Public Programs And Events

Politics Talk, Nick Nesbitt "Reading Marx in the Age of Posthuman Capitalism"

Politics Talk, Nick Nesbitt "Reading Marx in the Age of Posthuman Capitalism"

Wolff Conference Room, Room D1103, Albert and Vera List Academic Center
General Public 

Posthuman capitalism is the newly dominant tendency in 21st century capitalism for living labor power to become a mere 'infinitesimal, vanishing quantity' (Marx) in the vast majority of global production processes. This tendency is by no means contradicted by the fact that since the 1980s ever more people 'work,' in ever-deteriorating conditions globally. On the contrary, the two are arguably corollaries of precisely the same tendency; only, the latter is its phenomenal, visible form, in which the majority of humanity continues to depend for survival on wage labor even as potentially 85% of global production suddenly becomes automated.

Capitalism has arguably entered a new phase in the last 10-20 years, characterized by the rapid and general automation of the vast majority of labor processes, tending to both eliminate living labor from production and where it remains, to suppress its value to levels of super-exploitation, not only in the traditional, North Atlantic centers, but, above all--and most devastatingly--across the Global South. The signs of this transformation are at once everywhere around us, yet their fundamental nature and the forces driving them remain obscure, in my view, on much of the Left along with mainstream neoliberal economics.

This is why attention to Marx's unparalleled analysis of the structure of capitalism is more urgent than ever. Arguably, capital forms what Althusser called a 'structure of structures,' one characterized not by a single mechanistic tendency, but rather by radical historical contingency and the changing nature of its various 'structures in dominance' (as in the historical shift described above). The previous, 20th century form of capitalism was dominated by the massive global employment of living labor in industrial production (Fordist imperialism). Since the 1970s, however, global capitalism has been restructuring, scientifically automating labor processes and exponentially expanding its reliance upon financialization to compensate for the accompanying loss of what Marx called the 'substance' of value in capitalism, living labor power. 

Nick Nesbitt is a professor in the Department of French and Italian at Princeton University. He is the author of Caribbean Critique: Antillean Critical eory from Toussaint to Glissant (Liverpool 2013); Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment (Virginia 2008); and Voicing Memory: History and Subjectivity in Antillean Literature (Virginia 2003); and editor of  The Concept in Crisis: Reading Capital Today (Duke 2017). 

Presented by The New School for Social Research.

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