This course sets out to historicize the conditions under which a specific kind of capitalism emerges at the beginning of the twenty-first century—a regime primarily organized through financialization and debt. This new regime of accumulation is approached in several ways: one, through a reliance on a long historical record of the uses of credit beginning in the Italian city-states; two, through an attention to the ways in which cycles of crisis repeatedly undo and reorganize capital; three, through an examination of the 2008 financial crisis itself. As the archaeology of contemporary capitalism emerges in the first few weeks of seminar we will begin to think about some of its cultural logics too: how race and racism operate in tandem with capital; the significance of the Atlantic slave trade and the institution of slavery in the US to its political economy; the utility of empires and peripheries; the centrality of gender for private property; and the rise of knowledge work with its tendency to self-regulation, self-discipline, and new techniques of the self (following Foucault). How do the legacies of Atlantic slavery inform processes of deindustrialization and environmental decline? How does finance intensify relations of inequality as the rate of return on capital outpaces the rate of growth in income? Combining media accounts with scholarly critique of the current structures for capital formation this course attempts to theorize capitalism in early twenty-first century using the tools of anthropology, cultural geography, literary criticism, and political economy.
1) Introduction to the major themes of the course, assignments, expectations
2) Venetians and The Longue Durée
3) Primitive Accumulation
4) Gender and (Primitive) Accumulation
5) Race and (Primitive) Accumulation: The Atlantic Slave Trade and the Search for Profit
6) Interest Bearing Capital
8) Capitalist Crisis
9) The Environment in Capitalist Ruins
10) 21st Century Work
11) Platform Capitalism
Students will examine the role of markets from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first with particular attention paid to the ways that the system we call “capitalism” uses race, gender, and class to its own ends. Students will also consider the ways in which the current economic system is implicated in processes of increasing global inequality, resource exhaustion, and environmental peril.
Assignments and Grades
1) Attendance and participation inclusive of one in-class presentation—20%
2) “What I Noticed” or WIN exercises (reading and short response papers)—60%
3) Short final paper—20%
Arrighi, Giovanni. 2010. The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times (New and Updated Edition). New York: Verso.
Baptist, Edward W. 2014. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. New York: Basic Books.
Berardi, Franco “Bifo”. 2009. The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia.
Gleeson-White, Jane. 2011. Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance. New York: W.W. Norton.
Marx, Karl. 1990. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
Marx, Karl. 1991. Capital: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole, Volume III. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
Moore, Jason. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life. Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso.
Robinson, Cedric J. 1983. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Weeks, Kathi. 2011. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press.
Williams, Brett. 2004. Debt for Sale: A Social History of the Credit Trap. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.