Tilling sand: contradictions of “Social Economy” in a Chinese movement for alternative rural development
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- Hale, M.A. Dialect Anthropol (2013) 37: 51. doi:10.1007/s10624-013-9294-1
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New Rural Reconstruction is an ongoing alternative development movement in China, with ties to transnational movements for “social economy,” “fair trade,” and “food sovereignty.” It consists of a diverse network of organizations and projects loosely united by the goals of reversing the rural-to-urban flow of resources and (re)constructing sustainable, self-sufficient communities based on cooperation among peasant households, supported by agroecological skill-sharing and alternative marketing. This article examines four peasant organizations in this movement, focusing on their efforts to negotiate the contradictions between their ideals and their relation to capitalism. I argue that, under present conditions, “success” at reversing the flow of resources through commercial means tends to require further integration into capitalist processes, both increasing vulnerability to global economic forces and undermining “alternative” ideals such as equality, sustainability, and participatory democracy. I thus engage critically with the interdisciplinary literature on “social economy” and cooperatives, considering how cooperative experiments might move beyond the limits of alternativism to play a role in the transformation of their socioeconomic context.