Sans Duty – everyday utopianism and radical change

How do we get businesses to pay the corporation tax they owe? More specifically, how could we make the payment of corporate tax visible to enable citizens to decide which business supported public services and so reward them with their custom? This was the question Joe Lindley and I have been seeking to engage with, funded by a small ‘seed fund’ from the Communities and Culture Network (see for details here and here). Like any research though, the questions we developed have in turn turned into more interesting areas for exploration. Tax is a hugely complex issue. Seemingly, purposefully opaque and hidden by complex financial relationships, global trade agreements in services and dodgy bank accounts. So we ended up asking, what an everyday utopian response to making tax work for communities might look like.

So we are working with members of the Brixton Pound an everyday utopian community to explore and develop what might be an example of everyday utopian praxis – if you’re feeling particularly grand – or a process in co-producing design fictions. In brief, the idea is to use design fictions which are science fiction/ fact accounts of the future, bringing together the utility and use of design and the ability of fiction to suspend disbelief and interrogate the human and the social etc.

We have completed our data collection phase, which has been illuminating. First spoke to a group of Brixtonites, developed a speculative future in which billionaire Terry Veblen developed the ‘Just Tax Zone’, using a Payment by Results scheme to take over the tax affairs of Lambeth between 2016 – 2020. Then we – well Joe – created a speculative documentary, asking the participants to imagine they were living in this scenario, which in turn was the stimulus for a discussion with members of the B£ community.

First off, I’ve learned my acting skills are entirely undeveloped – see the film ‘ya know’ below… I wanted to share the film because often researchers ask participants to perform but don’t have ‘skin in the game’. So…

Anyway, hopefully proof that i have other talents. I presented at the wonderful AHRC Utopia conference this week in Bristol. The slides from the talk are below:

This is the wonderful conference art created about the talk:

These are my closing thoughts/ notes from the presentation:

  • It’s too early to say but what are the indications for the use of Co-produced design fictions for everyday utopias
  • Everyday utopias (Cooper 2014)… are ‘networks and spaces that perform regular daily life… in a radically different fashion … forging new ways of experiencing social and political life.’ (Cooper 2014: 2)?
  • Create arresting scenarios and provocation of the future… in order to rethink the present (Dunne and Raby 2013)?
  • How arresting? There weren’t drones… and the ideas were similar to open data, the FairTrade Standard etc
  • So how radical were they? Interrogate using theories oriented towards radical change, e.g
  • Holloway’s (2010) crack capitalism… does it stop us re-making capitalism? Not really. It’s more price information in a retail environment
  • Ranciere’s dissensus and the inclusion of the poor and marginalised the central aim and function of politics … but it requires smart phones and access to the Internet…
  • So Maybe that’s the wrong question…
  • A question we’ve been asking is, Did we do anything that we couldn’t have done without just sitting down and thinking by ourselves? And I don’t think we did in terms of the ideas we generated, how innovative or creative…
  • Wilkie et al (2015) talk about speculative methods, the purpose of which is to encourage the development of better questions and engage with them…
  • Thus the questions are not how to make tax visible in communities but rather to encourage them to consider different types of communities, the relationships and obligations between citizens and within that alternative configurations of tax collection and expenditure … and begin with a desire for a better way of being or living and then the collective engagement to make the world otherwise (Levitas)

James Duggan

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