What is the nature of work and class in this postmodern age? That is the fundamental question Chris Carlsson asks in his latest book, Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners are Inventing the Future Today! Carlsson’s analysis of the way ordinary men and women challenge selected aspects of the commercialism of life and the atomization of the “classical” working class is both insightful and will lead to further theoretical investigation of what a reconstituted working class will eventually look like.
Carlsson begins his book on a discussion of how we define work. Is it just the paid work we do? Or is it the ways in which people come together to make their goals happen? Carlsson understands that the ordinary worker (and if we draw a paycheck, we are, after all workers) cannot completely separate themselves from the logic of the capitalist economic system. We need to be able to pay the rent and provide for the other necessities/niceties of life. During the time we work, we are at the mercy of the system. It is how workers organize the free time that becomes meaningful in his analysis.
The late capitalist system in which we live has become quite adept at colonizing the free time of the workers in the system, especially those workers who identify themselves as the middle/professional class. The extra hours, the working vacations, the work done at home are all part of a system that expects more from people while giving them less of what workers have traditionally worked for- security, money, and free time.
Nowtopia focuses on how some segments of our society are trying to reclaim their “free time” and rebuild communities. The gardeners, bikers, and programmers that Carlsson features in the book have these two things in common. The creation of a community that is not profit based becomes a type of work, but a work that is not defined by the capitalist system.
Carlsson’s analysis is excellent and he understands completely that pervasiveness of the capitalist system and its ability to colonize even the activities of these emerging communities. The rent, after all, needs to be paid in cash, not garden grown tomatoes.