Life itself is full of convergences and contradictions. It encompasses different, complex, and not easily explained or understood processes. When we ask ourselves what the meaning of life is and what good life is, there is no single, static or definite answer. Our response can change every time we have different experiences, meet and interact with people, animals, lands, seas, etc. Hence, setting a universal goal or specific uniform objectives and means to reach these objectives do not really make sense in real life.
Kothari, A. et al, (2019) presents the inherent problems of development and single truth ideology. By setting specific targets and numbers, similar to what Sustainable Development Goals aspire to, and thus trying to control different parts and aspects of life, is a one-sided response to the complexity of existence and the issues of the world we call Earth. Alternatively, Kothari, A. et al, (2019) introduces the idea of the Pluriverse that encompasses a number of transformative initiatives and community realities connected to different worldviews and practices around the world. Pluriverse welcomes you to be open towards different ontologies and epistemologies. It also sets a list of values that will need to be safeguarded in order to make sure that the worldviews and practices that “enter” the Pluriverse do not contradict with basic principles of, let’s say, justice and ecological limits.
The question raised here is: Does this imply that this could be seen as a “universal” Pluriverse proposal? Is the Pluriverse contradicting itself?
I think not. Not if Pluriverse is understood more as a dynamic self-reflected political process rather than a set of ideal case studies. All these referred values, practices, processes and things we are able to control (eg. consumption, production, technology) can be discussed and debated within autonomous communities. The Democratic Communal Economy in Kurdistan (Aslan, A., 2016) and their characteristic needs based economy as a more directly democratic and less representative democratic system is a good example of what constitutes an autonomous community and how economy is embedded in and controlled by their socio-ecological system.
More explicitly, Castoriadis, C. (2021) has shared in a past interview in 1990 that institutions need to allow and most importantly promote the formation of spaces and people that are able to discuss, critically reflect, have access to information and can participate meaningfully in these processes. When he spoke about autonomy, he was referring to “a continuous process according to which you always have different content that has been given to you, that you have borrowed – you are in the world, in the society, you have inherited a language, you live in a specific story” (p. 85). Autonomy is not about being separate or isolated from anything external. I am autonomous when I can reflect, think critically, participate in a deliberative process and I am able to say yes or no, consciously.
Degrowth discourse (Paulson, S et al., 2020), for example, has opened such a space for critically reflecting on the need for socio-ecological transformations, the role and character of the institutions, and the reasons for urgently needed to democratize the economy and reclaim the commons. Seemingly affluent societies could move from market-based to community economies as described by J. K. Gibson-Graham et al. (2013) and at the same time work towards cultivating social relationships and structures to protect the commons. This approach and holistic understanding of what economy is could help society move from scarcity to sufficiency and abundance as long as ecological limits are considered. In addition, according to the Red Nation’s infrastructures of relationality (Klein, N., 2013), living with principles of interdependence could help societies reimagine their relationships to other-than-human relatives and generate new practices of being, co-existing and becoming. All these critical reflections open up new creative possibilities for the Pluriverse.
Moreover, it should not be disregarded that interdependence is not something that starts and stops within each community. Processes and relations interplay beyond what we usually see and understand, especially in a globalized world. If we really want to challenge the paradigm of growth, for example, and address oppressions expressed in different direct or indirect forms against women, ethnic minorities, indigenous communities, etc., we need to deconstruct the culturally embedded, most of the times, myths and narratives that are reproduced in our everyday practices and go even beyond a certain community scale. By connecting and communicating different alternative community stories, we could build strong narratives for change.
The stories that promote competition instead of mutualism and solidarity, harness their power from dualisms (developed vs. undeveloped, poor vs. rich, worker vs. business owner). If we make these distinctions irrelevant, we can move to a more mutualistic experience of the world. Which in turn, could help us accept diversity, open ourselves to the pluriversality and not just universality. Embracing and making space for the commons might be a good starting point to make these distinctions irrelevant. Imagine a society where bottom-up, community initiatives and actions based on people coming together to reflect and practice their visions are promoted more compared to individualistic, self-absorbed behaviors of success. Imagine how a neighborhood might look like if the municipality was giving or, even suggesting, the tools and authority to the members of this community to design their own communal sustainable spaces instead of a big construction company together with a few “experts” taking the final decision on the matter.
Coming back to Castoriadis’ ideas of autonomy, it is not about accepting the one and rejecting the other, it is about making a certain conscious decision of a desired social form, structure, process, institution, anything relevant for the community’s organization and existence. This decision is based on the context, the values, the principles, even the idiosyncrasies of the members of the communities and beyond the communities that share and do not share common experiences at the same time. And all these are constantly debated in an autonomous social system that questions itself and produces new meanings.
By setting some basic values and principles to orient ourselves towards actions that produce meaningful, sustainable and ecologically conscious modes of being with and within others, in the context of the Pluriverse (Kothari, A. et al, 2019) does not take us back to “uniformity” and “universality”. It just gives us a “gentle push” to go out from it, as long as there is this space of critically reflecting and questioning what was, what is and what could be.
- Kothari, A., Salleh, A., Escobar, A., Demaria, F. and Acosta Alberto (eds) (2019) Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary. Delhi, India: Tulika/Columbia University Press
- Aslan, A. (2016) Economic Self-Governance in Democratic Economy: The Example of Bakur, Birikim, 325/May, 93-98
- Castoriadis, C. (2021) The society against bureaucracy: 3 interviews. Aftolexi.
- Klein, N. (2013) Dancing the World into Being: A Conversation with Idle No More’s LeanneSimpson, Yes Magazine. https://www.yesmagazine.org/social-justice/2013/03/06/dancing-the-world-into-being-a-conversation-with-idle-no-more-leanne-simpson
- Paulson, S., D’Alisa, G., Demaria, F., & Kallis, G. (2020). The case for degrowth. John Wiley & Sons.
- Gibson-Graham, J. K., Cameron, J., & Healy, S. (2013). Take back the economy: An ethical guide for transforming our communities. U of Minnesota Press.
Teaser photo credit: Jazira Canton regional building, in Amude. Part of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. By Janet Biehl – https://www.flickr.com/photos/janetbiehl/23913280229/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99465377