After four years in Global Development Studies, I have definitely experienced the burnout and disillusionment that comes with studying the world and how to try and make it a better place. Most courses in global development tend to focus on the broad strokes of development, the theories and global processes that have brought us to where we are today. The solutions and alternatives to development issues we study are similarly theoretical, and most involve shifting international discourses and power relationships. These abstract, global solutions can be challenging to even wrap your head around, let alone participate in.
The commercialization of global development through paid voluntourism engagements (like ME to WE trips), or brands like Product RED, make it hard to ethically engage in development as an individual. To help maintain my passion for Global Development Studies, and social justice more broadly, over the past few years I have reflected on how I can engage in little, everyday acts of radical resistance against capitalism in my own life. These little acts of resistance might not make a dent in Amazon’s rising hegemony or Elon Musk’s quasi-religious status among finance bros, but they have helped me stay passionate and motivated about the possibility of radical global change.
My first everyday act of radical resistance is making my own clothes. If you have had a class with me this year, you will have undoubtedly seen me knitting in class. Not only does knitting help me stay focused during class, but I’ve also been able to make two sweaters, three shirts, and many scarves in class time that I otherwise would have just been fidgeting in my seat. I have made a commitment to buy as little new clothing as possible, instead, I try to knit and crochet the things I need as much as I can. Over the years, my knitting and crochet practices have become more sustainable as I incorporate new techniques and types of yarn to improve the durability of my pieces. I have also started making clothing that is more plain and versatile that can be paired with lots of pieces I already have in my closet to maximize how much I wear the clothes I make. Every knit shirt and sweater I make is one less item of clothing bought from fast-fashion companies.
In a similar vein to making my own clothes, I also consider wearing my clothes until they can no longer be mended as a radical act of resistance. I used to want to have the newest, trendiest pieces in my wardrobe, which led to a cycle of high consumption and waste when the clothing I had bought inevitably fell out of style. Even though I’ve been thrifting for the better part of a decade, thrift shopping still involves buying new clothes. Now, I challenge myself to wear the pieces in my wardrobe as much as possible, until they are beyond mending, to resist the capitalist ethos of consumption. Learning how to do basic hand sewing and mending can extend the lives of your favourite pieces and curb your consumption.
My next act of everyday radical resistance is gifting/giving away previously owned items. Now, I’m not out here giving my mom a random sweater of mine from high school that I know she’ll never wear. By gifting previously owned items, I mean reflecting on what you don’t use in your everyday life anymore, that is in good shape, and giving it to someone you know would give it another life. I give clothing I don’t wear anymore to friends I know will love and wear the clothes, as opposed to donating to a thrift store (since most clothing donated to thrift stores ends up in landfills). I gift books I’ve read that are collecting dust on my bookshelf to friends and family. You can also do this by joining swap groups on Facebook where you can list your items for someone to have for free. The idea of this act of resistance is to extend the life of items you’ve already purchased by giving them new homes where you know they’ll be used.
Another act of radical resistance is shopping local at small businesses and making connections in your community. I love the novelty and vintage stores along Princess Street and in the downtown area, so when I do need to buy something, I do my best to buy from there. I try to talk to the owners and employees as much as possible when I enter these stores. Capitalism thrives on the anonymity of the consumer, producer, and other actors in the sale process. Forging connections in your local community helps to build networks of solidarity among workers and community members.
The final act of radical resistance I will touch on is the act of caring for yourself and others. Capitalist business models are based on a cycle of consumption and waste that results in commodities designed to break so that you have to purchase another in a few months/years. More broadly, neoliberalism thrives when individuals are dependent on the services it sells, which we are witnessing in real-time with the privatization of the Ontario healthcare system. At its core, neoliberalism wants to isolate you from your community and force you to be dependent on it. Caring for yourself and your community is the greatest everyday act of resistance in my eyes.
Care is an incredibly broad idea, but at its fundamental level, it is about connection, collaboration, and healing. Michel Foucault explored this idea in what he called ‘the care of the self’; the idea that care is the practices or activities that individuals, families, and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing and restoring health, both physical and mental. He was inspired by Ancient Greek and Roman ideas that one cared for oneself not out of selfishness, but in order to be recognized by others in one’s world as a decent and worthy member of the community. Caring for the self is an active process that involves hard work and reflection on your own identity as an ethical being and your relationship with others. Engaging in care of the self, where you work to better and heal yourself for the good of your community, so you can help others do the same, is an inherently radical practice in a socio-economic system that depends on your — on all of our — participation in it.
There are so many everyday acts of resistance I didn’t touch on in this article, like urban gardening, learning practical repair skills, or engaging in local solidarity networks, to name a few. I encourage you all to reflect on how some of the practices in your daily life may be acts of resistance that you may not have realized were so! I challenge both myself and all of you to keep findings little ways you can engage in resistance, and to let these acts fuel your passion for global development. Let the little things remind you why you wanted to engage with global development in the first place. Most importantly, remember that your daily acts of radical resistance are not about reaching some ambiguous final stage of being the ‘best’ activist. Give yourself grace when trying to engage in resistance. Remind yourself that it is okay to struggle to resist capitalism in a society where existing outside the status quo is simultaneously a privilege and a challenge.