Marxism and the ‘Do It Yourself’ movement

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Grace Ballor
Contributing Writer

The “Do It Yourself,” or DIY, movement has swept the nation once more. In times of economic duress like these, people abandon the luxuries of hired services, and they economize by completing home improvement and other tasks on their own. This popular movement has manifested itself in the emergence of DIY blogs, a new breed of craft and hardware store, and the atrophy of the once-robust service sector. What most DIY’ers fail to realize, though, is that their behavior contradicts the logic of comparative advantage, and, in the end, may not really be cheaper than paying for a professional service. But as much as the DIY movement is economically deficient, it is successful in its ability to revive the bourgeois virtues and culture that were lost to the anti-capitalist polemic of modern economic theorists.

The DIY movement of the 2000’s presents an interesting comparison and contrast to the modern narratives of economic history. On the one hand, it defies the historical polemic of Karl Marx in that it reveals the possibility of the petite bourgeois both to own the means of production and apply their own labor to production. Thus, while Marx criticized capitalist society for creating a situation in which the middle class can wield the power of property-ownership to exploit the lower-class laborers, the DIY movement suggests that an individual can both own capital and apply his own labor to a project, thereby negating the dialectic of class disparity.

For many of the same reasons that the DIY movement defies the Marxist interpretation of capitalist society, it agrees with the double-movement theory of Karl Polanyi. Polanyi argued that the modern movement toward the self-regulating market contained within it a converse movement back toward the socio-political. The DIY movement seems to do just that – because it does not always follow the logic of comparative advantage but rather marks a restoration of ethnographic self-possession, it detracts from the focus on the economic and makes more room for the social and political.

So the next time you’re searching Pinterest for new craft ideas, taking a DIY home improvement class at Home Depot, or attempting to paint your own house instead of hiring a professional, reflect on the fact that you are transcending the “filth” of free-market capitalism and are, instead, engaging in an act of self-possession, an ethnographic endeavor in which you apply your own tools, your own resources and your own labor to a project, making it wholly your own.

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