I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention: Rethinking Social Wealth In & Against Times of Austerity
March 27th, 2011, 1PM @ The Co-Prosperity Sphere, Chicago

Tom Waits once quipped that he was so broke that he couldn’t even pay attention. While Waits is not typically thought of as a theorist of crisis, in a strangely prescient way this describes condition of economic and social crisis that we live through today. It gestures not only to the apparent lack of financial resources used to justify the imposition of austerity measures, but also corresponding a lack of time, affect, and care. We find ourselves not only struggling to keep up with bills, debt, rents, and work – but the intensification of these dynamics leaves us with less time and energy for relating as social beings rather than economic agents. Thus a financial crisis becomes an economic crisis, and then a crisis affecting the very fabric of social relations.

Economic and social crises are not only moments of rupture, upheavals in daily life, but also moments that clarify what is truly important. For economic elites this means reinstating forms of class power that had been held in check, but from a different perspective or it represents a reclaiming of enclosed resources and commons. It is to declare, as the slogan goes “We won’t pay for your crisis.” But in confronting the declaration that we live in times of austerity, it is not enough to simply denounce them (as important that is), but also to rethink what is important.

What is it that is truly of value today? What would it mean to rethink notions of wealth not based solely on material acquisition, but rather through a framework of time, pleasure, interaction, and imagination? This afternoon discussion will be based around these very questions, to rethink the questions of social wealth through and despite claims that we live in times of austerity.

Suggested Readings:
Jeremy Gilbert – Sharing the Pain: The emotional politics of austerity
Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi – How To Heal A Depression