diverse economies. T. 1999). whereby non-capitalist discourse is referenced against capitalism. are sceptical of its omnipresence and seek to identify ways of giving voice and recognition to anti-capitalism in the here and now. contingent and provisional entity than might be discerned from conventional political-economy accounts. Leyshon and Thrift.. Leyshon. and its ability to illustrate the progressive political potential of the cultural turn remains undimmed.

2006: A postcapitalist politics. Who better to have as an interlocutor. Leyshon. the viability of capitalism is currently in question. CEOs and bureaucrats predicting a depression of the magnitude of the ‘great’ one. 875–86.C. the year our book celebrated its 10th birthday and was republished by the University of Minnesota Press. Antipode 37. Leyshon. A. mentor and amplifier of our work.. Judgments are real. Lee. Roger has always been a very welcome presence in our collaboration. K. Gibson-Graham. A. As a supporter. MN: University of Minnesota Press. at least not straightforwardly. Minneapolis. J. and economists. 2007: The capitalization of almost everything. A. food. 856–62. S. Authors’ response What an absolute honor it is to be asked to respond to the warm and appreciative comments of Roger and Andrew on The end of capitalism (as we knew it). A. J. London: Routledge. of course. Leyshon. Oberhauser. 1995: Margarve of the marshes. J. Peel. and who now see it brought to its knees by its own contradictions and protagonists. 863–74. when people on the street and pundits alike were eager to pronounce its demise. 2006: Rural geography: alternative rural economies – the search for alterity in forests. That is why it matters how we think and theorize. and Thrift. We would like to say that JKGG looked into her crystal ball and decided to wait until the end of capitalism had truly occurred. 803–11.K. ‘Waiting for the Revolution…’). and to Ron Johnston for inviting such appropriate (and patient) contributors. not the manifest truth of an unfolding world. R. Glyn. co-organizer of a movement within economic geography. and Williams. and fair trade. It was at the opening plenary of a conference hosted by the journal Rethinking Marxism in 1992 at which Julie bravely presented our . Antipode 37. Antipode 37. globalization and welfare. C.. All this talk about reality reminds us of the occasion at which JKGG first aired the central argument of The end (encapsulated in Chapter 11. A. C. pressing and incontrovertible but it is also a mystery – it cannot tell us what to say. extraterrestrial nudity. and she could simply settle back into her chair and smugly pronounce ‘I rest my case!’ With the world financial crisis on everyone’s lips. 2005: Introduction: diverse economies. and Ravenscroft. 2000: Spaces of hope. Progress in Human Geography 30. Theory Culture and Society 24. student embarrassment and Borg-like affect had us chuckling with delight. J. Reality is powerful. our feminist critique of political economy. N. We particularly liked Roger’s tracing of our collaborative practice which has spiraled out from our joint authorial presence to include community researchers and activists and circled back into the academy to include students and colleagues in ever widening rotations. But to revert to the realism of an ‘I told you so’ response would be to undermine the very theoretical interventions and innovations we hoped to have made. Leaver. It would also mean abandoning the epistemological premise of the book – that ideas about what is really real are judgment calls. and Williams.. McCarthy. J. London: Sage. Samers. 2005: Scaling gender and diverse economies: perspectives from Appalachia and South Africa. London: Bantam Press. D. Berkeley. London: Zed Books. Williams. 2006: Capitalism unleashed: finance. CA: University of California Press. fisheries.C. This response was supposed to be published in 2006. Froud. 2006: Financialization and strategy: narrative and numbers. or a critique of the ‘informal economy’. A. M. 2005: The myopia of ‘Diverse Economies’. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press. 2005: A commodified world? mapping the limits of capitalism. And of course who could not be pleased to be likened in some small way to Elvis? Andrew’s tales of corridor confrontations. S. It would mean joining the chorus of those for whom capitalism really was the all-powerful economic system. national economies in recession. 97–115. and commentator on the legacy of The end of capitalism than he? Thanks to you both.. Johal.Classics in human geography revisited 123 Ferguson. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999: Expectations of modernity. Harvey. but they are also plural and contradictory. editors 2003: Alternative economic spaces.

The long-awaited revolution was truly about to happen! The audience clapped and cheered in response to this proclamation. or full to the brim and overflowing with capitalism. we are drawn back to the still unfinished task of the book – calling into question the authority of claims that reality is on our side. So in mulling over an appropriate response to the incredible honor of having The end of capitalism designated a ‘Classic in human geography’. No matter that our privileged access to reality is seen as . Mandel began his presentation. he quipped that the antithesis came first. What resonates in this story with today’s economic analyses is the way that an account of the putatively real world can be used to vindicate theory and to mollify an astute audience eager to reaffirm the applicability of Marxist thinking. Wallerstein came to the podium. For Andrew. after all these years. In his thick European accent and masterful style (one could almost believe he was channeling Marx) he began to recount the fundamental contradictions of capitalism in the early 1990s. our theories. ‘a wide variety of notions of value are always simultaneously at work … thus it is not necessary to highlight diversity by recourse to the multiple institutional relations characteristic of finance’ (Commentary 1 above). Somehow. at what was likely a last public appearance before his death – Julie pointed the political finger at the very theorizing of capitalism that this gathering largely embraced. He then proceeded with his prepared speech on world systems. and as her breathing virtually stopped a beautiful collaboration nearly came to an untimely end. in front of Mandel – one of the greatest twentieth-century expositors and extenders of Marx’s work. and relationality in general. Before a crowd of over a thousand Marxists and fellow travelers. decentered and distributed. Althusser clearly conveyed. even decisive. in stark contrast to the nervous smattering of applause that had greeted our cheeky demonstration of ‘how to smash capitalism by working at home in your spare time’. and at the same time calling attention to the powerful role of theory and research in performing the real worlds in which we live and work. Here we have reality presumably trumping (and making irrelevant?) an academic discourse in the making. Down in the audience Kath was surrounded by shocked gasps and sniggers of disbelief. As theorists.124 Progress in Human Geography 34(1) necessarily compromised by perspective. backing up our arguments. our speculations. For Roger. So what are the implications for theory and research of Althusser’s pithy and provocative paper. When Julie sat down. we are all in the same boat – whether we claim that the economy is diverse. followed by presentations from Ernest Mandel. an appeal to ‘reality’ can still be persuasive. what is real can still speak for itself. but it is still hard to practice on a daily basis. and poststructuralist theory has repeatedly affirmed. Despite all the changes that have taken place in economic theory and politics since the initial publication of The end. and the collaborative and celebratory comments of Roger and Andrew. followed by the thesis. diversity in the finance sector (and presumably elsewhere) speaks for itself. then. Thus we find ourselves and others (including Roger and Andrew) continually appealing to what is ‘in the object’. ‘the increasing scale and scope of capitalist activity. Musing on the bizarre dialectic he had just witnessed. Immanuel Wallerstein and Nancy Fraser. leaving him confused as to what should come next. As the applause for Mandel died down. not to mention widespread disagreement about what is really going on. where theory and thought are concerned. 1970). slowly building to a crescendo – a description of the latest demonstrations taking place on the streets in major urban centers in Germany. context. Intellectually the ‘truth’ about truth may be easy to accept. that ‘the truth of the object is not in the object’ (Althusser and Balibar. In other words. which is becoming ever more financialized and influential’ (Commentary 2 above) is at odds with the focus on ‘small scale and intimate practices’ in the work inspired by The end.

rather than the ground. the collection edited by Andrew. as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak would say. Taking up the baton for a ‘politics of the possible’. Roger and Colin Williams. Perhaps we can be so bold as to say that our discourse has produced material effects – in a region of economic geography. spaces of governance. The diverse economies research network of over 100 international scholars organized by Andrew and JKGG is another indication of the growing interest in studying economic diversity not just for its own sake. it seems there has been an end to ‘capitalism studies’. For us the entry point has been a diverse economy. not an obvious ‘real’ starting place but what we can see in the world (if we squint and turn our heads sideways) and where we would like the world to go. But there is also the considerable creative boost to be had by enrolling the constitutive force of language and affect – ultimately we confront a new reality. 2006) that allows for individual-based collective action alongside. of its representations. to foster certain effects at the expense of others (though we cannot know what these will be). This is a lesson that we have learned only too well since publication of The end. to name but a few. political and strategic choice to turn our attention in particular directions. is a wonderful tribute to the creativity unleashed when the capitalist economy ceases to define what matters economically. with the mushrooming of research on geographies of neoliberalism. but . deconstruction is never finally successful and the radical heterogeneity it produces has to be performed and reperformed. quoting Guthman. This is a choice that must be made and remade. capitalism is cast yet again as the master signifier that spreads its tent over social innovations and emerging subjectivities. What signifies an end to capitalism here are the (stated or unstated) theoretical and political choices being made. We made this decision in order that our research might start to perform new (potentially noncapitalist) worlds. In this latest incarnation. he produces a reading for ‘difference rather than dominance’ (Gibson-Graham. 2008). 2008: 1171). thus opening up a world of contingent possibilities. Alternative economic spaces (2003). While it highlights the implication of every identity and process in every other. and mentalities’ (p. there are risks – the risk that critique will strengthen its object. our decision not to privilege the dominance and spread of capitalist class relations cleared the way to privileging the non-capitalist (and capitalist) diversity of economic landscapes. overdetermination also forces us to self-consciously choose an entry point among the infinity of world-constituting entities and forces – enacting a strategic essentialism. The entry point is not dictated by any obvious ‘reality’ like capitalism or neoliberalism or ‘what’s happening out there’. where do we start in our pursuit of ‘truth’? In all our work we have treated overdetermination as a provisional ontological starting place. the risk that invention will nurture a monster. but critics of capitalism have sniffed out the neoliberal agenda in many of the newly visible economic spaces – community gardens (Pudup. at least. we can be tempted to acknowledge with pride and appreciation the growing body of research on diverse economies and spaces that has sprung up since our book was first published. but for what such diversity means for new worlds in the making. Research on diverse economies may have proliferated since (and partly because of) The end. 55. The end of capitalism (or of knowledge about Capitalism) never arrives with any finality. Without resorting to the pragmatic pull of the real to validate The end of capitalism’s theoretical contributions and political effects. 2008) and alternative food networks (Guthman. It is a personal. Harris (2009) calls attention to capitalocentric readings of alternative food networks that are seen to produce and reproduce ‘neoliberal forms. As Derrida taught us.Classics in human geography revisited 125 statement? If the object cannot speak for itself. As we hoped to model in The end. As with any strategy. And there is the responsibility entailed when ontology becomes the outcome.

hope. from stories to theories and back again. The revolution is not some sudden change that has yet to come. Perhaps instead it might be seen as a ‘collectivity of bodies. and coupling as calories pump into and out of them in a decentered. which in their diversity are variously getting fat. these latest ones included. Dated though its examples may be. which offers the compelling image of a snail and its spiral shell or caracol that has become the symbol of the Zapatista model of transformation – a model that centers on ‘a language … with which to re-imagine revolution. and possibility’. Of course the political practice of choosing to represent and thus perform ‘other worlds’ is taking place in many spaces outside the academy (probably more than inside).sarahbrowne. community. The caracol’s movement is embracing but slow: The true revolutionary needs to be patient as a snail. A representation of the ‘body economic’ legitimated this late nineteenthcentury industrial policy intervention aimed . where the economy is no longer a body that can be ‘forced via gentle or rough persuasion to eat and grow’. it seems that the thinking encapsulated in The end still resonates within this multifaceted. 2009). globally exhibited installation has the potential to rupture the linear narrative of ‘capitalist’ development. 2008) not captured by. Artists and activists alike are experimenting with a new politics of ‘place-based globalism’ informed by a feminist political imaginary (GibsonGraham. transforming. almost directionless way’ (The end: 108). we happened upon Rebecca Solnit’s latest blog entry on the Zapatistas. The snail spirals out ‘toward old ways and small things’ and circles inward bringing ‘new words and new thoughts’. Most recently we were asked by Sarah Browne (personal communication. a company that was set up in 1898 by the British government’s Congested Districts Board to provide incomes for unskilled rural women. many others have joined us in theorizing scale outside a hierarchy of value that sees what is big and expansive as necessarily more powerful than what is small and localized. It does not pretend to speak of ‘real limits to capital’ (Commentary 2 above) or even of alternatives to to extract sections of ‘The Economy. Sarah’s exhibit includes a recently made hand-knotted woolen carpet and her film of its production by Donegal Carpets. It might also provoke some pause about the recent rush to restore (capitalist) ‘growth’ via national stimulus packages. giving birth. but the very transformative and questioning atmosphere in which all of us have lived for the past half century. All the responses to The end we have had over the years. Stupid!’ (Chapter 5 of The end) as a text accompaniment to her invited art installation representing Ireland at the 2009 Venice Biennale.126 Progress in Human Geography 34(1) at injecting capital into a declining region. Our thinking about the power of a ‘politics of ubiquity’ to enroll local projects in building new worlds has been prompted and extended by stories of the community economies being constructed by movements around the world. dying. an Irish artist whose work is ‘concerned with the documentation and creation of alternative economic structures (on a micro scale)’ (see www. This response to Roger and Andrew has wended its way back and forth and round about between ‘the world’ and ‘thinking’. As we were writing. In the decade-plus since The end appeared. widespread and experimental movement. Sarah’s ephemeral. Our point here is that capitalist dominance continues to be (re)performed in economic geography. neoliberalism. connected to the World Social Forum and the solidarity economy networks emerging globally (as discussed in Gibson-Graham. (Solnit. have pushed us to communicate our epistemological moves more effectively by making them more transparent. 2006). but it might shift viewers onto the terrain of a very different politicaleconomic imaginary. 2006). locally crafted. dieting. It is a loudspeaker to send out the word and an ear trumpet to hear what is faint or far away. and the ‘end’ of that dominance has to be continually (re)performed as well.

B. 2009: Neoliberal subjectivities or a politics of the possible? Reading for difference in alternative food networks. Geoforum 39. 1228–40. E. Leyshon. Guthman. M. Lee. 2008: It takes a garden: cultivating citizensubjects in organized garden projects. R. Geoforum 39. 2008: Revolution of the snails: encounters with the Zapatistas.. Gibson-Graham University of Western Sydney and University of Massachusetts Amherst Althusser.Classics in human geography revisited 127 Thirteen years on we are amazed. Area 41. J. pleased and grateful for all the readers of The end who signed up to travel with us on our quixotic. 1970: Reading Capital. Solnit. London: Sage.K. L. 2008: Neoliberalism and the making of food politics in California.tomdispatch. 1171–83. R. . J. snail-paced and meandering journey toward putting an ‘end to capitalism’. we are sincerely thankful for the transformative and questioning atmosphere that all of us. Above all. E. and Williams.C. for that is what we suspect will nurture new worlds. Harris. 2006: A postcapitalist politics. Gibson-Graham. Retrieved 26 May 2009 from http://www. Pudup. and particularly Roger and Andrew. have produced in geography. MN: University of Minnesota Press. and Balibar. C. Minneapolis. editors 2003: Alternative economic spaces.K. London: New Left Books. A. 55–63..

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