Building Community Through Commerce: The Peterborough LETS Experience

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Berger, David A.
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Mount Saint Vincent University
This thesis reports the findings of a single case study o f a local currency system in Peterborough, Ontario. Founded in 1994, The Peterborough Local Economic Trading System (LETS) is one of approximately 800 LETS’ found throughout the world and, at one time, was the largest of such networks in Canada. Although interest in the LETS seems to have waned since its peak in the late 1990s, many members still use this currency to trade goods and services while circumventing the dominant marketplace. Community-based currency systems are designed to challenge the capitalist paradigm of globalization by demystifying money itself, re-relegating it to a means of exchange as opposed to a commodity in and of itself. In so doing, members are able to maintain capital within their local community and, potentially, address some of the inequities embedded in the marketplace by reassessing the value of their goods and services. In exploring the historical context of capitalism, this study shows how money has been transformed from a means of exchange to a commodity itself and explores some of the political and social consequences of this transformation. Using a theoretical framework shaped by the economic analysis of Karl Polanyi, the critical lens of Jürgen Habermas, and Miehael Welton’s advocacy of grassroots social movements as emancipatory learning sites, this thesis explores how members use the LETS as a learning tool to critically examine their social and economic realities and re-embed their economic exchanges within the social fabric of their community. The researcher used Participant interviews and observations from the field in order to explore six themes: opportunities and opportunity costs; similarity and divergence of members’ political views; recasting one’s own social safety net; revaluing skill; rebuilding social responsibility; and reestablishing. trust through reciprocity. Findings suggest that members are often able to use their participation in order to reconstruct their own sense of community through commerce. However, findings also suggest that members are motivated by a number of different reasons to become involved in local currency systems - namely, economic need or political inclination - and that these may come into confliet with one another. Unless the system has a clear mandate and an accompanying capacity to educate its members, irreconcilable conflicts between members may well arise.
Local Economic Trading System (LETS), Globalization, Capitalism, Local currency systems