By Matthias Nothnagel
The Flexonomix District Currency Game, an experimental workshop presented by Jens Martignoni, Panayotis Antoniadis and Ileana Apostol (nethood) allowed the participants to engage in a simulation aimed at testing the relations between micro-scale democracy and alternative currencies in the context of cooperative housing.
With more than 5,000 different local-exchange and trading systems worldwide (such as care currencies or regional and transition currencies), the necessity to find alternatives to existing monetary models has never been more prevalent. At the same time, the availability of land has become an increasingly bigger issue; a development that sparked the idea of cooperative housing (formed by a collective of actors that play in the real estate system). Once this social context of the housing crisis was explained and the extent of alternative monetary forms introduced, the workshop leaders addressed these issues with the proposal for a common-based currency called “Qs” (which was introduced in the context of collective living.)
The aim of the Flexonomix District Game is to make it easier to understand how currencies can be used in local co-operatives. The participants were invited to take part to a simulation of a housing cooperative, with every person co-owning and contributing to its success. Each participant was assigned a different function within the community: the four different types of roles included members of a commons-commission, a cash desk, business person, and lastly a general population that formed the residents of the housing community. The game characters consisted of, inter alia, barbers, nurses, flower shop owners or football players.
After the assignment of the fictitious roles, the participants were asked to keep their roles for the remaining game and additionally were given “Qs,” the alternative currency. As the simulation of daily life in the housing cooperative began the participants engaged with another, traded jobs and material requests, dealing mainly with the question of how to define a certain tasks or jobs monetary value. Therefore, an open marketplace was established, where both offers and requests, based on the individual’s needs and abilities, could be posted. In a second step, certain job offers were designed, based on the marketplace’s collective needs.
After 30 minutes, the game entered its second phase, which consisted of a general assembly of all participants in order to address and reflect on the community’s needs and, furthermore, collect individuals proposals for future purposes. All game characters could vote on which of the proposals they wanted to be implemented (or not) in their community (such as open medication hours, a community member providing free hugs, child care and pension plans).
Through the act of translating the notion of common-based currencies from a general concept into a performative, participatory experience, the game designers were able to not only present their idea but furthermore test it out and collect critical reflections on it. In addition to that, as the workshop conductors pointed out, the game included an inherent problematization of bitcoin (as a global currency) as it emphasized the idea that democratic value already faces challenges at a local-scale. In a short conclusive reflection, the workshop participants were able to voice their opinions. Critique was addressed at both the process of democratic decision-making and the structure of the assemblies, and, more importantly, on the issue of generating monetary value for certain tasks, jobs and objects (cookies, flowers and so on). Since the currency of “Qs” is designed as a parallel currency, it can’t directly be translated into paid money and, hence, needs a constant reference in order to establish its value.
Some participants furthermore pointed out the problematics of the “monetization of everything” (including small tasks such as gardening work) and consequently led to a loss in community spirit. Due to the highly relational value of the currency, the boundaries between volunteer work and free market faded, and critique was formulated towards the dangers of “quantifying everything!”, which the game occasionally reinforced according to some participants.
The practical experiment is an important part of NetHood’s research and development and you can follow their other projects online.