Julie Froud and Karel Williams, "Foundational Economy: The Infrastructure of Everyday Life" (Manchester UP, 2022)


I spoke with Prof Julie Froud and Prof Karel Williams about Foundational Economy: The Infrastructure of Everyday Life (Manchester University Press, 2022).

This book originally published in English in 2018 synthesises the collective’s work of the previous five years in developing the foundational approach. It should now be read in conjunction with our The Foundational Approach (2020) guide to current thinking. But the book remains an important source for engaged citizens, active practitioners, and critical academics beyond who want to know more about the foundational economy concept and its relevance to the politics of progressive reform.

The book is relevant to all of Europe and beyond and is available as an accessibly priced paperback in four languages. MUP publishes in English with German and Italian editions available from Suhrkamp and Einaudi. The Portuguese edition was published by Actual Editora and Dutch and Turkish translations are pending. Before you buy the book, do read our introductory chapter on this website which explains the argument of the book here.

The Foundational Economy book explains how the material utilities and providential services matter economically and politically because they are the collectively consumed infrastructure of everyday life, the basis of well-being, and should be citizens' rights. The arguments about citizenship in chapter four of the book were then an important new development in foundational thinking which leads towards the edited 2020 book on The Foundational Economy and Citizenship.

The Foundational Economy book also presents the first history of the foundational economy which began heroically and ends in degradation. In the century after 1880 national and local state action built up the supply of foundational services right across Europe and North America. Since 1980 their systems of provision have been undermined by a malign and neglectful state. Drawing on earlier research by collective members, the book shows how privatisation, outsourcing and market choice import the unsuitable business models of financialized public companies and private equity. Building on this basis, the collective now distinguishes FE1.0 and FE 2.0 in thinking through the Challenge of Foundational Renewal (2020)

The final chapter of the book takes up the political challenge of thinking about how we can have a better future. It does not recommend specific policies but proposes broad principles for re-building the foundational which could mobilise old and new social actors in broad political alliances; ask the citizens what they want; reinvent taxation; lean on intermediary institutions; and do not assume the state is benign and competent. This opens the way to the collective’s subsequent arguments in the When Systems Fail (2020) report about the incapacity of the post administrative state and the need for a careful practice of policy to transition towards transformation.

A great new book that deserves a wide readership.

Andrea Bernardi is Senior Lecturer in Employment and Organization Studies at Oxford Brookes University in the UK.

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