AN EXPERIMENT IN QUEER ECONOMIES
IN THE MIX (ABSTRACT)
Economic processes foreground a specific set of exclusionary values that both construct and exclude certain identity formations. Queerness, as related to queer-identifying people, is foreclosed in the practice of economics and in the economy. Emphasizing queer individuals as well as queerness as an orientation allows us to theorize and prefigure an entirely reconfigured economy, rather than merely tinker with androcentric and patriarchal epistemologies, values, and practices that underlie the oppressive systems of a capitalist market economy. As a means to approach this work, I experimented with the creation of a small-scale economic endeavor through sharing cake to investigate one example of how a queer economy could function. From November 2020 to May 2021 I baked and shared twenty cakes with people who are part of the queer community across Brighton, UK, and Brooklyn, USA. Each cake came with a set of instructions that set up the basis for exchange and explored notions of value, exchange, and social interactions. The Cakeonomies experiment and the resulting practice of exchange fostered local small-scale queer economies and pointed towards possibilities for new queer economic visions. This paper describes the underpinnings of the experiment, analyzes the emerging insights, and discusses ways of moving towards a Queer Economy.
QUEER ECONOMIES AND CAKE
A central premise of Feminist Economics is that the epistemologies, values, and methods that form the practice of economics, and in turn inform the economy, do not adequately account for women and the labor they perform, both inside and outside of the formal capitalist market. While the body of scholarly activist work that contributes to Feminist Economics varies considerably, and is often contradictory in its wide-ranging address of a multitude of issues, as a whole this work insufficiently addresses queerness. This can be seen in its perfunctory understandings of queerness, its further perpetuation of binaries, and its lack of attention to queer participations. And yet, the challenges to the orthodoxy that Feminist Economics poses can act as a foundation to interrogate the ways in which economic processes construct and exclude certain identity formations and foreground a specific set of exclusionary values in the economy. There is existing work, though limited, on queer economics, which more directly examines the way in which the market can both construct and yet still exclude queer identities across a range of market processes.
Taking these bodies of work as a starting point, I argue that queerness, as related to queer-identifying people, is foreclosed in the practice of economics and in the economy. The heteronormative and androcentric epistemologies (Danby 32, Harding 9), values and methods of economics, and the economy upon which the state is based are not only unable to account for the complexity of queer identities but are unwilling to value queer people on account that queerness is, as a whole, not productive to the state or reproduction of the market. This unproductivity is inherent in the fact that queer people do not fit the ideal of the nuclear family, which serves as the main institution of the state to ensure workers are (re)produced for labor under capitalism (Vogel 147).
Nevertheless, there has been an increased emphasis on the ways in which queer people and queer culture contribute to local and global market economies or the ways in which queer people are becoming steadily more useful to the state in times of austerity. We can see examples of this in the corporatization of queer pride celebrations, the proliferation of marketed ‘gaybourhoods’, and the renegotiation to allow queer individuals to adopt amid a care crunch (Wilson 137).
Although this newfound acceptance may be seen as progress, especially towards state and societal recognition which directly impacts queer individuals’ lives, this progress is disproportionately emancipatory only in the market’s terms (Fraser 33). This is particularly the case as such inclusion is only afforded to queer individuals that subscribe to, or only slightly deviate from, normative constructs of relationships, lifestyles, and identities that can be co-opted for consumption. This privileging of normative ideals onto queer lives is what is referred to as homonormativity and is neither inclusive nor liberating for all queer individuals.
So while the constant co-option of those who are marginalized means that queer individuals and culture are increasingly recognized and included in considerations of profit, this is not necessarily representative of a queer economy. Rather, this functions as a form of assimilation. A queer economy viewed through the lens of the consumption of queer identities for profit and absorption into the capitalist market is neither radical nor liberatory. Instead, it further perpetuates the harmful norms active in the economy. The Cakeonomies experiment explores how we might reconfigure the economy as a whole, rather than merely emphasizing how queer people can be accommodated in the existing market economy and be made useful in capitalist and state aims. I look specifically at how a diversity of queer practices, values, and relationships might constitute a Queer Economy that functions according to the resistance of normativity and the insistence towards liberatory futures.
There have been a number of different economic models put forth in recent years that seek to re-position or alter the practices and values of the economy. In particular, the emphasis has been towards better caring for the earth’s finite resources (Raworth), the importance of local networks of community care (Cottam), and de-emphasizing growth as an aim (Jackson). These models propose crucial practices and aspirational values for which we might strive in our structuring of and ongoing engagements in the economy, especially given the global context of our critical climate crisis and the COVID 19 pandemic. And although these models may well start to point towards some of the practices and values that might foster a queer economy, they do not go far enough in reconfiguring the economy so that it can embrace non-normative identity formations and practices, including those of queer people. In response, I propose expanding queerness from its exclusive position as an identifier and imagine not only the values and practices of queer people but also queerness as a theoretical standpoint. This entails not only understanding personal practices and values held by queer people but also foregrounds values that are queer in nature.
In general terms, queer theory understands queerness as the troubling of normative ways of knowing, being, and constructing reality (Halberstam 20). Queerness is both a refusal of linearity, binaries, categorization and prescribed norms, as well as an ideality along which to imagine new possible modes of existence. Queerness is ephemeral in its ever-reaching and ever-expanding insistence towards something other (Muñoz 1). Queerness as an orientation opens capacities to imagine and disturb (Ahmed 565) that transgress the paradigms and limitations of our current entrenched economic epistemologies, practices, and values which construct our idea of the economy and what it could strive towards. This allows us to envision opportunities no longer rooted in patriarchal worldviews, exploitative consumption, and progress confined to and by the market.
A Queer Economy can account for the variety of queer identities and practices but also for a wider intersection of identities and experiences in its refusal of categorization and insistence on something generative and other(wise). So, while queer-identifying people are central to a Queer Economy, an economy orientated towards queerness is not necessarily just for queer people. This is not to instrumentalize queerness as a method but rather to work towards the emancipation of all marginalized identities, of which I believe queerness (both as identifier and orientation) must be a part.
Imagining a Queer Economy is a challenging undertaking that should not be done alone, in siloes, or through conventional methods. It is one that takes deliberate thought but, crucially, intentional action over time. There are no easy solutions or neat frameworks being offered here, nor will there ever be. There is no succinct model of a Queer Economy that we can affix as an endpoint in our future. Rather than predetermining what we are striving toward, we can instead commit to the work of being, acting, and responding to the potentiality of ever-changing directions, opportunities (Ahmed 569), and acts of a Queer Economy.
My approach to this work so far has been designing and carrying out a layered experiment, Cakeonomies, that employs the scale of cake as an entry point into investigating one particular example of how a queer economy could function. Cakeonomies takes exchange as the basic principle of an economic system and is grounded in the belief that local economies both make up and reconfigure the larger global economy. Sharing cake in queer communities prompted both the exploration and the enactment of queer understandings of value, practices of exchange, and relationship configurations in the cake economies. Being challenged to prefigure queerness as an orientation in this way moved us, the participants, out of a purely theoretical space into one in which we are already practicing and working on capacities towards our, and others’, liberation. In the following sections, I describe the Cakeonomies experiment and its methodologies. This is followed by an initial analysis of the resulting economic activity and a discussion of the emergent insights.
Not only does cake offer a viable scale to begin to approach the features of a queer economy, but it also provides a fitting metaphor in that the word ‘economics’ is derived from the Greek ‘oikonomia’ which refers to household management, of which cake has historically been an important aspect of across cultures. Cake is also generative as a method of research in that it allows for the complex subjects of value, exchange and economies to be explored indirectly.
Based on my belief that queer-identifying individuals are central to a queer economy, because of their existing queered practices, relationships and values, I chose to seek out people in the queer community in Brighton who would be interested in participating by receiving a cake.
Many of the recipients were connected to my partner and were recruited through Facebook and Instagram posts, while a number of recipients engaged through the queer community app ‘Lex’. In the later part of the still ongoing experiment for which I am back in Brooklyn, New York, the majority of the recipients have been from my personal extended queer network or have come through the Cakeonomies Instagram page.
As is unsurprising for the queer community, the recipients that have engaged in the Cakeonomies experiment so far represent manifold identities. While I do not know the extent of each recipient's intersections of identity, one particular nexus has been that the majority have been white and situated, as I am, in the western cultural context of Brighton and Brooklyn. This is an important lens through which to view the resulting experiment and insights so as to avoid generalizing and making assumptions about the multitudinal intersections of identities, practices, and politics of the wider queer community.
Between November 2020 and May 2021, I baked and shared twenty cakes as part of the Cakeonomies experiment. Each recipient chose what kind of cake they desired and specified their dietary requirements. We then agreed on a suitable day and time to drop off the cake.
Each cake came with a set of instructions that set up the basis for the particular cake exchange. The core request in the instructions remained the same for all of the cakes: “Please slice and share this cake with (x) amount of people” and “Please ask each person you share with to document their slice by photographing it”. The amount (x) depended on the current COVID context and what was feasible and safe. These instructions to share meant that while I was sharing an entire cake with the recipients they were in turn dividing up the cake and sharing it further to whomever they chose, who I refer to as the receivers. The recipients I shared the cake with were then asked to send me the names and photographs from the receivers.
For the first ten cakes of the experiment, I included a different additional request in the instructions. These requests were crafted to match the particular cake and what I knew about the recipient. Each of these additional requests explored notions of value and exchange; for example, “How much would you pay for this slice of cake?” or “What would you exchange for this slice of cake?”.
The instructions for the next set of ten cakes remained largely unchanged, with the exception that I did not make any additional requests beyond “Please share this cake”.
The inclusion and crafting of the instructions, particularly the core request to share and document the cake, were a key part of my methodological approach in this research experiment in that the instructions generated the numerous cake exchanges by prompting further exchange as well as reflection among all participants (myself and both the recipients and the receivers). The instructions allowed me to garner meaningful insights and data without making my line of questioning explicit and therefore potentially prejudicial. As well as being more engaging, eliciting responses to questions through the act of exchange generated many more insights than direct questions could.
As an additional form of documentation alongside the instructions and photographs of the slices of cake, I recorded the ingredients, associated labor, and traditional market cost of each of the cakes. This was done in order to be able to comment on traditional economic frameworks and formulaic methods of measurement. This is discussed in more detail in the following section.
LAYER TWO: ANALYSIS
The exchange of twenty cakes within the queer communities in Brighton, UK, and Brooklyn, USA, generated a rich set of interactions through which to begin to imagine the configurations of a wider Queer Economy.
The accumulation of each of the exchanges and resulting activity can be understood as a small local queer cake economy in its own right. Therefore when I refer below to ‘cake economies’, I mean the two local cake economies set up in Brighton and Brooklyn respectively. These cake economies were helpful in pulling apart the theoretical territory asking: What practices of measurement are centered in this system of exchange? How do methods of exchange impact relationships? What are queer values and how do these operate in economic activity? Further to this, and importantly, the cake economies prompted action that moves us towards a Queer Economy. Participants had to renegotiate embedded social scripts, relate to strangers in unfamiliar ways, and offer and receive items of value.
The data collected through the Cakeonomies experiment was of three different types. The first were the direct responses and documentation participants shared with me. This dataset includes the varied written responses as well as photographs of the slices of cake. The second includes online written communication between participants and me, while the third is ethnographic in nature. This ethnographic data draws on observations of participants’ actions and reactions to the subject (queer economies) and the object (cake) in the economies and resulting relationships.
These different data types are analyzed across four interrelated themes: negotiating value, enacting social inter/actions, participating in exchange, and networking. Following this analysis, I point towards the next steps in the experiment and draw initial conclusions.
In this experiment, cake is generative in creating and exploring notions of value. While it is easy to access baking mixes in stores or watch tutorials online, baking cakes is a craft that requires certain skills, equipment, and resources such as time and money. Cake is also, in many contexts, not viewed as an everyday food item but rather as a luxurious, often celebratory item. This association of cake with celebration and luxury sets up intrinsic value in the experiment’s economies of exchange, in that the cake being offered is inherently a desirable commodity, one that has monetary worth and is associated with enjoyable social interactions.
When posting information about the experiment in an attempt to attract recipients, I emphasized the fact that the cakes were being given away as free, there would be no exchange of money. While there was an expectation that participants would offer documentation of the cake and the way it was shared, since no money was involved, the cake’s status was understood as ‘free’.
In a market economy, money is a unit of account (Graeber 22). The exchange of commodities for money assumes the price of an item to represent the value inherent in the commodity (Marx 32). In an attempt to comment on the limitations of standard formulas used to calculate price (and as such value in market terms) I included a breakdown of the cost of each of the cakes in their documentation.
For each of the cakes, I calculated the cost of the ingredients and active labor time (priced at the minimum wage in the respective countries) that was required to create the cakes. The resulting prices, based on the various costs, ranged from $40 to $50 depending on the add ons. These prices were found to be four times the price of mass-produced cakes sold in supermarkets but consistent with what other independent bakers or small bakeries would charge. While these prices are a realistic indication of the market value of the cakes, the basic formulas I used do not wholly account for the actual cost of the cakes. Indeed to wholly account for the cost, we would need to expand the boundaries of calculation to include all the major and minor ingredients used, labor time not directly related to baking, time for me to rest and be ready to work (reproductive labor) (Bhattacharya 8), skill development time, purchase of tools, and so on. However, no matter how far out we expand the boundaries of what is included, I argue that the true cost of the cake can never be precisely accounted for, as the value of the cake is always in excess of what can be captured by a formula based on the abstraction of money (Marx 32).
Economists have created various complicated formulas to include numerous factors when calculating value, from the tiny scale of a cake to the vast scales of wider systems. Rather than critique the validity of the formulas themselves in calculating value for the market, I assert that how we calculate value is intrinsically influenced by what we value in the first place. This is grounded in the fact that there is no objective basis on which to establish universal value(s) (Mises qtd. in Davies and Kember 3). In other words, “we can never uncontroversially distinguish the facts from the values and interests that select them as evidently supported, meaningful and relevant” (Harding 12).
Each of the participants (myself included) in the cake economies created (consciously or not) their own conceptions of the value of the cakes based on the information provided and personal value systems. Participants in the exchange of Cake Two rated the cake a 3.5 out of 5, with the added note that the cake was too sweet for them. Participants who shared Cake Three indicated that they would pay an average of $3.50 for the slices of cake received, based on their budgets, on how they thought the cake tasted, or as influenced by other participants’ comments. The recipient of Cake Eight indicated that they thought the value of the cake was between $70-$110, addressing the labor necessary to bake such a cake and commenting on their enjoyment of the imperfect ‘homemade’ feel of the cake. Other participants commented that they were impressed by the fact their cake was vegan, whilst others explicitly asked for the cake not to be vegan.
Rather than take the values exemplified in the previous paragraph to mean that we should simply expand the boundaries of what is conceived as valuable and thus calculated, both in the cake economies and the economy as a whole, I want to further complicate this by arguing that the way we measure value is insufficient in accounting for what is truly valuable and generative in these economies. There is something missing when we flatten the value of a commodity (such as cake) so that it is exclusively understood through its price in the market (Marx 37). This alienates the labor(er) from the commodity in that such flattening not only fails to account for the many processes of value production but also alienates the consumer in the inability to account for the numerous interpretations of value. Further to this, when we conflate price with value such as in the market, these measurements and understandings fail to account for the value generated by the cake in the cake economies.
Primarily, value was generated when the cakes were shared by the recipients within their web of relations. Across the cake exchanges in this experiment, there was a huge variety in the sizes of the slices into which the recipient cut the cake, in the number of slices shared, in how they were shared, and in how these were presented and documented.
Not only were participants inferring and creating their own sense of value for each cake, but they were also creating value, specifically social value, through sharing the cake and through the resulting interactions. These social dynamics of the cake economies set up by the instructions were able to shift the cake from an alienable to an inalienable commodity in that the exchange was transformed by the personal interaction and as such was inextricable from the persons creating value (Miller 95). It is conceivably possible to design different instruments of calculation which emphasize other priorities of measurement (Davies and Kember 8). However, I would argue that we should not try to measure value in the cake economies, certainly not in a way that flattens and categorizes value, as this is in opposition to queerness.
In seeking to represent a plurality of values in a way that is calculable and rationalized (Davies and Kember 4) for a tractable model of an idealized market (Nelson 38), there is no avoiding the loss of complexity, meaning, and scope. Instead, we can remain situated in contexts that foster the values that we consider important by not aiming for the illusion of detached measurement (Longino 48).
Through these experiments, I propose looking at value through a completely different lens that decenters the primacy of monetary value and the measurement of value in a way that seeks to contain it and feed it into various formulas. In doing so we effectively queer our taken-for-granted notions of value, thereby viewing the creation of value as more important than simply the consumption of value. This allows us to understand value in its capacity to proliferate, grow, and change forms as it generates and activates.
The interactions and relationships, both new and existing, long and short term, in the cake economies were points of meaningful social value creation. Food is a vehicle the world over that fosters the communion of people within their communities, and items such as cake are notable in their role in ritual, celebration, and social bonding. While in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic and unable to gather and share food in the usual way, participants in the experiment were able to exchange cake as a conduit to connection.
My own experience is a good example. On moving to Brighton to be with my partner, I had no connections or relationships of my own. Being between lockdowns, gifting cake was an opportunity to meet people in my partner’s network, and then strangers in the wider queer community. Although the interactions were socially distanced either from six feet away or through a door, I was still able to feel connected to the queer community in Brighton. This connection was vital to my mental health and sense of belonging.
Upon my return to Brooklyn, the exchange of cake gave me a reason and the means to safely socialize and re-connect with both friends and acquaintances. In conducting the Cakeonomies experiment I was not only able to connect with people and community at a local level, but through the process of exchanging the cake, I was able to learn more about the queer community, particularly facts related to cake itself. For example, cake is an unofficial symbol of asexuality. And ‘torta’ means cake but can be used as a derogatory word for ‘dyke’ in some South American cultures.
Beyond my own connection with people in the community, the cake economies played a part in catalyzing countless other moments of connection for those participating. I can not account for or know all of the connections that developed in relation to the exchange of the cakes, or the impact that those connections had on the recipients. However, I do know that the cake has connected recipients to roommates, neighbors, and friends. I know that a few recipients celebrated their birthdays with the cake. I know that there is a newly budding romantic relationship. Communing with others and the value that creates, particularly in these isolating times, cannot be measured, but its importance can not be overstated.
A key contributing factor to the social value in the cake economies is the vector of exchange. As stated, I did not simply gift the cakes but, through a set of instructions, asked for something in return. In the cake economies, these agreed-upon terms of exchange set up a web of relations of expectations of exchange within local queer communities in a way that is akin to that of a gift economy.
A gift economy is one in which exchange is enacted without regard to the exact value of what is being exchanged, but with the expectation that a roughly equal balance of value will be achieved over time. Importantly, exchanges within gift economies are in the name of the relationships rather than profit or personal gain. Historically across cultures, gift economies have served to maintain social ties, reinforce laws and rights, and keep the society functioning (Mauss).
There are two main factors in the cake economies that queered the principles of a gift economy: the temporalities of exchange and notions of reciprocity. In the cake economies, the expectation of exchange is central, specifically exchange fulfilled within the short time frame of between one or two weeks. This explicit expectation of short-term exchange queered the temporalities in the cake exchanges.
The centrality of exchange was perhaps most felt by me if a recipient did not fulfill their part of the agreement: by not sending back the documentation, not responding at all, or not respecting the timeframe. Because we had entered into an agreement, we had both obliged ourselves to make good on our end of the exchange (Graeber 80). For example, had recipients engaged in some way before rather than after receiving the cake, I presume they would have felt a similar disappointment if I had not kept my part of the agreement. This points to the transactional aspects of the experiment and how, even in queering the exchange, the dominant and normative understandings of exchange are difficult to avoid.
Interestingly, making explicit the expectation that recipients would give something in exchange for the cake on a short timeframe seemingly assuaged moments of discomfort or guilt in accepting the cake. These feelings of discomfort seemed to stem from the unusualness of receiving something unsolicited from a stranger and from the perceived debt that accepting the cake would incur.
The feeling of being indebted is central to exchanges in gift economies. Any exchange that has not been brought to completion can be conceived as debt. Since being in debt to someone ensures that you remain in relation to them, the obligation to pay a debt over time allows the relationships of those participating in gift economies to persist (Graeber 122). It is argued that this lapse in time between initial and counter exchange is key in distinguishing gifting from other forms of exchange (Derrida 40).
The expectation of return and, as such repayment of debt, was much more short-term in the cake economies than in many other gift economies. The short-term nature of the interaction places the cake economies in opposition to one of the key characteristics of a gift economy and speaks to a queered facet of the cake exchanges. This timeline for exchange is also different from transactional or barter economies which generally demand immediacy.
The fact that there was no prolonged lapse of time between the exchange in the cake economies complicated the notions of debt and return in the cake exchanges between myself and the participants, particularly as in most cases there was no expectation that the relationship would endure. This points us to another way in which the cake exchanges queered the principles of a gift economy. During the process of initiating the agreement of exchange, many participants sought to mediate the terms I had set out. This was particularly evident when participants aimed for reciprocity in the exchanges in order to absolve any perceived debt, even though no expectation of equal exchange was established.
Many recipients, even if they needed some convincing, accepted the suggested terms of the exchange: a cake for them in return for help with my research. Others, particularly those who were strangers with no connection to myself or my partner, offered additional terms of exchange. This was either inexplicit by saying “Is there anything I can give you in return?” or explicit such as offering to come and pick up the cake.
The contexts in which the basis for exchange was not set up by me directly, for example when recipients reached out through the Cakeonomies Instagram account, were also slightly different. While they may have known indirectly that the exchange was part of my research, this is not something I made clear on Instagram. The two instances where people used Instagram were the ones where there was a direct trade offered. Namely, in exchange for a cake, one person offered to fix something for me, and another person offered to give me one of their art prints.
Just as the participants struggled with and negotiated the circumstances, I found it equally challenging to mediate what I deemed as fair. Being the person to initiate the exchange I was the one that set the initial terms and as such, crafted what I thought was acceptable. I struggled to accept anything in addition to what I had initially established. For example, I did not take up any offer to let recipients pick up the cake or fix something for me.
This hesitation was also something I noticed when crafting the instructions for the later parts of the experiment in Brighton and Brooklyn in which I was giving cakes to strangers rather than people that knew my partner. I dialed back what I was asking for and did not include any additional requests as I thought I would be asking too much. In part, this discomfort was based on an anticipatory worry of being indebted to the strangers participating in the cake economies. The discomfort also indicated my anxiety about receiving something that was not an alienable commodity (Miller 94), knowing how much care, labor, and time went into the object of exchange. My own labor is easy to discount or forget, but others’ is not.
Rather than an ongoing process of balancing and re-balancing equivalence to ‘pay’ off debt slowly as is the case in many gift economies (Graeber 122), or immediate repayment of debt based on price as is the case in market economies, the cake economies sat outside of these practices of exchange, queering them. Furthermore, while the agreement of exchange between participants meant that we were indebted to one another, there was no expectation of reciprocity and indeed no means with which to measure equal exchange in normative abstracted ways such as money.
While I retained a certain position of power in being the initiator of the exchanges, I made a concerted effort with each of the participants to negotiate the terms that worked for us. We all made our own value judgments and proposed (or declined) offers, based on those judgments, our personal abilities, and resources. Mutually reckoning with terms of reciprocity disrupted traditional practices and hierarchies in other economics of exchange.
As is perhaps increasingly evident, the queering of temporalities of exchange and notions of reciprocity generated new relationship configurations and practices within the cake economies. In reorienting how we related to exchanging and negotiating with strangers, we engaged with one another in an occasionally discomfiting but always more invested way than is often practiced, thereby queering social expectations of exchange.
The design of the instructions and the resulting exchange meant that a chain of interdependent connections was set up in the cake economies between myself, the recipient, and the receivers. The queered practices and expectations of exchange activated the web of relationships in the cake economies and catalyzed further sharing and exchange.
In a few cases, this further exchange was set up by the instructions of the cake economy; for example, one cake where secondary participants were asked to give something in exchange for their slice of cake. Among the things that participants exchanged were an onion and stock cube, a Christmas card, a loaf of bread, and present tags. In one instance the initial exchange in this cake economy also prompted a subsequent further exchange in that we also shared a spare key to our apartment and a tub of vegan custard. Weeks later we were also able to help the same recipients jumpstart their car. Another recipient told me that people they shared a slice of cake with had unexpectedly given more baked goods to them a week later.
These further exchanges were not necessarily limited to local in-person exchanges. One recipient shared a picture of their cake on a Reddit thread celebrating asexual identities. There were dozens of resulting comments, celebrating the cake, asking what food coloring I had used, notifying people to a specific thread on asexuality-related food. Another person even shared a picture of a homemade matcha cheesecake in response.
These are a few examples of further exchanges that have been communicated to me. I am confident that there are many examples of similar exchanges, both in-person and online, that I do not know of or that have not happened yet. So while the cake in the cake economies is (unfortunately) finite, the exchange set up within them is a catalyst that serves to build an ecology of relationships supported by interconnections of sharing and reciprocity.
Not only do these further moments of exchange and reciprocity further highlight the immeasurable social value generated in the cake economies but they also demonstrate the way in which acts of exchange can proliferate within relationship networks and wider communities.
LAYER THREE: CONCLUSIONS
So far in the Cakeonomies experiment, we have investigated complicated notions of value, moments of meaningful social communing, queered vectors of exchange, and rippling acts of reciprocity within networks. However, the Cakeonomies experiment was limited in time, scope, and context so conclusions are preliminary. Conducting the experiment in two locations over the course of six months with intermittent breaks meant there was no substantial momentum or extended period of time available. This resulted in the fact that the experiment was limited in scope with regard to the number of cakes that were exchanged, twenty is not a sufficient number to see wider patterns emerge. In addition to this, the scope was limited by the lack of diversity of participants in the cake economies, something which certainly impacted the ways of responding and relating. Furthermore, conducting the experiment within the context of the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic made it difficult to make any definitive statements about what would happen in the cake economies given normal circumstances.
Consequently, in the next stage of this experiment, it is important to address these limitations. In terms of diversity, there are many lenses through which we can seek to understand the practices, relationships, and values of a queer economy. In order to do so there are a number of adjustments and additions that can be made to the methodology and practice of the cake economies as conducted in this first iteration. Expanding the work of Cakeonomies will not only introduce these new lenses but also further challenge, support, and deepen the understandings and assertions already put forth.
The intention is that the Cakeonomies experiment will continue indefinitely within the queer community in Brooklyn. In particular, I am looking forward to further connecting with queer individuals outside of my own networks. Brooklyn is not only a generative site for these connections in that there is a large community of queer individuals, but also because this queer community varies largely in its individuals’ identities and cultural standpoints. This could set up an interesting contrast between the queer economies in Brooklyn and in Brighton.
Going forward, there is also much potential in redesigning the methods and conditions of exchange across different stages of the cake economies. One such example of this redesign is removing the experiment from the confines of a research project. Offering a ‘free’ cake without a contribution to research as a reasonable pretext will allow me to examine a number of different responses from both recipients and receivers.
Another opportunity for redesign involves the instructions. While the core request to share the cake will remain the same, I plan to regularly adjust the expected responses. In particular, I would like to test the extent to which the exchange of cakes within wider networks can catalyze a variety of exchanges that express an ethos of conviviality, where mutuality is celebrated in all its ebbs and flows. This would allow me to see the potential ripples of exchange within queer networks and understand what factors support the continuation of sharing.
Overall, adjusting the instructions and as such what is expected in return for a cake will allow me to further analyze the different ways in which people respond to queered social expectations of exchange. There is also potential to set up the physical moment of giving the cake to the recipient in a different way. The way in which these first exchanges took place was determined by the COVID context of needing to be socially distant. In future, there will be increasing opportunities for coming together while still remaining safe. The way in which the cake is picked up or dropped off, and whether any further exchange takes place in those moments, could greatly influence the expectations and relationships within that particular cake economy.
Outside of the interactions within the cake economies themselves, there is further work that can be done. In particular, I plan to develop an online resource that can act as a prompt for others to create their own simple economies of exchange, not limited to cake; for example, artwork or acts of service. This resource could include suggestions on what to share and how to create instructions for the exchange economy.
TOWARDS CAPACITIES OF A QUEER ECONOMY
Using cake as a method to foster simple economies of exchange within the queer community in Brighton and Brooklyn was an entryway to explore and embody the values, practices, and relationships that could underpin and constitute a Queer Economy. While a relatively straightforward and continuing experiment, Cakeonomies points to how we might shift away from our emphasis on limited forms of measurement, value as created by material and labor alone, binary understandings of exchange practices, and finite resources as endpoints in networks.
Across the cake economies, there were glitches in shifting our behavior to accommodate new ways of being in relation with one another that produced a generative discomfort through moments of exchange that queer the norm. This points to the fact that while queer communities inherently have different models, practices, and configurations of valuing and relating, there is still work to be done to expand our capacity for how we <survive well together> outside of patriarchal capitalist norms. I would argue that this is particularly the case within the white western contexts the cake economies existed within, as our relational practices are much more rooted in colonized conventions and values of individuality, scarcity, and competition that we white people historically sought (and seek) to impose on others.
Expanding our capacities reconfigures how we show up in solidarity with others in our communities that do not share the same identity intersections as us and face oppression in much deeper ways. Building capacity within ourselves and our networks can queer the way in which we exist and operate in opposition to norms and is a vital part of how we work together to abolish oppressive systems and fight for the emancipation of all, both those in community with us and otherwise.
Cakeonomies is an ongoing research experiment that offers one example of a small-scale queer economy that could contribute to a wider queer(ed) economy. Introducing the richness of cake into people’s day-to-day, with instructions that set up queered expectations of exchange, can disrupt the way we relate and how we show up with (and for) one another. By predicating practices of exchange that complicate the way we measure, notions of reciprocity, and our relationships, we can start to prefigure an economy that is queer in its inclusion and work towards the emancipation of all.
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