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Structure, agency, materialism, the body - & dancing

The practice that makes the living economy is necessarily itself animated, alive . . in the body - in a multiplicity of mutually engaging bodies, human and non-human. It is the materiality that makes the Living Economy (and its extant, presently dominant, deadening enemies) forceful. This - the force of fiat - is, precisely, the force of ‘forces of production’.

One feature of constellations of material bodies is their dance in space and time (which is to say, their patterning; which is why we wish to have a pattern language) and a dance metaphor of some kind is central in the framing and mobilising of the language, in all three landscapes:


  • §1 Material - A weave of practices, an intimate weave of people & stuff: the full-body dance of the weaver at the handloom, the dance of the thrown shuttle and pushed treadle, the dance of the eye across the formed surface where weft has met warp. A field of de facto forms, and literacy of forms.

  • §2 Cultural - A choreography of formations and, among these, activist formations; a generative dance of knowing & capability, a literacy of organising movements and convening conscious understandings and intentions.

  • §3 Aesthetic - An always-present field of forces of emotionality - forces that determine our valuing and affiliating - an ocean of emotion and identity, with wild tides and currents in the preconscious, emerging only eventually and partially into explicit consciousness, available to deliberate action . . much of this in the mode of surfing or perhaps gymnastics, some of it more deliberate, as in maintaining steerage-way and sea-room and a compass heading . . but all of it in the moment and very much in the body - like swimming, like riding a bike, like checking the seasoning of a stew. Perhaps like the murmuration of starlings or the navigation of a Trobriand islander. Perhaps, like the improvising of a jazz ensemble. All of this, open to the basic §2 mode of capability: #skill - a rich and deep field of literacy.

The patterns in foprop are presented forcefully as material rather than in the idealist ways that generally and unhelpfully are more commonplace: for example, loosely described as ’social’ (as in ‘social economy’ or ‘socially useful production’) or as matters of ‘values’ (as typically happens in ‘solidarity economy’ formations). foprop adheres to the principle of a long-time eco-activist scientist friend, who insists that physics trumps politics. But then, it’s appropriate to note immediately that the §1 material exterior landscape of means of subsistence, set in ‘nature’, is inescapably woven with §2 culture (which is material, being composed of practices) and §3 affect and desire (material because in-the-body) . . as for example:


  • Politics in practice - and in the shortest of terms - trumps physics . . §3 structures of feeling - passions, herd behaviours, phantasies and identities, dreams and memes - rule, overriding any amount of ‘evidence base’ and actuality, in the 'choices' that people in fact make (which is to say, the voting that they do with their shuffling, chicken-on-a-hotplate, preconscious, button-pushed feet).

  • Movements (§2 formations) are what it takes to move stuff on a cultural, historical or regional scale.

  • Places - which we might ordinarily say are material, are places in the heart. Communities are not physical proximity, they are formations of people living ‘like us’, in the same kind of bubble (of space? of affiliation? of understanding? of organisation?) . . walking the same kind of road, recognising others in the same kind of boat.


All of these ripples are absolutely ‘social’. However, theorising (well, verbalising anyway: storytelling) with a language of . . ‘values’, ‘social’ economy, aspirations to ’social’ usefulness, etc . . is idealist, whereas valuing, socialising, aspiring, affiliating, and so on, are all entirely material practices . . conducted (intentionally or casually, as the case may be) in particular locations and situations by persons and collectives; and entirely material to the making of a Living Economy. They warrant a material(ist) theorising: a theorising of practices. This is a core, defining characteristic of foprop.

Structure, agency

This kind of issue, and difference of approach, is often thought of in terms of structure and agency. Within foprop, structure/agency issues are framed in terms of relationships between the in-here and out-there of an activist, or a formation of activists. As highlighted in Figure 3 above (and repeated respectively in Figures 4/5/6) each of the landscapes is constituted in a different and distinctive relationship between in-here and out-there:

  • §1 Material - Engaging with the de facto, dynamic, evolving material organisation of the world out-there in meeting needs of people ‘in-here’ for material means of subsistence and wellbeing.

  • §2 Cultural - Mobilising the capability - the labour power - of people ‘in-here’ (in the mind and in the body, individually and in collectives) in relation to challenges of knowing and organising the world out-there.

  • §3 Aesthetic-emotional - Responding skilfully, with careful intention, moment-to-moment, in-here, in a plurality of forceful and largely preconscious in-heres, both in here and out there.

In the foprop weave, the §landscapes together address the material order of what is typically understood as ‘structure’ and location, while the ¿zones together  - highlighting intention and perception, affiliation and reach - address the situational world of what is often addressed in terms of ('problems of') agency. However, the dualism of structure/agency is not one that runs deep in foprop.

Within the narrative listing below, at a given order of the hierarchy, §landscape patterns are generally given first, and ¿zone patterns second. Frequently though, it’s a matter of emphasis (and sometimes, of deference to common sense) whether a pattern is framed as one or the other: ‘location’ or ‘situation’, ’structure’ or ‘agency’.

Some of the material patterns that are most central (eg in-the-body patterns of affect and response in landscape §3) are implicated in the most ‘subjective’ experience, as preconscious passes into potentially conscious and then into de facto enacted; where  ‘agency’ arises and is largely determined: where the rubber hits the road. Conversely, patterns in each landscape have ‘structure’ - §1 forms, §2 formations or §3 forces that are enduring and powerful - which have bodies and thus constitute durable ‘dramatis personae’ (human and non-human) in the field of what moves and what determines outcome in a system. Thus, in the system-descriptions of each landscape in the ‘weft’ pages above, one of the three standard elements of a description is the ’dramatis personae’ of the system; its enduring and prominent structure elements. Even landscape §3 - for all its continually flowing, arising-and-passing, experiential nature - has such forces, which are sometimes referred to for example by intentionally paradoxical terms like #structure_of_feeling.

‘The problem of agency’  has become prominent in recent generations alongside the rise of ’identity politics’ and the widespread recognition that ‘the personal is political’. foprop engages with this significant historical set of conditions for activism:

  • First, through its attention to ¿1 in-here forces and relations of production of affiliating (a constitutive aspect of landscape §3); and

  • Secondly through its fundamental engagement in landscape §2 (‘cultural’ production) with formations - constellations of labour power, organised as an aspect of what ¿3 ‘we’ as makers intend to do in the world: to make, to cultivate, to bring into being.

The materialist and historical concern with ‘cultural’ formations - especially, scale and durability - then necessarily turns to elements in landscape §1: notably tools, prostheses and material access to infrastructures of means. It’s through the weave of constructs and patterns like these, that foprop addresses the problem of agency.


Fundamentally though, for foprop there is no ‘problem’ of agency. The foprop problem is to materially organise - to create ‘structures’  (material configurations) of . .

  • Artefacts and bodies (material forms), and

  • Formations of activists, and

  • In-here forces of in-the-moment, fired-and-wired awareness (‘mental formations’: sankhara)

. . which are sufficiently durable and extended to conduct the actions of curating, stewarding and enjoying of commons, which the ‘agents’ - activists - perceive as being implicated in skilful responses to challenges: in making the Living Economy, and engaging the needs of the children’s grandchildren. The ‘problem’ is practical and historical, not philosophical.

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