Complementary Currency Systems, Citizenship and the Middle Classes

Complementary Currency Systems are social networks to exchange goods and services at the local level by using non-official means of payment. They exist in 56 countries around the world and have become particularly salient in the last decade. Participants in Complementary Currency Systems decide on what currency to use, whether to structure payments with physical notes or an electronic accountancy system, to have regular market meetings or trade on-line, to include local businesses or the local government, and so on. While in the North most Complementary Currency Systems are small and apparently attract participants looking for an alternative lifestyle, in the South they are a way to complement income, survive periods of unemployment and disseminate new forms of citizenship. The Argentine CCS, which was the largest one in terms of scale, allowed 6 million participants to survive the worst economic crisis in the country’s history (1999-2001).

This panel connects to the three components that will be addressed by the EADI conference, citizenship, inequality and the middle crisis. In terms of citizenship, the participants in Complementary Currency Systems reclaim from the state their right to create and manage their own means of payment. In that way, they structure a new modality of citizenship that combines political, economic and social goals. In terms of inequality, some groups have strong emancipatory discourses and practices and the participants underline that they create a type of money that respects diversity, fosters equality and may constitute the seed of an alternative economy to neoliberal capitalism and state-centred development. In turn, other groups focus on the economic effects of CCS in promoting responsible local development and mitigating inequalities by allowing low-income groups to mingle with better-off neighbours. The mingling of participants of diverse economic strata disseminates the voice and political concerns of the middle class to other segments of the population. CCS are spaces that aim at promoting civic innovation by engaging organizations and individuals in the pursuit of responsible and sustainable development in a world in which the central state is no longer the obvious issuer and manager of national money. From this point of view, CCS are a reflection of a polycentric world in which citizens reclaim from the state the right to shape the monetary system and challenge the mainstream economic practices that they connect to the deepening of inequalities and environmental degradation.

Research in the South presents only anecdotal evidence of the ways in which multiple income strata, gender and ethnic groups mingle within Complementary Currency Systems. This panel aims to gather research on the role of Complementary Currency Systems in promoting local economic development, advancing citizenship and building inclusive spaces that blur the inequalities of class, ethnicity and gender in developing countries. It also expects to contribute to the knowledge on the limitations and downside of CCS in developing countries to achieve the mentioned goals.