PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Freegan Identity

Freeganism could potentially reveal alternatives to capitalism, alternative subject positions to inhabit, but only if it abandons an ideology that is parasitical upon capitalism and emphasize instead communal approaches to production, consumption, distribution, and subjectivity.

The Buffalo freegans profiled by Jake Halpern in this NYT magazine piece from a few weeks ago seem like a case for some Kranton-Akerlof identity economics, the basic concepts of which are well presented in this review by Tom Slee.

Freegans purport to be proud freeloaders off the wasteful consumer society: they are "dedicated to salvaging what others waste and — when possible — living without the use of currency," Halpern writes. Yet the identity is a fragile facade, and not merely because it is incoherent, as Halpern explains: "Freegans maintain that by salvaging waste, they diminish their need for money, which allows them to live a more thoughtful, responsible and deliberate existence. But if they succeed in their overriding goal, and society ends up becoming less wasteful, the freegan lifestyle will no longer be possible." The freegan identity, in the case that Halpern covers in the article, relies on institutional support that masks the way they actually help the society they profess to scorn.

The freegans' oppositional identity is something that can be factored in, game theory style, by institutional agents when dealing with them and trying to orient them toward helping contribute to the system they think they are leeching off of. That is, freegans want to provide useful services to the existing economy, but only if it makes them feel like outcasts from that economy. Their practices can only produce the outsider identity they hope for with the help of some ideologically oriented playacting from the broader establishment:

Eventually, one of the city’s “board-up crews,” which seal off abandoned homes, discovered the squatters and reported them to Judge Henry Nowak at the city’s housing court.... He was approached by a group of neighbors who lived near the mansion. They said they wanted to discuss the squatters. To the judge’s astonishment, the neighbors praised the young people, saying that they had kept the thieves, drug dealers and arsonists away. What’s more, they attested, the squatters were fixing up the place, making it less of an eyesore. Their presence, and the fact that the mansion was now occupied, had made it easier for people on the block to get homeowners’ insurance. Odd as it seemed, the freegan kids helped stabilize the neighborhood, and the concerned neighbors wanted them to stay. “They said, ‘Don’t you dare kick those kids out of the house!’ ” Judge Nowak told me.

After this encounter, the judge found himself in a difficult situation. “I was left with two options essentially,” he told me. “One would be to put the house in receivership, where I would tell all of these children that if they want to stay, they have to now pay rent.” This option was problematic, Nowak said, because the squatters were “enamored with the fact that they moved into a house that wasn’t theirs,” and given their freegan sensibilities, they would not consent to paying rent. Or, Judge Nowak explained, “I could essentially let things stay as they are and trust that the children are going to make the repairs to the property.”

For the time being, the judge decided to let the squatters stay. “It was a close call,” he told me. “It was an awfully close call.”

The freegans had basically embraced the quintessential bourgeois ethos of property improvement and had only a veil of radicalism to prevent themselves from recognizing that. Insiders -- the bourgeois neighbors -- had to try to accommodate the freegans' outsider status to continue to reap the benefits of their dirty work. Eventually they had to buy into the system overtly:

The squatters had already paid off back taxes and were paying utility bills — not the most orthodox of freegan practices — but, as they saw it, they were still beating the system. Ownership would, arguably, catapult them into the ranks of propertied classes.

“Many of us in the house see the whole system of private property as being something that oppresses people,” Tim said. “And if we owned the place, suddenly we’d be the ones kicking people out or the ones calling the cops.” But, in the end, Tim said, ownership was “a necessary step to keep the project alive.”

The obvious question at that point is, What does the "project" consist of? Is it still a freegan project, or has it evolved into an experiment in cooperative living within the institutions of consumer capitalism? It seems to me that freegan identity is probably a liability that prevents the more widespread acceptance of such experiments that might actually alter the institutions of capitalism for the better. But is there a way to motivate individuals to participate in such projects without baiting the hook with the promise of a oppositional, self-aggrandizing identity?

The complexity of that problem -- how to cultivate people who want to live in a "community economy" without their being stuck in capitalism's model of individuality -- is evoked in this introduction to J.K. Gibson-Graham's The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It), which is a condensation of A Postcapitalist Politics by the same author. Freeganism could potentially reveal alternatives to capitalism, alternative subject positions to inhabit (i.e. a different way to go about living, with entirely different guiding values and principles), but only if it abandons an ideology that is parasitical upon capitalism and emphasize instead communal approaches to production, consumption, distribution, and subjectivity -- reorganizing the sorts of markets we have and the sorts of people we become when we inhabit them.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.