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BASS Philosophy and Criminology

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Alternative Economies - Ordinary Economies

Unit code SOCY30252
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Sociology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course takes a critical look at diverse and alternative forms of economy, exploring the changing landscape of contemporary consumption and production.


The course begins by questioning the concept of economy, introducing students to the core theoretical propositions of the course, including ‘diverse economies’ (Gibson-Graham, 2008), economy as practice (Gregson and Crang, 2017) and modes of provision (Warde, 1990).  This questioning of the term economy, and emphasis upon the experimental, hidden and often heterogeneous forms of economy, paves the way for the remainder of the course where we introduce different economic formations and discuss their contemporary sociological relevance.


From this foundation we explore the political economy of the household and the ordinary taken for granted nature of oikonomia.  Students will be introduced to debates on the gendered division of labour, alongside the concept of ‘consumption work’ (Wheeler and Glucksmann, 2015) to critically assess how the household is an ordinary economy.  Community economies will follow using examples of third sector organisations including food banks and pay-as-you-feel entities such as Real Junk Food Project, to think about ordinary and emergency forms of provision and their role in more sustainable and equitable forms of consumption.  This will involve critiquing collective forms of consumption, such as commoning and connected consumption, and their role in civic engagement (Cruz et al, 2018).  From here we will consider cultural economies, thinking about the social and political capital offered by endeavours such as farmers markets and cultural festivals (Gibson, 2009).  A focus on illicit economies will enable student’s to consider the hidden spaces of economy, drawing on work on global supply chains of counterfeit goods (Gregson and Crang, 2017), drugs and labour (Andreas, 2013).


The latter part of the course moves towards considering new economic formations.  Thinking firstly about the sharing economy, and drawing upon examples such as Uber and AirBnB, the course explores the move towards access based forms of consumption as opposed to ownership (Botsman and Rogers, 2011; Ince and Hall, 2017).  Secondly, we will consider the circular economy, using examples such as repair cafes, to think about how this previously industry-based macro model is being applied and interwoven at all economic scales through a focus on re-use, redistribution and repair (Holmes, 2018).  This leads us to examine the notion of ‘prosumption’ (Ritzer, 2014) and the idea that consumption and production are not two distinct elements of economic activity but as the course has revealed are very much entwined (Evans, 2018).  The course ends with a consideration of economic futures, and ideas and imaginaries of what future economies may encompass (Coleman, 2016).


Where possible guest lectures will be given by relevant organisations and stakeholders.  These will draw on Dr Holmes’s extensive contacts and networks and will potentially include:  Real Junk Food Manchester, Stitched Up Chorlton, Incredible Edible, and Rebuild.  Site visits to the organisations will also be considered.


The course unit aims to:

  • Explore diverse and alternative forms of economy and their sociological significance for contemporary debates on sustainability, austerity, inequalities and changing modes of provision (market, state, communal, household), as well as broader debates around consumption and production and the division of the two.
  • To provide theoretical frameworks, empirical materials and access to those working in varying economies (through guest lectures) to allow students to explore for themselves diverse and ordinary forms of economy.
  • Explore and critique different economic formations questioning what is alternative about them in relation to differing modes of provision.
  • Consider the global impact of diverse and alternative forms of economy on providing more equitable and sustainable forms of resource provision.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding: 

  • Understand and critique different contemporary economic formations and their relationships to debates on sustainable resource use, austerity and inequality.
  • Be able to apply theoretical knowledge to the sociological understanding of contemporary economic phenomena, and broader issues of consumption and production.


Intellectual skills:

  • Evaluate competing analytical perspectives
  • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of empirical evidence
  • Employ material available from academic, media and policy sources to make effective arguments.
  • Develop a critical approach to academic, media and policy texts.


Practical skills: 

  • Use library and electronic sources and resources
  • Undertake and present independent research


Transferable skills and personal qualities:  

  • Present ideas and ask questions in group discussion.
  • Work with others to develop ideas and make presentations.
  • Develop a critical approach to contemporary sociological debates on alternative and divergent economic formations.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures will focus on exploring and critiquing varying forms of alternative economy through a sociological lens.  Classic texts in the field of economic sociology and the sociology of consumption will be drawn upon, alongside contemporary debates in books, journal articles and the media enabling students to consider the key theoretical arguments in relation to empirical case studies.  Guest lectures by third party contacts and site visits to organisations will enrich these debates providing first hand lived experience of different economic situations and their impact upon society.


In tutorials and through assessed presentations, students will be encouraged to explore empirical examples of alternative economies, applying theoretical knowledge from the course to critique and debate them.


Video materials will be suggested as recommended viewing in advance of particular workshops and shorter video or audio materials used within lectures.


The course will utilise Blackboard to deliver the module’s course content, core readings, lecture slides, any supplementary materials such as video materials, and communication.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Recommended reading

Andreas, P. (2013) Smuggler nation: how illicit trade made America. Oxford University Press: Oxford.


Botsman, R., Rogers, R., (2011) What’s mine is yours: The rise of collaborative consumption.  London: HarperCollins Business.


Coleman, R. (2016) Austerity Futures: Debt, Temporarlity and (Hopeful) Pessimism as an Austerity Mood, New Formations, 87: 83-101.


Cruz, I. Ganga, R and Whelan, S. (2018) Contemporary collaborative consumption.  New York: Springer.


Evans, D. (2018) ‘What is consumption, where has it been going and does it still matter?’ The Sociological Review.


Gibson-Graham, J. K. (2008) Diverse economies: Performative practices for “other worlds.” Progress in Human Geography 32(5), 613–632.


Gibson, C., Waitt, G., Walmsley, J., Connell, J., (2009) ‘Cultural festivals and economic development in Nonmetropolitan Australia’, Journal of Planning Education and Research 29(3): 280–293.


Gregson, N. and Crang, M. (2017) ‘Illicit economies: customary illegality, moral economies and Circulation’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 42(2): 206-219.


Hall, S. M., and Ince, A., (eds) (2017) Sharing economies in times of crisis: Practices, politics and possibilities. United Kingdom: Routledge.


Holmes, H. (2018), ‘New spaces, ordinary practices: circulating and sharing in diverse economies of provisioning’, Geoforum, 88: 138-147.


Pahl R. E. E., (1984), Divisions of labour. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.


Ritzer, G., (2014), ‘Prosumption: Evolution, revolution or eternal return of the same?’, Journal of Consumer Culture, 14(1): 3-24.


Warde A (1990) Introduction to the Sociology of Consumption. Sociology 24(1): 1-4.


Wheeler, K. and Glucksmann, M. (2015) Household Recycling and Consumption Work: Social and Moral Economies.  London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 0

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Helen Holmes Unit coordinator

Additional notes


Coursework essay 3,000 words 50% of mark

Traditional exam or online equivalent 2 questions 50% of mark

One non assessed group task with formative feedback.

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