participation and responsible consumption in contemporary barter
The aim of my PhD project is to analyse participation and responsible consumption in contemporary barter practice. Starting from an exploration of two modalities of barter, I seek to understand which competencies are involved in this practice: the project will thus concentrate, on the one hand, on a nethnography of the web environment, searching for interesting examples of barter websites and, on the other, on a traditional ethnography of the Milan metropolitan area, detecting places where people engage in barter practice. The idea that gave birth to this project is that barter may be considered to be a practice of responsible consumption, and that this practice carries with it a high level of participation, defined as the ability of people to take part in joint decision-making processes which determine the surrounding environment. As media scholar Nico Carpentier has noticed, there is a real difference between accessing a field, interacting with other subjects and participating with them in decision-making processes that might influence anyone else in that field. In my opinion, consumption is a proper field where many political decisions are taken every day, both by producers and by consumers. While I agree with political consumerism scholars, I also take the matter further and consider the consumer field as a political field, where people, more or less consciously, are constantly taking political decisions. These decisions affect some precise practices which require specific competencies for them to continue. Some of these practices imply a certain level of participation, while others need mere access, and my hypothesis is that all responsible consumption practices require a certain level of participation, and barter is one of the practices which requires the highest level of participation. This is due to the fact that what characterises barter is the absence of a universal equivalent which determines the value of objects. The value of exchanged objects must thus come from a negotiation between barterers based on the unique characteristics of the object and a solid trust-based relationship between the two barterers. In conclusion, the aim of the research is to determine whether or not barter is a form of responsible consumption, assuming that people who have decided to be involved in this practice were consciously aware of the political decision they were making in avoiding the normal money market, and to understand which competencies this practice requires and develops.