Those of you who know me personally know, and those who are finding this site elsewise can probably surmise, that I am not coming at this venture from a business background. Rather, I’m trained as an interdisciplinary researcher in the social sciences and humanities, particularly within feminist approaches to analyzing and imagining alternatives to capitalism. Opening up shop has been a bit of a stretch for me.
So I’ve been giving myself a crash course in business: reading up on the harmonized tariff schedule and industry-standard pricing markups and minimum viable products. At the same time, I’ve been running searches for things like “anti-capitalist entrepreneurship,” which gets about as many results as you’d expect. There’s a lot of resources out there these days for starting a “social enterprise,” with advice on, say, how to develop a pitch deck to get funding from investors. I’ve found little interrogation of the apparatus of pitches, decks, and investors, or consideration of what types of work are and are not possible within that system. At least, I’m not finding that kind of critique from within the business world.* Instead, I see a lot of advice on how to apply practices from the private business sector to development projects, without much critique of the assumption that what works in one realm will work in another. Or much critique of either realm in and of itself.**
So I’m trying to go the other direction: what lessons from interdisciplinary theory and social justice organizing can I apply to running my business? How can I maintain a critical eye while trying to promote my own gig? What on Earth am I doing here?
As I find answers to these questions, and more questions stemming from those answers, I’ll collect them here under the category of “practices.” Some may seem more theoretical than practical, and items that I gather together here may more conventionally be split up into categories of ethics, operations, finances, etc. It’s all practice to me. I’ll start with this bit from a book on Indian liberation movements which I have yet to read but felt compelled to flip to the end, where I found this:
…if someone puts out a call that you have the capacity to answer, then go, but only if you’re willing to be engaged consistently over the long term. And if you’re able to do so with empathy and respect, without abandoning your critical awareness. Above all look to your own house; work at and from your own sites of resistance. While you do that, connect the dots; make the connections explicit.
-Maia Ramnath, Decolonizing Anarchism: An Antiauthoritarian History of India’s Liberation Struggle, p. 259
I have already read this so many times that I almost have it memorized. I feel like I should keep reading it every time I sit down to do any work, and maybe I will do just that.
*If you know where to find this, let me know!
**There is definitely a body of work critiquing development from scholar-practitioners within the NGO world, and maybe some of that is coming from within more profit-oriented projects, but I’m not yet familiar enough with this literature to know. So if you have ideas of entry points there, also let me know!