The political economy of everyday life

26 April 2022

James Jackson - Doctoral Researcher, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Sheffield

Remi Edwards - Doctoral Researcher, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Sheffield

This new blog series by members of SPERI’s Doctoral Researcher Network explores how a political economy analysis can help to explain experiences in our everyday lives.

The disciplinary approach of political economy is often employed to explain the macro events that occur across the global economy, from economic growth to sovereign debt, unemployment and inflation to name a few. Often less considered is how these events can influence our every life in various ways, from the things we buy, the technologies we use and the relationships we share. 

In this blog series, members of SPERI’s Doctoral Researcher Network outline how the explanatory power of political economy can be used to understand how these macro questions reveal themselves in our everyday life.

Two people waiting to cross a busy road
Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

Over the next month, the contributions to this blog series address seven of the most novel questions facing the discipline. Amidst a period of turbulence and unpredictability – currently defined by post-pandemic economic recovery, precarious and unequal labour markets, financialisation, inflation, powerful corporations and media organisations, climate breakdown and Brexit – our lives are structured in myriad ways by macro political economic phenomena. 

This series demonstrates how a political economy lens helps to make sense of such phenomena by situating them in everyday, lived experience, pushing the discipline into underexplored conceptual spaces.

To begin this series, Nina Lotze lays out the reality of queer lives under capitalism, how modern LGBT+ movements have been co-opted by corporations in mainstream discourse, and how it obscures the urgent everyday issues of queer people. Nina unravels the confluence of politics, queer issues, corporations, and consumers that shape contemporary queer identities. The blog explores how queer people’s interaction with politics and the economy follows a longer lineage of the successful Western LGBT+ rights movements, AIDS activism, and the fight for marriage equality that preceded it.

The second blog by Winnie Lam and Kara Ng explores whether it is possible to be a truly sustainable and ethical consumer, providing tips to navigate the growing trend of conscious consumerism. Winnie and Kara delve into the idea of consumption as a political choice to address the issues of over-consumption, pollution, labour exploitation and dignity at work. Contrary to the rise of fast fashion amongst consumers, the blog develops the idea of how buying second-hand or from ethical brands raises the prospect of ‘slow fashion’ serving as a potential solution.

In the third contribution, Guy Cowman-Sharpe details how the advent of live streaming has transformed the ways in which media is both produced and consumed. The blog outlines how Twitch has blurred the distinction between labour and leisure time, as live streaming is central to the emerging gig economy. Guy shows how new forms of media alter our relationship with the economy, give rise to the notions of a ‘hustle culture’ and a ‘grindset’ mentality to provide hope for many that one day they may gain future financial independence.    

Next, in the fourth contribution, Remi Edwards and James Jackson propose that the political economy of veganism may be conceptualised as falling into two ‘catches’, namely a Catch-22 in which veganism inevitably encounters pitfalls under capitalist conditions and a Catch-23 where the attempts to make a more sustainable equitable society simply becomes a new market for industry incumbents. Through this conceptualisation, the blog advances a critique of the capitalist interpretation of veganism and outlines how an alternative political framework might look.

The fifth blog by George Asiamah asks whether the UK can still have its cake and eat it in a post-Brexit Agri-food sector. Following one of the most pronounced changes to people’s everyday lives, George analyses how Brexit and the subsequent Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) raises the prospect of a new regulatory regime for agri-foods in both the UK and the EU. The result is that the UK’s divergence from the EU regulatory regime may lead to cheaper products for UK producers, but it ultimately instigates a ‘race to the bottom’ on food standards for UK consumers.

The sixth blog is by Nerea Amisi Okong’o, who employs a feminist perspective to reveal how despite the attempts by black African women to create an environment in which they may be considered equals in the workplace, their lived experiences reveal they are not equal enough. With the leadership positions of extractive industries inhabited by men, Nerea recounts how black African women occupy a role in elite spaces that is ultimately tokenistic, characterised by precarity with little opportunity to grow. 

In the final blog, Georgette Fernandez Laris outlines how perhaps the most fundamental resource in our everyday lives, money, is the subject of a battle between public and private actors over the future of digital currencies. Focusing on Facebook’s (or Meta’s) plans to launch their own digital currency in the Diem, Georgette unpicks how such endeavours are motivated by ambitions to monetise our privacy. The blog thus calls into question what actions central banks have taken to wrestle the power of money away from private interests.