Alternative economies in Corbières and the upper valley of the Aude: Towards non-alienation and communal reliance

Rachel Slocum, Teresa Gowan

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The Aude, a rural département in southwest France, is the site of one of the longest-lived European concentrations of counter-cultural practice. Here, villages abandoned by the devastating rural exodus post WWII were discovered by enthusiastic radicals of the '68 generation, who were able to establish themselves because property was cheap. From ethnographic research, we find that a receptive community, inexpensive resources and a strongly interventionist welfare state provide a fertile ground into which practitioners of plenitude may enact a non-normative approach to work and money, which takes root, grows and spreads. We identify a continuum of alternative economic practices encompassing a range of approaches to work itself-some privileging a life of radical simplicity and autonomy, and others interested in developing more successful artisanal businesses. We find a place for neo-medievalists/ruralists who fetishize practices like the horse-drawn plough, and large-scale organic farmers. Finally, we show that the plenitude practices among the Aude alternatifs are tied together by communal reliance-by networks of support and cooperation that rely on being amongst and caring for others. Gifting and 'lending a hand' are key to these economies, enabling them to flourish. While this raises questions about the cost of living for those who do not participate for whatever reason in this exchange network, we see gifting as fundamental to long lasting alternative economies. This case refines our understanding of long-standing debates around the necessity and desirability of self-sufficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-145
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Political Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015


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