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Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today!


Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today! Cover

ISBN13: 9781904859772
ISBN10: 1904859771
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Outlaw bicycling, urban permaculture, biofuels, free software, and even the Burning Man festival are windows into a scarcely visible social transformation that is redefining politics as we know it. As capitalism continues to corral every square inch of the globe into its logic of money and markets, new practices are emerging through which people are taking back their time and technological know-how. In small, under-the-radar ways, they are making life better right now, simultaneously building the foundation — technically and socially — for a genuine movement of liberation from market life.

Nowtopia uncovers the resistance of a slowly recomposing working class in America. Rarely defining themselves by what they do for a living, people from all walks of life are doing incredible amounts of labor in their "non-work" time, creating immediate practical improvements in daily life. The social networks they create, and the practical experience of cooperating outside of economic regulation, become a breeding ground for new strategies to confront the commodification to which capitalism reduces us all.

The practices outlined in Nowtopia embody a deep challenge to the basic underpinnings of modern life, as new ecologically driven politics emerge from below, reshaping our assumptions about science, technology, and human potential.

Chris Carlsson, executive director of the multimedia history project "Shaping San Francisco", is a writer, publisher, editor, and community organizer. He has edited four collections of political and historical essays. He helped launch the monthly bike-ins known as Critical Mass, and was the longtime editor of Processed World magazine.

Book News Annotation:

Writer and activist Carlsson takes the reader on a wide-ranging tour of people and organizations he loosely dubs as the emergent "Nowtopian movement," by which he means those who are engaged in projects and activities that point the way for workers' emancipation outside of the capitalist wage system. He describes do-it-yourself bicycle repair shops, free software developers for political activists, small farmers building alternative food systems, grassroots biofuels activists, urban gardeners, the annual temporary alternative society embodied in the Burning Man festival, and others. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (


The future is now! Practical rebels reshape our assumptions about science, technology, and human potential.

About the Author

Chris Carlsson, executive director of the multimedia history project Shaping San Francisco, is a writer, publisher, editor, and community organizer. He has edited four collections of political and historical essays. His most recent book is After The Deluge, a utopian novel of post-economic San Francisco. He was long-time editor of Processed World magazine.

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jgeneric82, June 6, 2008 (view all comments by jgeneric82)
Book Review: "Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-lot Gardeners are Inventing the Future Today"
by Chris Carlsson
Review by James Generic
"Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today!" explores the subcultures of subtle and active resistance to the dominate US consumer culture. Author Chris Carlsson argues that today, the American working class is fragmented and not able to organize through traditional union politics, since people work in jobs where they are moved around a lot or are more individualized in smaller units, like retail jobs or smaller shops or service jobs, with many different locations, as opposed to the factory setting of the 20th century. He says that active resistance focuses on creating a "nowtopia" approach rather than a far off future utopia. He touches on a variety of people in the US engaged in building this new world today, instead of confronting the old existing capitalist world order. Examples he gives include the DIY ethic, urban gardeners, bicyclist, hackers and internet freaks, the Burning Man, left-wing scientists, and free fuel activists.

Urban gardeners reclaim otherwise decaying urban cities, where drugs and crime plague neighborhoods, and try to get food from the land. The gardens take back private property, long abandoned by slum lords, and turn it into public land or a commons for the neighbors and by the neighbors, growing and sharing food. More often than not, women lead in rebuilding a sense of community by everyone with an interest in the gardens putting caring for them. Green Philadelphia, a network promoting urban gardens in Philadelphia areas taken over by drugs, empowered residents to be in charge of their neighborhoods. In the 1990s, Mayor Giuliani saw t he NYC vacant lot gardeners as a threat to private enterprise, even calling them communists, and basically declared war on the gardeners, forcing them to engage in active fights to preserve gardens and to prevent the land on which they sat from being sold to development schemes.

Carlsson also explores bike culture, like the Critical Mass protests that occur in cities throughout the world typically taking place the last Friday of the month. Bicyclists show that there is a viable, healthy, environmentally friendly and affordable alternative to car culture. Particularly in cities walking, biking or taking public transit provide valuable alternates to cars, lessening air, noise soil and water pollution. He interviews people who've opened up bike repair spaces to anyone who wants learn. In San Francisco, he focuses on programs that teach bike repair to children in low income neighborhoods. He also interviews people who rebel against mainstream bike culture, with its glossy magazines and spandex. The bike messenger culture, a highly individualistic, very punk subculture, has organized into messenger unions, but one in San Francisco fizzled out because the sponsoring union eventually pulled out and suffered backlash from the courier companies.

Carlsson looks into other revolts against mainstream consumer culture, like the veggie-fuel movement, telling the story of one group of people, who drove across the country, procuring used oil at fast food restaurants along the way in order to fuel their journey.They gave talks on their trip, telling others about biodiesel and about how to convert a car to run on veggie-oil. This group reduced their reliance on the oil economy and met their fuel needs by re-using oil that was otherwise destined for the dump. Their project was based on DIY ethics, on environmentally friendly motives, and on a reuse ethic, which in the current days where gas prices are through the roof might seem like a good alternative and a cheap way of fueling vehicles. (Though I worry about Carlsson promoting biodiesel in this day and age, since it will probably end up like ethanol and drive up corn prices, if it became widely popular.) Biodiesel is not sustainable on a mass scale. So consumers need to consider reducing their use of fuels though that's not always possible in places that are built around the automobile.

He looks at using open source software against corporate giants like microsoft. And he discusses the Burning Man festival. Although described by its organizers as an experiment in community, radical self-expression, and self-reliance, and promoting an idea of attenders who are all participants with its "no spectators" concept, not allowing monetary exchange so that attendees allegedly learn to think outside of the capitalist structure and re-evaluate "value" by bartering skills and things, Carlsson acknowledges that the festival has become another for-profit enterprise.

Throughout the book, Carlsson asks various people what they think their class background is. They usually respond that they aren't sure but thought they were some kind of middle class. He takes that to mean that the US working class is not something around which to organize. I think he might be forgetting that the US education system does not explicitly teach people about class. Even in the UK, where people often say they are working class even when they are not, interestingly similar to and yet different from the US where everyone thinks they're middle class from sanitation workers to US Senators. He berates unions over and over because they look at class from an outdated point of view. I agree: unions don't organize people anymore (I think that is the fault of US unions not of unionism). Though unions and the labor movement have been slow to adapt to the changing economy, I don't think that throws out a worker-driven movement.

A part I did like about this book is that it explained the concept of "Multitudes", developed and used by people like Negri, in language that was more on my level, so I finally figured out what it means (there are multiple classes of people instead of one working class).

All in all, the book is an interesting read, though it is a bit choppy and maybe the author jumps to conclusions too quickly. Still, it's cool to see what other people are doing to organize and agitate or self-organize as far as interests outside of my own. I've never been someone who's thought that you can only do one thing ("either, or"), and all else is damned. For any movement to thrive, there has to be a whole lot of stuff doing all kinds to resist and reject to the dominant cultures, as well as organizing within it and for a better future beyond it.

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Product Details

Carlsson, Chris
AK Press
History & Theory - General
Future Studies
History & Theory
Work and family
Quality of life
Social networks
Political participation
History & Theory - Radical Thought
General Social Science
Politics - General
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
12 BandW photographs
9 x 6 x 0.5 in 15.5 oz

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » American Studies » 80s to Present
History and Social Science » American Studies » General
History and Social Science » Linguistics » Specific Languages and Groups
History and Social Science » Sociology » Future Studies
History and Social Science » World History » General
Reference » Words Phrases and Language
Religion » Comparative Religion » General
Science and Mathematics » Environmental Studies » Sustainable Living

Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today! Used Trade Paper
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The future is now! Practical rebels reshape our assumptions about science, technology, and human potential.
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