The ReImagining Value Action Lab is a workshop for the radical imagination. Our name signifies our overarching mission: to provide an experimental, social and relational space for communities to challenge and reimagine the overarching paradigm of value in our society in the name of social justice. We are interested in the intersection of economic value and socio-cultural values as a point of transformation. Social justice here signifies an active awareness of and willingness to address the structures and systems of oppressive, exploitative and unjust power in our society, including those related to racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, colonialism and capitalism. An action lab is a space for rigorous reflection, experimentation and collaboration.
RiVAL’s action-research agenda is defined by three broad themes (with three sub-themes each), five interdisciplinary hallmarks and five methodological strategies.
Today’s mode of global capitalism, entangled as it is with other systems of exploitation and domination including colonialism, imperialism and hetero-patriarchy, is based on the deadly fallacy of a future of endless extraction of wealth, energy and resources from people and the planet. Here, extraction means not only the ecological and social destruction of the resource-extractive sector (mining, oil and gas, etc.). It also means the “accumulation by dispossession” by which social wealth is privatized: the way in which bodies, populations and communities have labour, time and knowledge harvested for the profit of the wealthy and powerful.
Conventional ideas of “the economy” usually help normalize, excuse and hide this state of affairs by making it seem natural, inevitable or even beneficial. What could an expanded imagination of “the economy,” one that encompasses the rich complexity of human and more-than-human “cooperation,” offer for struggles to move beyond a world of extraction? How could reimagining economic value and values be part of a broader systemic transformation for social justice?
- Colonial hauntologies of financialized capitalism: The financial sector seems to rule everything around us, superintending and (chaotically) coordinating an extractive a debt-fuelled world order. But while this system is in many ways new, only by paying attention to the histories and legacies of colonialism can we fully understand it, and how it might be resisted. To transcend it, we will need visions that also move us beyond colonial ideologies and their attendant systems of racism and exclusion.
- Financial literacy for collective liberation: Financial literacy or inclusion are often offered as a solution to rising levels of debt and inequality. But they are usually based on the privatization of what are, in fact, sociological and shared economic problems. Individuals are made to bear responsibility for survival and thriving in a sabotaged system. How could a different model of financial literacy, one that drew on art, research and social movement education, reveal these deeper systems and become a platform for new forms of cooperation and solidarity?
- Technologies of the common: Around the world, colonial capitalism has advanced by enclosing the commons: those relationships between people and the planet (often mistaken for “resources”) that, when shared and organized by communities, are the basis of life. Today, new digital technologies, which are often built cooperatively, are being enclosed by rent-seeking corporations and other private forces for individualized use and exploitation. How can they be brought back under common stewardship, and how can they help steward the commons?
Decolonizing the settler imagination
Based on Anishinaabe territory, in what is currently known Northwestern Ontario, RiVAL takes a central interest in the intertwined material and imaginative systems of settler colonialism. We are curious about how settlers (non-Indigenous people) on this land might transform individually and collectively to come closer to a right relation to this land and the Indigenous peoples who have cared for it for so many generations. We are interested in what sustains the settler colonial imagination, and how it might be challenged in the name of peace, justice and sustainable prosperity for everyone.
- New communities of risk and relation: Financialized extractive capitalism operates in part by shaping each of us into individualized, competitive “risk-managers.” At the same time many of us are subjected to extreme risks of state, economic, epistemological or environmental violence based on race, gender and other markers oppression. What other visions of a common fate might exist within, against and beyond the extractive, financialized worldview? How could new relationships of solidarity alleviate the risks that we all face (such as climate change or economic uncertainty), but that we do not all face with equal consequences or power?
- Falling out of love with authoritarian institutions: while notions of the settler colonial “garrison mentality” may be outdated, we are concerned with the public affects of devotion and reverence for coercive authority structures of the state and the market. Such institutions include the police or prisons which are used to solve social problems they are ill equipped to handle, with horrendous consequences. The devotion we afford to these institutions can and does blossom into virulent authoritarian and reactionary social movements, especially in response to Indigenous land defence and activism. How might we meet our collective needs otherwise?
- Storying solidarity: While the history of settler colonialism is rife with examples of oppression, betrayal and exploitation, we strive to rekindle a living memory of moments of solidarity and common-cause between Indigenous and non-indigenous people living on these lands, the better that we might learn how to organize together for systemic transformation.
What comes after revenge politics?
Global capitalism is in its endgame, and we all look set to lose, competing for survival on a ruined planet. The extractive economy’s (inevitable) betrayal of its promises of security and democracy has left in its wake a vicious revenge politics and revenge culture that can be observed in different forms around the world: religious fundamentalism, neo-fascist political parties, ethno-nationalist demagogues and a rise in social and political sadism. Yet how can we move beyond a nostalgia for the very systems and structures of colonial capitalism that brought us to this point? What might come next, and how can we begin preparing and planning now?
- Transcending capitalist neurohacking: The explosive combination of handheld devices, social media ubiquity, machine learning algorithms, the declining rate of profit and other factors have rapidly transformed our society. New corporate behemoths have tremendous power not only over what stories and messages are heard, but increasingly over our very cognitive functions, reactions and neurochemistry. What are the stakes and potentials for social justice in an age of psychopolitics?
- Towards new radical humanisms: Sylvia Wynter, drawing on and enhancing a long lineage of Caribbean and anti-colonial philosophy, has proposed the need to cultivate a new humanism that draws on but moves beyond the exclusionary, punitive and deadly models of a white-supremacist patriarchal tradition. How can we bring our creative powers to bear to take up this challenge, to become responsible, thriving beings within the web of life?
- Becoming participatory-democratic animals: Colonial capitalism has sought to contort us into its model of homo economicus: a competitive, acquisitive, selfish species. How might we cultivate the practices and powers become a participatory-democratic species who thrive amidst cooperation, communication and play? What technologies of care and commoning can we devise now that will both prefigure and midwife into being a world that can fulfill our potentials?
A hallmark is a characteristic imprint. The following questions are stamped on all our activities.
- Are we leading with collaboration and relationships? We build our projects based on relationships, partnerships and collaborations with people and organizations that share our interests, methods and values.
- Are we activating the radical imagination? We seek to foster, host and support collective exercises in dreaming dangerously.
- Are we challenging conventions and power? Unless it worries the powerful, it’s not rigorous. Challenging power means taking an anti-oppressive stance that acknowledges the systemic and structural realities of racism, colonialism, (hetero)sexism, ableism and other vectors of oppression, as well as the ways these reproduce and are reproduced by day to day behaviours and culture.
- Are we in dialogue with (but not subordinate to) struggles for social justice? Often academic research and institutions inadvertently extracts ideas and energies from movements, whereas we seek to build capacities. We seek to give more to than we take from the grassroots.
- Is our planning scalable? We only engage in projects that we can support or carry out with minimal funding and support. When we apply for funding or advance a project, we do so as an embellishment or extension of underlying projects.
- Interdisciplinary and anti-disciplinary collaboration: RiVAL facilitates high caliber, provocative and socially-responsible research at the cusp of the social sciences and humanities. Our notion of research is based in a dialogic theory of the imagination, which means that we put a high premium on interdisciplinary collaborations and egalitarian research relationships within, against and beyond academe.
- Rigorous, resonant and readable texts: We prize intellectually thorough, grounded, writing that is in critical dialogue with knowledgeable interlocutors within and beyond the university. But we equally prize writing and publication that addresses the urgency of our moment, and that can speak to more diverse audiences than most academic texts.
- Collaborative research-creation: research creation is the thoughtful and systematic use of artistic techniques and processes to explore and share ideas and knowledge. One of our key mandates is to promote this kind of work in a collaborative fashion, in ways that build community capacity.
- Embracing multimedia: We are centrally interested in experimenting with techniques to share, broadcast and debate critical ideas via the possibilities of new digital technologies as well as resilient analogue techniques and also through unsung social technologies as well.
- Local impact, global outlook: We seek to balance our engagements in the global sphere with our local collaborations and contributions in Thunder Bay.