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Senin, 16 April 2012

Amber Hickey: A Guidebook of Alternative Nows - Author interview

Researcher and graduate student Amber Hickey was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about her upcoming, thought provoking and idea filled anthology A Guidebook of Alternative Nows.

Amber Hickey shared some of the groundbreaking essay concepts and also described her fundraising initiative for the book through the crowd funding Kickstarter platform.

Thanks to Amber for her time, and for her very thoughtful responses to the questions. They are greatly appreciated

What was the background to writing this book A Guidebook of Alternative Nows?

Amber Hickey: There's an author team I really like called J.K.Gibson-Graham (a fusion of both of their names). They write that when we criticize the current system, we are offering it more power and legitimacy. For instance, saying "we hate crony capitalism" will just make crony capitalism stronger. So rather than continuing to criticize, and expecting that will change something, we should instead strengthen the things in the world that we like and agree with. I completely connect to their argument. It feels constructive and smart.

So I decided to make this book to offer space for illuminating diverse and hopeful versions of now that most people do not know about, or think of as truly legitimate. Every evening, I switch on the news. The version of our world that I see portrayed in the media is not great, to say the least; but the incredible amount that creative thinkers and makers are producing easily sways minds in a more hopeful direction. That's why I decided to create this book - to highlight the versions of now that are more constructive and hopeful.

When you talk about alternative nows, what do you mean by that concept?

Amber Hickey: If you ask anyone what the economic system is in the West, they would probably say “capitalism.” But that is only part of the answer. There is a wide array of different economic systems in action right now, but a lot of people don't know about them - or acknowledge them as valid. I'm not talking about communism or socialism - although of course those exist as well. I'm talking about the economies that we fall back on when the capitalist market fails.

The original meaning of "economy" was "household." So for instance, the domestic economy is huge - in some western countries it's estimated that the domestic (unpaid) economy is "worth" the equivalent of more than 40% of GDP. There's also what we call the Solidarity Economy. That means everything from bartering to helping your neighbors, to sharing goods to forming cooperatives.

The idea is that by strengthening the ties between the different parts of the solidarity economy, and by acknowledging their influence and the part they play in our lives, the SE will be validated as a "proper" part of the economy and can grow even more. Our visions and experiences of the economy will therefore be more positive and holistic. So the economy is the first and most complicated element that the book addresses.
Second is ecology. The media tells us that we've done serious damage to the environment, and that's true. The problem is that we don't often see examples of the people who are really trying to engage in actions that help rather than harm our environment. The book highlights several groups who are making the effort to work with the environment, rather than against it - for instance with permaculture and urban farming.

The third element is community. Many say that following the advent of the internet, people are becoming less social and more selfish. If you look at some of the examples in this book of communities working together to help each other, being mutually supportive, and therefore benefiting everyone, you can begin to question that perspective.

Amber Hickey (photo left)

The book is comprised of over thirty contributors. Who are some of the contributors and what ideas are they sharing?

Amber Hickey: The Urban Farmers create roof-top farms, using what's called an "aquaponic" system. That means they grow vegetables in fish-tanks. The vegetables are fertilized with the fish waste, and the users of the farm can eat the fish too. The Yes Men are contributors that probably everyone will have heard of. Their contribution addresses the overwhelming difficulty of producing change, and features practical suggestions for activists-to-be. It is comedically titled Monkey-Wrenching the Capitalist Juggernaut. Their work is often about subverting the dominant system to reveal different realities and they quite literally create "alternative nows."

The Community Economies Collective is a loosely knit group of researchers from all over the world, who are trying to increase the awareness and strength of community and solidarity based economies. They have two entries: one about taking back our food economy (having more knowledge and control over where it comes from and how it's made); the other is about the necessity of creative experimentation in coming up with new forms of security and resilience.

Jeanne van Heeswijk is a Dutch artist who works with communities to realize socially-engaged projects. Her contribution, Freehouse, is about a project she did with residents in an immigrant district in Amsterdam. The neighborhood was threatened with gentrification, but the residents worked to strengthen their infrastructure to resist and supersede the threat against their space. Those are just a few!

How were the contributors for the book decided upon to add content on the topic?

Amber Hickey: I knew a lot of the contributors before from my work as an artist and curator. I always thought more people should know about what they are doing because it is so interesting and beautiful, and makes one perceive the world differently. Whenever I invited a contributor, I asked if they knew of anyone else who was working in the field of creating alternative nows. Usually, they'd write back with one or two names. The network is already there! While I was researching for the book, looking at resources about alternatives in every field, I found out about the others. So eventually, it grew to be quite a comprehensive and diverse group of contributors.

One of the premises of the book is that ordinary people and their voices are no longer heard in the media. What do you mean by that?

Amber Hickey: I am not sure if ordinary people ever had their voices heard in the media. I meant that in general it can seem difficult to get your voice heard. It's easy to feel powerless and hopeless when there are so many of us, and the hierarchy of power and influence seems so difficult to penetrate.

How do the essays in the anthology provide some fresh ideas for building the economy and for respecting the environment?

Amber Hickey: There's a beautiful essay by the Laboratory of the Insurrectionary Imagination. They are art-activists who recently left their lives in London and bought land in France to start an autonomous permaculture community. The way they write about deeply listening to the land they live on is truly inspiring. I think we could all take a hint from them. In terms of the economy, the Community Economies Collective, Solidarity NYC and others highlight that we need to first look at and engage differently with the idea of "the economy." Then we can start to build one that we are happier with.

You elected to use the crowd funding concept of Kickstarter to help fund the book project. Why did you choose this funding avenue?

Amber Hickey: It makes sense - a book that emphasizes collectivity and cooperation should be funded by lots of people.

How can people get involved in helping to fund your book and what amounts of financial assistance can a person consider sharing with the project?

Amber Hickey: It's easy to help out with the Kickstarter campaign. Anyone can pledge any amount (from $1 and up). Every little bit counts! We need $5000 to cover the basic printing costs. $6500 would cover printing, plus other small things like shipping copies to the contributors and buying a website domain for the book. With $19,000 I could do all that, plus pay the contributors, book designer, and cover illustrator. We've all been working for free up until now -- well, I did offer to cook them all dinner at some point! But essentially, it's been a labour of love.

Here's the link to the Kickstarter campaign

What is next for Amber Hickey and A Guidebook of Alternative Nows?

Amber Hickey: I am writing my MA thesis on the same topic, but from a more research-based perspective. I'm also working on another book about what power is (or is becoming) today, with the backdrop of the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and a general destabilization of power in its traditional form. I'm thinking of doing a Ph.D. next, or going into book publishing professionally. But I'm open...I'd also be very happy to work on a farm in the daytime and write in the evening.

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