Marx’s Capital

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Capital; A Critique of Political Economy. 1867.


“On Primitive Accumulation”

In Marx’s metaphor for primitive accumulation, the theological concept of original sin is juxtaposed with the myth that the beginnings of accruing capital began when, as my mother would put it, the squirrel began gathering nuts while the grasshopper continued his late night debauchery.  In contrast, the theological myth of original sin (Adam and Eve) is lacking in this direct comparison, for there is no “good” Adam who stays in the garden and simply doesn’t care for the tree of knowledge, in other words, it seems as if all mankind would have done the same as Adam. This missing “good Adam” may indeed be an anticipation of Adam Smith, whose notion of “previous accumulation”—as opposed to Marx’s primitive accumulation—assumes that economic development progresses through participants engaging in voluntary acts, a notion that Marx believes is only half correct.

According to Marx, “primitive accumulation plays approximately the same role in political economy as original sin does in theology” (873). With this idea, it might be better to take Marx as many American political theorists have, that is, to follow him halfway, but turn our backs at the last second—therefore I go to the myth of Cain and Abel. Like with the squirrel and the grasshopper, this mythical legend presents two archetypes with conflicting characteristics, where one is exemplified (squirrel) while the other is vilified (grasshopper) and held as an example of the negative. No wonder then that the bad seed, Cain, works the agricultural fields, is rejected by God for an insufficient offering and becomes the progenitor of evil, while Abel, who is usually portrayed as a fair skinned adolescent that is both his father’s and God’s esteemed favorite, becomes the first martyr. For the rest of history, there would be races that “bore the mark of Cain” and would become working slaves (both in the sense of serfdom and “free workers”) to those who had accepted the paradigm of Abel, and who, by the grace of God, were in positions of higher esteem. Thus this mythical paradigm serves to separate mankind, justify inhumane acts and promote the exploitation of the “cursed”.

So too are the roots of primitive accumulation not so idyllic. In Marx’s  myth, two classes are formed by historical events (colonialism, the move from feudalism to modernity and industrialization), one a class of commodity owners and the other “free workers” who do not own their own means of production, and yet are not obliged to work for another (except of course for their own subsistence). To Marx, “primitive accumulation…is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production” (875). This bifurcation from self employed peasant proprietors to commodity owners and free workers was the beginning of primitive accumulation that would be completed with the advent of colonization and the proliferation of the myth of previous accumulation: “long ago there were two sorts of people: one, the diligent, intelligent and above all frugal elite; the other, lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living” (873).

Moments of private accumulation turn into vast accretions of capital through “the commercial war of the European nations, which has the globe as its battlefield” (915).  How does this myth of previous accumulation coincide with the myth of original murder in Cain and Abel? Despite the obvious fact that “the barbarities and desperate outrages of the so-called Christian race….are not to be paralleled by those of any other race,”—that the believers in these myths are the same people—both of these myths are in fact idyllic tales of which the European races and bourgeois class become direct inheritors. Naturally, the danger in this ideological cohesion isn’t that the “Abel” and “Squirrel” archetypes lead believers to adopt certain role models, but that both myths inadvertently imply justification for a hyper-stimulated mimicry: that one must re-enact God’s curse upon the descendents of Cain—the primitive and disfavored peasant farmer who was perhaps too lazy to provide a decent offering—and that one must too become a hyper-stimulated squirrel by “making of profit as the ultimate and the sole purpose of mankind” (918). The archetypes that make up the ideological strata was thus firmly formed for  the “ethics” of merchant capital—provided that such soil be formed from a lava bed of slavery, colonialism, blood and fire!

Balibar and Wallerstein’s Race, Nation, Class

Balibar, Etienne, and Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein. Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities. London: Verso, 1991.

Response to: “The Nation Form: History and Ideology,”

In Etienne Balibar’s essay “The Nation Form: History and Ideology,” the nation is presented as a twofold illusion that consists of “believing that generations…have handed down to each other an invariant substance,” and secondly, in “believing that the process of development from which we select aspects retrospectively, so as to see ourselves as the culmination of that process” (86).  In both of these instances the formation of the nation is presented as a system of belief, not as a simple “adherence to” or “identification with” the nation. The first illusion that Balibar discusses is the belief in the “core” of an ethnic history, a purity that throughout time has gone on uncorrupted, and therefore has been “handed down” through a genuine spirit of nationality, turning even the national territory into an ideal signifier: “Fatherland.” The second illusion is also historical; it consists of a determinate historical progression, a univocal development that will eventually culminate in a state of utopia, and so far has culminated in the present, which must then consistently serve the utopic “ends” of the nation. As contentious as these ideas may appear, Balibar’s essay does not disclose a method in which to overthrow the nation, rather, by noting the similarities between nationality and belief, Balibar addresses the need to expose formulations of nationality as a purely ideological form—as a process of belief. In that sense, Balibar too must work backwards.

Balibar begins addressing the process of belief in the nation with the pre-history to nationalism, which consists not of a dominant narrative that combines events into a dialectical historicism, as he sees inherent in national belief, but instead he addresses history as “a multiplicity of qualitatively distinct events spread out over time, none of which implies any subsequent event” (88). The Fall of Rome, in pre-national history, was not a necessary step forward in a process that would bring about the European tribes, such as the Franks, rather, before nationality, the Franks would have seen the Fall of Rome as a history of the Roman people, not to be confused with the history of the Franks, the only exceptions being in the common ancestors with the Romans, Gauls and Franks. To understand the ideological effects of nationality, Balibar explores this type of historicism, which is free from seeing history as a necessary evolution that will culminate in our own nation. For pre-nation times, history was “a series of conjectural relations,” and just because certain historical events were interrelated, did not imply an overarching historical progression (88).

According to Balibar, the emergence of the nation occurs when a certain threshold is crossed, when “state apparatuses aiming at quite other objectives have progressively produced the elements of the nation-state” (88). These “other objectives,” as I read it, is the direct colonization of other countries and the necessity for an abstracted, idealistic form of an international capitalist market. In order to obtain this objective of “world-economy,” as Balibar puts it, the dominant class (which Balibar is adamant to point out: not specifically the bourgeois class) must organize its interest in the form of an economic center, a “core” and a “periphery.” As the prime objectives in a capitalist agenda to exploit colonized countries, the dominant and mercantile classes then required a way to legitimize such exploitation, a means to inculcate an “us” and “them” mentality that went beyond family kinship, state sovereignty and religious institutions. Through the interests of colonization, “Nation” was then conceived as a means to exercise military dominance and to justify the exploitation of anyone who was not a part of that nation, i.e. “foreigners.”

In order to obtain this “uncritical acceptance of the nation-state as the ‘ultimate form’ of political institution,” the national bourgeoisie first had to create a new type of class struggle, one that united the heterogeneous class under a common ideology in order to control it (89). This meant a modification in class status to create a new type of individual, one that still felt privileged over others, but not over the multiple classes—only over the exploited workers among the colonized peoples within the new global economy. Such a unification of classes was achieved through nationality and citizenship, wherein “we,” as subjects, all became a part of an overarching national history that culminates into the present day, and therefore the nation naturally is not only the state, but the private lives of the people, in their education and family life as well. The effect of the national ideology was an immediate subordination of all classes into an equal status as “citizens” of the nation-state.

But the process of creating this new belief system, creating what Anderson called an “Imagined Community,” also meant putting the nationality of the individual as a citizen above the individual as a political party, a religious believer, a family member, etc. In other words, the nation needed a method in which to “relativize” all traditional differences among citizens of the nation, “and subordinating them to itself in such a way that it is the symbolic difference between ‘ourselves’ and ‘foreigners’ which wins out” (94). Because of this immediate need to “win out” among other traditional communities—religion, family, kinship, class—it is exactly here, in the gap between citizenship and the imagined community of nationalism, that nation first begins to adopt the characteristics of a religious ideology. Nation reinterprets the religious model first to unite the national subjects into a single and equal community through individual identity (as in, identity as both individual and as a part of a collective). The religious notion of the “soul,” a fundamental and eternal characteristic that was equal among everyone and which inherently prescribed a “social morality,” then became the model for the “citizen,” who had “natural rights,” and therefore was ruled by a humanitarian set of truths and laws. As Balibar says, “theological discourse has provided models for the idealization of the nation and the sacralization of the state” (95). Only by adopting ideal signifiers (Balibar uses the example of “fatherland”) and transferring the sense of the sacred onto a national ideology, can the nation hope to win priority over traditional communities, religion being the nation’s foremost competitor.

I’ll end this essay in the nationalistic tradition of reading backwards, as in the beginning of Balibar’s essay, when he discusses the pre-national separation of Church and State, not in a political sense, but as two separate apparatuses which functioned, for the most part, as autonomous, competing groups. Balibar starts with this reference because it illuminates the function of “Church” and “State” within the nation, which came after the extreme combination of “State religion.” In my reading of Balibar, State religion no longer appears as a brief period in history, nor does it merely show its ugly face in totalitarian societies, but the concept of state-religion only changes its form as a national ideology in order to incorporate a wider amount of “citizens.” As Balibar says, “there is only one dominant ‘Ideological State Apparatus’ in Bourgeois social formations, using the school and family institutions for its own ends…and the existence of that apparatus is at the root of the hegemony of nationalism” (103). Education and family, in pre-national times, were apparatuses of the Church, which was capable of disagreement with the state and even direct conflict with it. Nationalism however, brings State and Church together into a single, ultimate hegemony, one that uses the power of the Church’s mystified grip on history in order to determine a future for the state, and a legitimization of all the state’s practices abroad, to the “foreigners” outside of it.



Response to: Class Conflict in the Capitalist World-Economy


Wallerstein attempts to reconcile the classical Marxist class conceptions of Bourgeois and Proletariat with the contemporary ideologies of class formation, and derives three variations of class conflict in the contemporary moment: That of “nationalism”, of “peasants”, and of “core and periphery” (World Systems Theory).

In stunning lucidity, Wallerstein encapsulates the bourgeoisie as “those who receive a part of the surplus-value they do not themselves create and use some of it to accumulate capital” (117). The accumulation of capital then, in the hands of the bourgeoisie, is a never-ending process of accumulation and “underserved” surplus-value, and therefore the bourgeoisie must be in “perpetual recreation and hence of constant change of form and composition” (118). He discovers different types of bourgeois in this period of capitalism, the New Money—‘nouveaux riches’—the ‘coasters’—those who are just barely drifting along—and the inheritors, the class that makes up almost all the bourgeoisie at nearly any given moment in Capitalism.

Wallerstein identifies the Proletariat as “those who yield part of the value they have created to others,” thus creating a polarity between bourgeoisie and proletariat. This phenomenon of yielding value to the bourgeoisie, according to Wallerstein, is a condition created by wage-labor and its expansion throughout the world (Proletariatization), which enables the smaller bourgeoisie to adequately live off of the surplus-value of the larger Proletariat.

My question for this section comes in Wallerstein’s summarization of the State: “the fundamental role of the state…is to augment the advantage of some against others in the market” (122).But Wallerstein doesn’t go into greater detail about the unequal tax revenue dealt to the bourgeoisie in order to increase the livelihood of the Proletariat, especially in Welfare states. Still, he insists that “Many bourgeois share the surplus-value of one proletarian,” though he passes by the intervention of the state. Where does tax and welfare come in for Wallerstein? Doesn’t a system of capitalism operating within a welfare state contradict his theory class formations?





Response to: The Ideological Tensions of Capitalism: Universalism versus Racism and Sexism


In this essay, Wallerstein considers the dichotomy between two concepts within capitalist ideology: that of the universal brotherhood of man, and that of racism and sexism. As in the previous essay, Wallerstein designates a bourgeois ideology that puts forth the notion that capitalism is a system of meritocracy. The contradiction is that most bourgeois become bourgeois by inheritance, and it is the ideological notion of meritocracy (and full brotherhood of man) that keeps the “outsides” incorporated within the class systems, while it is racism and sexism that keeps them in the lower rungs of the economic ladder: “If one wants to maximize the accumulation of capital, it is necessary simultaneously to minimize the costs of production…Racism is the magic formula that reconciles these objectives” (33).

My question for Wallerstein in this essay is his insistence that universalism can never “triumph” over racism and sexism in any immediate way, or as Gramsci would put it, in a conjunctural moment. He says: “one has to eliminate…the internalized patterns of ethnicization, and this inevitably requires at the very least a generation,” (35). I’m wondering where he would place the cultural revolutions of the 60s, the social democratic reforms in Europe, or the failed revolutions in France during the same period, or even the “Great Revolution” in Britain during the Restoration period.

Also, about what he says concerning the “housewife.” I wonder if he is advocating her job to turn into wage-labor, and if so, can it be argued that she charge certain prices for sexual favors, hourly wages for being with a child, for cleaning up in her own household? To whom would she request this money from? I understand that his argument is to show the ideological contradictions of both wage-labor based on meritocracy and sexism, yet this example seems stunningly problematic, especially when thought about in conjunction with Capitalism’s effect on the family, and how shared capital materializes through marriage—would the demand for wage labor still be as strong without it?

Raymond Williams’ Marxism and Literature

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Marxist introductions. Oxford [Eng.]: Oxford University Press, 1977.


Though Williams may see the assimilation of literature into ideology as “banging categories”, his notions of ideology as ‘happen-stance’ (abstract determinism) and ideology as historically determined (historical determinism) are nearly synonymous with his ideas based on literature, that of alignment and commitment. These terms are used to refer to the reciprocal relationship of literary writers and their social relations that as a whole produce a text. Alignment is used to refer to the specific modes of experience and point of view of the artist, which are undetermined by him but can be exposed through the presupposition that the artist is within the ideology itself, giving the reader opportunity to ‘perceive’ of the ideology that binds the author. The second term, ‘commitment’ is the self-conscious limiting of one’s self—“committing” one’s self—to an ideology, and writing with the agenda to inculcate that ideology

Writers of commitment, though they may border on propaganda, are self-conscious of the ideology and structures of feeling with which their contemporaries align, yet may be unaware of the ideological material which they are attempting to propagate and to which they are committed. Writers of alignment can be said to unintentionally adopt a non-determinate view of history. As reductive and belittling as this may seem, one may ascribe certain triumphs which in no way challenge the normative views present in the context that the author is speaking from. Novel’s such as Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night can be dissected in such terms, as it appears to be a record of the decadence of the Jazz Age and eventual ruin that would unfold upon its characters. Is Fitzgerald then unaware of his ideological alignment, and thus makes no such effort at committing to an external ideological structure?

The notion of alignment runs the risk of categorizing authors like Fitzgerald into mere reflections of their age and are thus adequate in dissecting the “structure of feeling” dominant within the period. But if “art is seen as reflecting not the ‘lifeless world’, but the world as seen in the mind of the artist,” than can this notion of alignment in Fitzgerald really be separated from his commitment to a separate ideology, if the structure he presents in his novels is not really that of the social sphere within his time, but that from his own mind (95)? Williams would be adamant that this was not entirely the case, but that alignment must be understood within the concept of mediation rather than reflection, where the text serves “as an indirect connection or agency between separate kinds of act” (98). What could be argued then is that Fitzgerald, in his tale of decadence and ruination by becoming parasitic (through Dick and Nicole Diver) is unintentionally making indirect connections which serve to fundamentally change both his perspective of the current ideology as well as the ideology itself.

Yet the problem of mediation, while connecting to the aligned artist, cannot be separated wither from the committed artist, who aims to change their circumstances by espousing an alternative ideology, or by heavily criticizing their own. If texts are meditative, then might all authors be considered in some form or another, to be authors of commitment? It seems that to align fully with one’s societal norms would first, not necessitate the writing of a text, and second, be so uninteresting as to not be of literary importance anyway. I propose that such texts don’t exist in any artistic form, for to simply align an author with what we believe their contemporary structure of feeling was, is in itself an act of commitment that is also aligned—in our historical moment it may even be passé to dissect texts in this fashion, therefore it is aligned, yet because our produced texts cannot be mere reflections but are in fact determined mediations, such texts also consciously seek to promote an alternative ideology.

Williams’ concepts of alignment and commitment then have come back to the main issue of intentionality—that perhaps these categories can only be constructed as practical for our current historical moment, since intentionality is impossible to determine, and should only be resigned to the painfully obvious: the communist manifesto is painfully committed, while Fitzgerald, if we are to totally disregard close reading his book (or reading it at all), can be seen as an aligned text.

Paul Ricœur’s The Course of Recognition

Ricœur, Paul. The course of recognition. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2005.

The act of recognizing is an act of judging, one based on concepts of good and bad, true and false. Here one gets into the muddy waters of Perceptual judgment and preferential judgment, though NO will not discuss such trite matters as that. As when one recognizes an emotion, the sudden physiognomic sensations of Goosebumps and standing hair, a judgment is made: I recognize that emotion as fear in the context of a bear running at me, and I recognize the same physiognomic sensations as anger when I’ve just discovered an adultery among my kin. The judgments of recognition become a mirror for our conceptual being.

Antic of rabbit-pulling aside, when recognizing the “other”, as in another person that through numerous surface-testing can become something like you but not you, one is faced with the immediate dilemma of the Master/Slave dialectic that Hegel propositioned us with: Because the lived experience of the other is always inaccessible to me, my recognition for the other is based upon a hierarchical structure that either determines my being through the other (he is my slave) or at the resistance of that other (he is my master).

What we aim for in this respect is mutual recognition. NO does not believe in such an ideal except through the belief and process in obtaining that ideal. Let’s say it exists. What we’re searching for is self-esteem, self-affirmation, which should actually be referred to as “social-esteem” or “social-affirmation”. Through validation by the other of our own existence we can conceive of a working identity formation for ourselves. I, who am I? All I know of myself is in relation to the other, he is my slave, I am his master–there is my definition. The ownership of slaves is the only thing that separates a master from “a madman who only believes he is a master”. The madness is in the neurotic automation of self-esteem, the refusal to make it “social-esteem”.

Here’s where love comes in. Glorious, unadulterated, romantic love, to be specific.

Love…erotic relations, friendship and family ties constitute strong emotional attachment among a small number of people. What is at issue here is a prejudicial degree of reciprocal recognition, where “subjects” mutually confirm each other with regard to their concrete needs and thereby recognize each other as needy creatures – Paul Riceour, Course of Recognition

A precept of love is the “neediness” of that love, the narcissism in requesting the mutual recognition of love, and the mutual agreement to reinforce each other’s being with others rather than being by others–the sufficient reproduction of social-esteem.

With Riceour, love is never a simple concept, though it is simply an emotion that is not reducible to the physiognomic impulses that it creates. Recognition through love becomes a recognition of the neediness of the other in relationship to the neediness of oneself. “I will grant you social esteem, and you will grant the same to me” is the mutual recognition that eventually unfolds within this system that Riceour refers to, which can only be breeded through love (agape), that of gift-giving. In the act of giving, one is determining a postulate of the other as a recognized being, granting recognition to him or her, not on the basis of an obligation or subjection, but because that person is a human being. Indeed, one might extend this formal, philosophical dimension of gift-giving into a tradition that has survived simply for its utilization of recognition in gender practices–that of dating, where a man begins with the gift of flowers, putting the female ‘other’ under the pretenses of gratitude. Indeed, it seems the entirety of the date is the tension of expected gratitude through the giving of another gift. It begins with the roses, and the audacity that the roses represent into inculcating the subject, in this case the feminine other, into a course of recognition that is intended to end with the agenda of the male.

If Riceour’s argument seems less salient when adapted into that of a date, perhaps
that is because the cynicism of such open-ended love, the agape which with the man supposedly feels when giving the roses, is always present within the female. A suspicion is immediately conjured within the female upon the presence of the roses, and there is a danger of the female rejecting those flowers for their inherent implications. The suspicion that occurs when receiving roses, that the roses might indeed symbolize for her the Trojan horse without the horse, pushed gratitude into a function of self-suspicion for being unable to obtain “mutual recognition” with the man in the act of gift-giving. In other words, there is the voice of suspicion that says: “he is trying to trick you with those roses”, and another voice that comes immediately after, which says: “you are tricking yourself “, and encourages the subject to “play along’ if only to prove that she is capable of trust. This later voice is understood as gratitude.

Riceour describes the main problem with agape, is “the lack of concern about any gift in return in the effusion of the gift in the realm of agape” (221). There is a type of agape then, that loves too much, “the overflowing heart”, as Riceour describes it, which does not base its method of gift-giving on the expectation of receiving a gift further in the future. In agape, selfishness and inequivalence become foreign concepts, agape “knows nothing of comparison and calculation”, therefore, with an inability to calculate the suggested “I.O.U.”s in every gift-giving procedure, the subject of agape is a helpless as Dostoyevski’s Idiot.

The struggle of Mutual recognition is sought within the peaceful experiences of mutual recognition, in its symbolic mediations, therefore it must begin at the level of the family. In order to avoid the struggle of the idiot, the logical order of reciprocity must be inculcated at birth, before the ‘cynicism’ of receiving a gift (that it could be a Trojan horse) can be suggested to the subject. A ritual of gift-giving must begin within a “festive character” of exchange. This is a society of love, in which gift-giving becomes a ceremonial tradition of gift-exchange, much like Christmas–except Christmas is every day.

Besides the fact that this imaginary order of recurring gift-exchange side-steps monetary symbolism as an already occurring symbolic order based on mutual recognition (where the amount of labor is supposedly equal to the amount paid), Riceour’s use of the term love and agape have, in this analysis, already taken several forms. There is the love with cynicism, and the love without it.  The recognition of love, in this case, seems to observe love as something more than a social phenomenon, but a state of being itself. How can that be? One might say that love is an emotion, a judgment call made by the associative mind when certain physiognomic impulses rise through a subject. My heart begins to beat fast when I look into her eyes, I get Goosebumps, I feel light-headed. Of course, I could be feeling the exact same feelings for completely different reasons, and in such cases those impulses would be taken for another emotion entirely. Let’s say I felt light-headed, got goosebumps, and my heart began to beat faster, for a reason that is not at all apparent to me. I’m standing in a forest. To my left is the Goddess Artemis bathing with her maids, and to my right is a frightening grizzly bear coming towards me with a hungry deportment. The emotion I feel at that moment is entirely a process of perceptual judgment dictating my preferential judgment. I perceive Diana, therefore I judge the impulses within me, and recognize love.

The intention of this parable is, naturally, to discover the process of recognition as a misrecognition in itself. In this forest, there is the possibility that I heard the bear, or somehow felt its presence, then felt the physiognomic impulses, then saw Diana, and felt love. I therefore misrecognize the impulses caused by fear to actually be love. How does this relate to Riceour? Because the fact remains that those physiognomic impulses were caused by something, whether it was the presence of Diana, the charging of the bear, a familiar smell, or a spider crawling up my leg, but the concept I choose to recognize it as, can be whatever I prefer it to be, or whatever is immediately perceived. The basic point is that fundamentally, an emotional judgment goes thus: “I feel something, why not love?” The recognition of love can in this sense be no more than a makeshift emotion, because the notion of feeling something must be explained through a concept, and at times, any concept will do.

So what is at stake in this somewhat overkilled investigation of emotion? Precisely in that concept “I feel something, why not love?” Suppose the logical system of exchange turns into one of a “festive order” based on agape and gift giving. I recognize the ‘other’ by presenting the other with something I call a gift. Within this system, I am reenacting a “ceremonial” “tradition”, in which my “gift” is given on the level or a symbolic order of reciprocity, in which I expect a certain amount of “gratitude” from the other in the form of an appropriate “gift”, which can be exchanged at an appropriate time, one not so far along that I have become bitter, yet not so soon that I might interpret it as a sign of obligation. I recognize the basis for these exchanges to be “love”, rather than selfishness. As the exchange goes on, chances are that at some point I would get tired of waiting for gift, and find it easier to eliminate the time difference between giving and receiving through suggestively eliminating the amount of time it takes to give back a gift. Also, I would take similarly suggestive steps to accept gifts based on the circumstances of the “other” who gives them to me, and since I don’t know “the other” as well as I’d like to, I would have to implement some sort of symbolic system to quantify the level of my gifts with their gifts, just to make sure I could appropriate a significant enough level of “gratitude” by the other so as to continue the “festive” process based on “agape”. Of course, this system of “gift-exchange” we know as “The Market”, it’s mutual recognition met through the buying and selling of objects and the labor market where labor is exchanged for a certain amount of profit, while still maintaining the recognition of truthful power relations. Though such a system as that proposed can’t possibly be a true agape, since agape does not recognize “selfishness” and “inequivalence”, the basis of the Market. Agape does, however, recognize “gratitude” and “festivity”, and therefore, “gift-exchange” can certainly exist within the mindset of agape.

Slajov Zizek’s For They Know Not What They Do

Žižek, Slavoj. For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment As a Political Factor. London: Verso, 1991.

Zizek analyzes the nation in terms of the Lacanian triad: Real, Imaginary and Symbolic, in which Nation is a form of the symbolic. Zizek investigates the motivations behind the creation of the nation as a reactionary phenomenon. In “On the One,” the nation is understood within the terms of the symbolic.

First it’s important to note that nation is only used as an example of the symbolic among many other examples, along with “God”, “The Law”, “The Jews” and “The King.” The first observation made about the symbolic is that it is a purely formal order of differential features. The role that these concepts play is in a higher form of the symbolic order as something beyond differential features, rather, the presence of the nation is an attempt to represent these differences metonymically.

The symbolic “God” is a reaction to earthly fears, by introduCHRIScing a symbol “God” as “an additional fear that retroactively cancels all the others” (17). The notion of God emerges from an excess of its opposite: earthly fears. The symbolic explain everything, it is the space where all becomes clear—the ego-ideal that casts power over all that is seemingly beyond our own power (18).  This instance of ‘quilting’ is an effort to conceptualize that which is impossible to conceive, in the same way that . In this sense nation too can be seen as an excess of its opposite.

The first appearance of the nation comes on page twenty, as an example of a “suturing” ego-ideal: “the only thing that actually de-sutures is suture itself,” meaning that as an effort to unify concepts, the symbolic in turn “de-sutures” concepts from each other. If God is excess fear, and law is excess crime, then nation too can be defined in its opposite: as excess separation. The unifying concepts of the nation (that we are all ‘citizens’) is feeble compared to the “de-suturing” effects of the subjects to their traditional ‘organic’ ties of unity: “family, religious group, and so on” (20). Nation then springs up as the general equivalent of all separation, producing an ‘organic inveteracy’ that unites subjects under modern, post-traditional imagined substance that operates “within the universe of the substanceless…subjectivity,”  just as “the fear of God springs up as the general equivalent of all fears” (20-1).

How does the nation “spring up”?

Zizek further expands his idea of the nation within a value-system, where nation takes the “general form” of the symbolic, where “one signifier represents the subject for all other signifiers” (24). For the nation, the “suturing” effect can only take place after the “de-suturing,” where by alienating the subjects from their ‘traditional’ unities, the subjects all become a part of a series of equivalences within the imaginary. The “nation” then “springs up” as a metonymic reversal of pure equivalences into one signifier that represents the subject for all the others, which Zizek defines as the Master Signifier (God, Law, Nation).

The Master Signifier is constituted within a fundamental value system, engendered from the instant when the subject recognizes that he/she is not represented, or rather that “every signifier misrepresents the subject” (24).  The MS then emerges as a response to the desire for cohesion of concepts. The MS is a “general equivalent” which “does not represent the subject at the same level, within the same logical space” (24). “Nation” operates at a higher level , though fundamentally, it is still only reflexive, it is still taken as the highest form of value (something worth killing/dying for).

To sum up the argument of part I in terms of the nation, the nation comes from an excess of separation, and is the ultimate form of separation, because it is a culturally constructed reaction to excess separation. The nation also functions in a sphere above logic, an alogical sphere. In other words, a subject chooses to believe in nation because they know that “nation” is an impossibility, since nation is only an excess of its opposite. In Part II, nation is taken as an alogical phenomenon and therefore, in order to preserve it, “nation” can in no way be a fixed concept, and must avoid the constricting tendency of language altogether.

As an organic body, nation is an excess of separation, which means that it becomes a constantly re-emerging concept within separations, and therefore becomes an organic symbol, like God, Jews, Money, Law. Nation is constantly readjusting itself as a manifestation of a physical inversion—an excess separation. Therefore, when that separation is in flux, so is the concept “nation”.

How does the nation avoid definition?

The nation becomes an identity that appears “when predicates fail” (36). The nation cannot be defined because there always occurs “a doubling of the universal when it is confronted with its own contents” (34). Referring to the God analogy, God is created by an excess of fear in order to totalizing all the equalizing fear into a higher concept that suffocates all fear, by appearing both “all loving” as well as something that must be feared. The concept of God, when it is faced with its contents, must then bifurcate into “God of peace” and “God of hatred” (36). In order to maintain itself, the symbolic must avoid its contents altogether, which include a determinable definition.  An definition of the symbolic must be purely tautological.

God is both all-loving/God is an object of totalizing fear.  – God is God

Nation is unifying principles/Nation is excess separation.  –  Nation is nation.

Marc Redfield sees the nation similarly to Zizek, as an idea beyond ideas, untied to specific characteristics, only used as an affinity group, which is a necessity to produce organic unity. The culture of nationalism is then an aesthetic culture within a biological continuity, created in order to establish the concept of “nation” as one of total mobilization. This mobilization is achieved through the refusal of nation to be defined. As Schiller says “the certain characteristic of the German” is the desire to “form an opinion for himself about that which concerns Germans,” through Schiller, Redfield sees that “the German is he who can posit Germany” (93) The definition is tautological because it can only define itself by referencing itself, and therefore avoids any characteristics at all, “the subject is trained up to perceive an unperceivable nation” (95).

In this tautological definition of nation, it can easily be concluded that Nation functions on a higher, alogical sphere, by making us all perverts. How? We are perverted because nationalism avoids definition, because its ability to avoid a predicate, of fully satiating our desires, makes us all the more intrigued to discover nation as a whole, in the same way that a Boddhisatva is always “on the cusp” of obtaining nirvana, but nirvana can never be attained, because by definition, a Boddhisatva cannot even desire nirvana. “The very impossibility of the signifier’s representation is reflected into this representation itself” (24). Nation then, according to Zizek’s Master Signifier, becomes a pure possibility that can never be fully understood, because it escapes definition entirely, yet operates on a plane of pure desire, because it masks itself as a fixed, universal concept, in the same way that Hitler presented the Jews, or that God, money and the law are still presented today. It is then on a higher sphere and above logic.

The only attempts to define nation are by increasing its fundamental origins as “excess separation,” where the “the very identity of the ‘British character’ constitutes itself by reference to [an] intruder,” or as Schiller says “a man who does not want to hear or think about [the German nation] may rightly be regarded…as not belonging to us”(38, 93).

To sum up, the efforts to define nation must be obsolete so that nation can continually re-emerge as a reactionary phenomenon according to what is historically imperative. The nation only has “identity-with-itself,” which is ”nothing but [an] impossibility of predicates” (36). The concept of the nation becomes both an abstract negation of itself and a vanishing point, a pure singularity. For nation, “words can only be squandered; they are spirit’s inessential, if necessary, supplement,” and language is only used as “superfluous noise” in order to reaffirm the impossibility of discovering nation(93).  Nation is the purest type of contradiction, because it both represents all, though “the void is its only content” (52).

Hardt and Negri on Affective Labor

Negri, Antonio. “Dossier: Scattered Speculations on Value – Value and Affect.” Boundary 2. 26. 2 (1999): 77.


Hardt, Michael. “Affective Labor,”


In Antonio Negri’s essay on value and affect, he defines affect through four main distinctions: first, as “a power to act that is singular and at the same time universal,” that is “universal because the affects construct a commonality among subjects,” second, as a “power of transformation” and “force of self-valorization,” third, as “a power of appropriation, in the sense that every obstacle that is overcome by the action of affect determines a greater force of action of the affect itself, in the singularity and universality of its power,” and finally, he defines affect as an expansive power…a power of freedom, ontological opening, and omnilateral diffusion” (85-6). These four points for a definition of affect as power to act, transformative, appropriating and expansive, interprets affect as constructive of an immeasurable alignment among subjects, whether political or otherwise, into a manifestation of and investment in shared desires. Furthermore, Negri identifies the growing tendency in global capital to think of value in terms of affect, where affective labor creates an economy of desire. To Negri, this new economy “opens the way to a revolutionary political economy in which insurrection is a necessary ingredient” (88).

How are we to understand this economy of desire in the contemporary context of a growing service industry, where immaterial labor—labor of knowledge, access, navigating and manipulating information, providing customer and managerial services, educating, financing, consultancy, and caretaking—is quickly becoming the dominant mode of capitalist production? In Michael Hardt’s supplementary essay, “Affective Labor,” Hardt identifies this shift in the mode of production as, on the one hand, degrading affect, culture and human relations “to the level of economic interactions,” and on the other hand, producing a new dynamic of labor that “has become communicative, affective, de-instrumentalized, and ‘elevated’ to the level of human relations—but a level of human relations entirely dominated by and internal to capital” (96). In order to dominate affective labor, global capitalism proliferates shared subjectivities that negate the communitarian potentials of affective labor through the very circuits of shared communication, emphasizing difference and personal identity as a means of divide and conquer, instrumentalizing particular structural hierarchies of race, class, gender, tribalism, etc. to eliminate the liberating potential of affective labor. Yet throughout Hardt’s essay, it is the feminist critique of labor that is constantly invoked in order to understand affective labor, as gender analysis provides an adequate lens in which to comprehend affective labor as “women’s work,’ a mode of labor that produces biopolitical subjectivities, “entirely immersed in the corporeal, the somatic” producing immaterial affects—”the labor involved in the creation of life” (96, 99).
As a dividing principal, gendered ideologies of affective labor are everywhere present in development studies, especially of modernizationists who are uncritical of the potentials of development. Michael Cowen and Robert Shenton identify development studies within a genealogy of an imperial discourse aligned with civilizing missions, trusteeship and progress, identifying the antitheses of progress as John Stuart Mill’s “stationary state” (39), defined by custom, tradition, and the absence of choice. The ability to choose, then, is presented as the condition of possibility for an intentional break from custom, tradition and the “stationary state.” Yet, as Cowen and Shenton identify, there are in fact two such “stationary states,” the first, bound by custom and absent of choice, and the second, its direct opposite: “societies not bound by ‘custom,’ where tolerance and rational discussion flourish” (40). The development discourse then is not only gendered, in the sense that the non-civilized stationary state is stagnant, caught up in custom and tradition, while the good stationary state is rational, but it also proliferates a subjectivity furthermore imbricated within gender formations—that trustees must act rationally and freely “on the moral behalf of the ignorant and corrupt”, that agents must exorcize their so-called “unbound” traditional morality onto the “bound” corrupting morality of an Other.

Maria Saldana-Portillo offers a conception of development that is ostensibly gendered, coloring the “trustees” of first-world countries as embodying “unaggrieved masculinity” while “traditional society is feminized, rendered incapable of resisting ‘the more powerful nation’s’ penetration” (34). Aware of this opposition, modernization theorists emphasized cultural ways of thinking as possible stymies to development, and believed that only by shifting these traditional ways of thinking can development reach its full potential—in other words, new subjectivities must propagate, while traditional subjectivities must cease to be reproduced, before developmental progress. As Portillo says, “the manly ‘effective power’ of the colonizer teaches ‘thoughtful’ local people to desire it—to desire ‘an ability to wield modern technology,’ to emulate the father’s knowledge/power (34).

On the level of the individual, development ideologies then produce a gendered hierarchy where liberal ideals of agency, masculinity, autonomy and choice symbolize an ideal object of desire, and the passive, pre-modern, hyper-feminine Other symbolizes its direct oppositional. For the purposes of understanding divisive subjectivities within regimes of affective labor, this structural formation must be understood on the level of the subject who produces affect, as a means of understanding their own labor as falling within a passive, virtual, feminized mode of labor. Furthermore, understanding this formation must go beyond the measure of ideologies of individualism and liberalism, but rather, it must be understood as an affective aura of competition rather than solidarity through a hyper-class consciousness that emphasizes miniscule elitism. Ankie Hoogvelt, in Globalization and the Postcolonial World, discusses the trap of development for women who may take on this structural hierarchy: In exchange for belonging within international development, they get super-exploitation, a liberal discouragement to cease reproducing their own race, and new formations of patriarchy represented in managerial classes. Yet, even with the potentials of a “left world sisterhood” created by this super-exploitation, the division of labor also creates a hierarchy that leaves class-conscious individuals in antagonistic relation to the classes below them—the conception that hyper-exploitation is a least better than exclusion, and is only so far away from regular exploitation.

The ideological components of this division of labor is also present in the critiques of World Systems Theory, which Hoogvelt presents as “conceptualized in terms of global class relations which transcend national class structures” (58). Though the core-periphery model may be useful for understanding world class formations, it happens to ignore the major class divisions within nations themselves, where, in places like Vientiene in Laos or Phnom Penh in Cambodia, one can find expensive luxury European cars on every block, along with women cradling their children while sleeping on street corners. In other words, by understanding class formation as autonomous in relation to national borders, one can see the symbolic class structures (cars, malls, fashion) as creating divisions of miniscule elitism within a gendered structural hierarchy. Such divisions are reproduced through every day cultural capital, which Portillo identifies as the “ethical choices made by a risk-taking vanguard leadership,” such as “the choice of embracing technology…the choice of sheding feudal mind-sets…the choice to save money…the choice to be independent…the choice to invest capital in social overhead costs…the choice between clan and nation…and, most important, the choice to be productive rather than prodigal” (43-4).

The enormous potential of affective labor that Michael Hardt investigates can now be seen as on one hand, potential for liberation through human relations, and on the other, potential for even more direct antagonistic human relationships, where “women’s work’ is rearticulated in a classist and racialized discourse. Every human interaction thus becomes a new chance to reassess hierarchies, to reaffirm and rearticulate an already present hierarchy in miniscule elitisms. The potentials of affective labor as vitally increasing virtual or actual human contact and proximity, when seen alongside development discourse, reproduces division rather than solidarity, miniscule class antagonism rather than liberation. Proximity and higher levels of communication can thus create the conditions of possibility for further exploitation and class antagonism. After all, what better way to instill a racial formation in a child than to have them watch the “darker skinned” housekeeper eating dinner at a separate table—or better yet, for the child of that housekeeper, to watch the even lower-waged maids eating at an even smaller, even more separate table.

Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations

Smith, Adam, Edwin Cannan, and Max Lerner. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. New York: The Modern library, 1937.


Question: How do we apply Smith’s notions of regulation in a globalizing era?

Claim: Reading Smith in the context of his English and Scottish nationalism reveals de-regulation works only in reference to the domestic market, that there is always a type of regulation, and that the invisible hand serves in the interests of home.


After gaining great reputation as a moral philosopher, in 1776, the Scottish Enlightenment figure Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, the second in what was meant to be a trilogy of great philosophical/policy books (the third in political economy). Smith was much misunderstood in his own time, and perhaps even further misunderstood in the contemporary era, when colorful ties express selfishness as a virtue and Left leaning liberals use the metaphor of the invisible hand as a useful straw man to discredit Smiths(xx) rationalism and the privatization of the market.

Perhaps Smiths(xx) most non-applicable ideas are that ;every individual naturally inclines to employ his capital in the manner in which it is likely to afford the greatest support to domestic industry, and to give revenue and employment to the greatest number of people of his own country;(xx 27) To Smith, every individual in an unregulated maritime commerce naturally employs their capital in support of the domestic industry, specifically the industry of the country. It is this proposal that begins the paragraph where the invisible hand first appears, where the individual engaged in commerce ;led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention;(xx) Yet this advantage is always towards the domestic sphere.

As the Chair of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow, Smiths interests were especially aligned with the moral character and interest of his homeland. His attention to jurisprudence and economics during the height of the English East Indian Company and the great agricultural achievements of the North American colonies also places him as a national subject in service of discovering effective means of deriving the most output from the input of the overseas colonies.

Furthermore, Smiths(xx) invocation of the invisible hand come with two conditionals, the first that monopolies be imposed when the defense of the country comes into question, and when a tax is imposed to even out competitions. Yet all of the examples that Smith cites are examples that favor Britain rather than its colonies or other European nations. Naturally, in the monoeconomies of the colonies, the many communities and towns that rely solely on a single resource whether it be cotton, tobacco, textiles, oil, silver, rubber, steel, etc. may not see the same invisible hand that naturally adjusts to the shifting dynamics of commerce. If another resource or technology is introduced, monoeconomies become devastated by these fluctuating waves, as has been the case in the monoeconomies of Africa. Britian and the United States, with immense diversification of resources, find it in their self-interest to promote the invisible hand as a policy of free trade that engages in creative destruction for the benefit of the nation, where, as Smith puts it, being cast out of ;their ordinary employment and common method of subsistence, it would by no means follow that they would thereby be deprived either of employment or subsistence.; naturally, only in a diversified economy might this shifting of employment be quick, easy and trivial.

It is of little importance to say that Adam Smith has grown irrelevant since the Wealth of Nations, his wish to entirely restore freedom of trade was stymied by the American Revolution and the uprisings in India that resulted in the total takeover of the British East India Company by the state. In other words, de-regulation and laizze faire economics seems to have dissipated in Smiths(xx) standards. The imposition of the state of economic means came in response to uprisings from within free market maritime trade within a system whose invisible hand privileges Great Britain but not its constituent parts.

So how do we think of Adam Smith in a globalizing world? Does situating him within a nationalist interest call for a new theory of economics situated with a global interest? Or rather, is it more commonplace to utilize Smiths(xx) ideas to justify neoliberal policies and conditional loans? In The Wealth of Nations, free trade and the use of private capital is legitimated through the metaphor of the invisible hand to prove that foreign commerce always directs funds back to the homeland. Yet this context seems lost to history, as the invisible hand that self-regulates the market continues to work for the homeland, not the monoeconomies of Africa, not the resource rich countries in Latin America and in some cases the middle East, and certainly not for the East Asian tigers, who, after the IMF crisis in 1997, have failed to reach comparable substantial growth after ingesting IMF policies compared to their mainly state-regulated policies before the IMF. Whether correct or not, Adam Smiths legitimization of self-interest in commerce and the exchange of capital cannot be separated from its nationalist context and its value upon improving the homeland.

According to the United Nations(xx) Department of Economic and Social Affairs, ;the growth record has been uneven and the macroeconomic environment increasingly unbalanced. The one ubiquitous trend has been sharply rising inequalities.; (1). The Department puts one of the mechanisms for these inequalities in the myth of the self-regulating market, but rather than ;unregulated markets were more prone to self-destruction than self-regulation;(xx2). Yet this insight seems ineffectual in radically shifting the direction of conditional loaning programs imposed by the IMF and the Washington Consensus. The policies of globalization do not fall in line with the unregulated/regulated bind very easily. On the one hand, such organizations are regulating economies through the very imposition of conditional loans, their ;suggestions; are meant to produce a watchdog effect over national economies, naming other economies so-called ;transition economies; or not-yet a Western economy, promising rapid and positive growth through shock therapies. On the other hand, globalizing organizations such as the IMF are also deregulating institutions, in that the very conditions for the loans that are given are a deregulated economy, more free trade and massive privatization. In other words, such neoliberal organizations can wear multiple masks, unconstrained by the regulated-deregulated binary, imposing the deregulation of the state for the regulation of a world organization, opening up ports that favor Western diversified economies but not the struggling monoeconomies of the third world.

Appearing ineffective towards analyzing global mechanisms and institutions, the polarizations between regulation and de-regulation perhaps invoke the need to think of different types of regulation. Many countries can provide a plethora of examples of different modes of regulation, but in being typified as ;transitional economies;, these economies are rarely seen as proper economies in their own right. Transitional Economies are economies which are changing from a centrally planned economy to a free market, undergoing economic liberalization by letting market forces set prices and lowering trade barriers, progressing through macroeconomic stabilization where immediate high inflation is brought under control, and restructuring its privatization in order to create a financial sector to move from public to private ownership of resources. By forcing a binary between state-centered and free market, ;transitional economies; in their very definition of ;transitional; are seen as always on the path towards a Western style privatization, progressing on full deregulation as an ideal economic situation, which, as in the case of Britain, is simply stymied by insurrection and the need for intervening state power. Yet, it is in this very transitional period from state-economies to free economies that we can find incredible amounts of growth. In Japan, the move from the Meiji period to deregulated capitalism saw vast amounts of growth, but in the 1990s, having reached an ideal deregulated capitalism with the übercapitalist Keiretsu companies, real growth in GDP decreased to a stagnant 1.5% a year. In South Korea, the greatest amount of growth came also in the so-called ;transitional; period from the vast influence and state-power of President Park Chung-hee, whose rule began in a Coup d’état, ended in assassination and whose cabinet was rightly accused of corruption and vast abuse of state power. Though he was democratically elected, President Park used a state of emergency from the Korean war to dissolve parliament, suspend the constitution and, for our purposes, took a step from the American-imposed free trade market, back to a more state-regulated Korean economy, privileging certain companies and organizations far over others, and overtaxing the populous at times to fund large infrastructure projects dictated by the state, displacing thousands and invoking student protests in Korea as well as in the West. Yet despite all these shortcomings, President Parks(xx) step away from American economical pursuits and steps towards state regulated institutions by coercing Korean businesses into letting in capital from Japan, per capita income increased twentyfold, while South Korea’s rural, undeveloped economy was transformed into an industrial powerhouse.

President Park’s step back from a deregulated economy shows two things. First, that Smith’s notion of a fully free market economy as the ideal endpoint which is only stymied by insurrection, war and tyranny, is not only false, but perpetuates a myth that taking these necessary steps back from de-regulation are only stymied by war and the need for national defense. Second, South Korea’s spur of economic growth during Park shows not only the ineffectiveness of the regulation/deregulation binary, but the ideological implications of naming countries like South Korea and Japan as transitional economies, suggesting that they are ;not-yet; a Western economy. South Korea along with the other Asian Tigers has shown that transitional economies should be seen as economies in their own right, and that the invisible-hand imposed by the IMF in 1997 was truly a hand grown from a Western nationalist impulse, a hand serving the IMF’s ;home,; a hand meant to protect domestic growth, as Adam Smith says explicitly. The country of Malaysia proves this historically, being the only Asian country to directly refuse IMF imposed policies, and whose growth did not stagnate in the post-IMF era. Indeed, it was not the regulation of the state that has left much of Asia ravished by the 1997 crisis, but the regulation of the IMF serving in the interests of the foreign bankers who run it.

Finally, I would like to end with a reformulation of Smith’s theory for a type of new globalization, implicitly demanded by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, but one that must be directly materialized through a new Brettonwood with new mechanisms meant to make global capitalism work. The DESA proposes a new facility for automatic response to disasters and economic crises, rather than through the conditional loans of the IMF. Yet this seems to be a somewhat disappointing response to our current global economic crisis. Rather, a new Brettonwoods would mean new organizations not centered in the United States, but trusting in the regionalism of institutions like ASEAN to deal effectively with their own areas—in other words, an organization that understands Smith’s idea of free market as withholding a bias towards the nation, the domestic and the home. If the invisible hand serves in the interests of home, then the type of regulation by foreign economies must utilize this invisible hand in the interests of its own home.

Rebecca M. Klenk’s “Who Is the Developed Woman?

Klenk, Rebecca M. “Who Is the Developed Woman? Women As a Category of Development Discourse, Kumaon, India.” Development and Change. 35. 1 (2004): 57-78.


In Rebecca Klenk’s article “Who is the Developed Woman?,” Klenk observes that among the women volunteers from roadside villages in Uttarakhand, “calling someone [developed]—especially a woman or girl—was a common form of praise,” regardless whether or not there was “substantial change” in that person]s life  (59). Yet this praise in accord with a developed person does not quite function as an ego-ideal, rather it is a complex notion that adjusts to the particular aspects of village life. When the co-ordinators of the camp addressed to women]s development asks “Whom do we call a developed woman?” the responses are unexpectedly complex and reminiscent of the development context: the developed woman is “intellectual,” does not waste time in gossip, “she will be able to take time for herself to do sewing, knitting, and embroidery,” “she will have a greater desire to learn more,” and finally, “for all of this the husband will have to be awakened” (66). Rather than reproduce an imposed binary of village women and developed women, the answers to the question “Whom do we call a developed woman?” are strangely consistent with village life, as subjectivity for village women could be shifted towards a development ethos without substantially changing quality of life, rather, to be developed is not entirely substantiated in shifting class structures nor is it a superficial ego-ideal at the center of a growing ideological structure, where the women only believe that they can become developed as the conditions for their exploitation. Development is rather seen as a relationship of subjects to an community bound by affect, sharing new subjectivities through the romance of development.

By “romance of development” I do not mean an ego-ideal of “civilization”, an instance of colonial mimicry where the Other is inclined to act “like us, but not quite”. The responses to the questions “Who is the Developed Woman” show the limits of this analysis. Rather, I use the term romance to mean a psychic economy that functions through symbols and language, a concept never stable among a community because of its dependence upon shared subjectivities, a sense of belonging that arises from affect rather than discourse, that suspends individualism, that is always at the risk of change and therefore is easily malleable, and yet, ultimately, romance must never be separated from the neurosis of romantic divulgence, from a performativity of production. The romance of a type of belonging (i.e. developed woman) thus produces and affective regime that one can use to understand connections between communities and subjectivities that seem unrelated: solidarity movements within the global south, diasporic subjectivities, the allegiance of NGOs and non-profits with third world women, yet it also helps in understanding nation-building—for instance, the romance of liberty and freedom in a time of American hegemony and war. Finally, understanding development as romantic may also shed light on the answers to “Who is the Developed Woman”? It is not that there is a concrete reliance upon the term developed that the women in the group share, rather, the idea of the developed woman is cumulative rather than limited within boundaries, malleable rather than rigid, as every member of the group adds something new to the concept, none of which are negated, no matter how counter-intuitive the rearticulations of “developed woman” tend to become.

In Joan Scott’s essay on experience, “The Evidence of Experience,” Scott begins with Delany’s portrayal of a gay bathhouse, where heterosexual normativity is contested by the visibility of the bathhouse, as she says: “By writing about the bathhouse Delany seeks not, he says, “to roman-ticize that time into some cornucopia of sexual plenty,” but rather to break an “absolutely sanctioned public silence” on questions of sexual practice, to reveal something that existed but that had been suppressed.” And yet Delany cannot help but romanticize the community of gays in the bathhouse, in the way I understand romance here. In fact, it is the very disinterestedness of the gays in the bathhouse in their being gay that makes their community questionable—where gayness plays a congregational role, one must ask “what other subjectivities are being elided in exchange for the romance of the bathhouse?” I ask this question not to point out the crucial immediacy and sense of belonging that arises through censorship and oppression, but to explore the production of affected communities arising from the romance of the bathhouse, which puts gayness at the forefront of identity. Can this sense of romanticization be seen as an effective affectual solidarity that functions through all identity politics, and in that sense, through notions of experience as a category of authority, which “authorizes the historian who has access to it” to whatever identity they embody (female, black, lower class, etc.)? In other words, if experience embodied within an identity is useful to us only as a political gesture—as Joan Scott sees experience—then why not exemplify the romance of the bathhouse as an affectual—albeit irrational—symbol of belonging, since such immaterial romanticization can lead to political empowerment against real oppressive forces?

The critique of identity politics as a concept that frequently conflates or ignores intragroup differences is also emphasized by Kimberle Crinshaw in her article “Mapping the Margins.” Crinshaw maps identity politics through a highlighting the intersectionality of women of color, who are marginalized in two forms, are subject to experiences “qualitatively different from white women.” Women of color then, due to their intersectionality, cannot be conflated into a feminist critique, since their experiences of witnessing patriarchy on multiple levels cannot be understood in the terms of white women. Yet Crinshaw’s dissection of women of color, while appropriating the complexity of this double-marginalization, conflates women of color with immigrants, with non-native speakers, with lower-class women of color, and at times seem to be nearly synonymous with black women specifically. In other words, in the attempt to de-conflate women of color with women in general, Crinshaw herself performs conflation of a different kind, for the purposes of stressing an alignment among women of color through common political interests, which happen to have drifted too far from the interests of white women. My aim here is not to point out a disjuncture in Crinshaw’s text, nor to posit that as a black woman writing, her experience is used as an authority on a subject that cannot be understood by white women for lack of experience, but rather to state the Crinshaw’s aims are distinctly political, and that her insistence on the dangers of conflating identities seems useful insofar as it functions politically, rather than essentializing identity by claiming women of color to be absent of intragroup differences. Crinshaw romanticizes not the notion of women of color as a sustainable communal identity through its shared experiences, but the idea of women of color as embodying a further intragroup difference in feminism, as an identity that forms a “hard kernel” of group identity that must be freed from the conflation of feminism that sees all women as under the same patriarchy.

Finally, Deborah Thien’s “After or Beyond Feeling?” argues against a totally transhuman approach to emotion and affect, but, like Scott, argues for its political relevance in group formation: “placing emotion in the context of our always intersubjective relations offers more promise for politically relevant, emphatically human, geographies.” In the philosophical (and Spinozian) sense of affect as a way of engaging with the world, of a phenomenon functioning alongside and integral to rational thought, Thein contends that “distances between ‘us’ are always relational, and indeed that we are intimately subjected by emotion.” The romance of development then can be seen as a interpellative gesture, marking third world women (at least in small villages in Uttarakhand as new subjects through affectual relations). Yet, as Ben Anderson and Paul Harrison argue in their response to Thein’s article, if the social-subject positions of affect are grounded in the individual, then “what about idiomatic emotional categories which resist translation?” Here finally we can turn back to the cumulative logic of romance, which readily absorbs idiomatic readings of a concept—development, liberty—for the sake of fostering intersubjective relations.

Mohanty and Jacqui’s Feminist Genealogies

Alexander, M. Jacqui, and Chandra Talpade Mohanty. Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. Thinking gender. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Essay: “Women Workers and Capitalist Scripts,”

In Chandra Mohanty’s “Women Workers and Capitalist Scripts,” the issue of gender and feminization of the work force adds to an increasing complexity of class and class struggle. The essay begins by acknowledging this heterogeneity among the Third World woman-worker, and then proceeds to articulate the common interests and common forms of exploitation that are shared in ideological meanings (“homework” and “housewife”) that expose an ideological symmetry between forms of geographically-separated exploitation. The shared experiences are primarily three fold: (1) that women labor is defined in patriarchal definitions, (2) that these are transformed through capitalist exploitive processes and (3) the challenges of unionizing, organizing and recognizing their own common interests. According to Mohanty, this feat can only be achieved through a historical study that analyzes these instances of exploitation as a “process of gender and race domination,” and that re-conceives of “woman as agents rather than victims” (7).

Similar with Balibar and Wallerstein’s arguments about race, Mohanty argues that ideological forms of sexuality—in this case, the “housewife worker” who is unpaid (or unfairly paid) for their unskilled labor—are symptomatic to a capitalist system that seeks to incorporate women into the workforce while losing very little (to none) surplus-value in the process (hyper-exploitation). By defining working women as housewives, the women as members of a workforce are always secondary to their family roles, enabling those further up the social hierarchy (usually men) to profit from their labor.

Of course, capitalism didn’t create these hierarchies or indigenous caste systems (as is the case in India), and in Mohanty’s terms, “the integration of women into the world market is possible because of the history and transformation of indigenous caste and sexual ideologies” (13). In other words, the world market forces were opportunistic, and were able to utilize on an already-existing social hierarchy in order to exploit those who were already at the bottom of it. On one hand, these market forces were “simply respecting” the established hierarchy of the indigenous peoples, while at the same time, they were manipulating and transforming these roles in order to exploit the workforce. By making the point that these hierarchies were merely reinforced by the world market rather than engendered by it, Mohanty seems to be arguing for the solidarity of women workers, for while the types of sexual and racist ideologies may differ in content from one instant to another, the very form of the world market reinforcing existing hierarchies (where women are almost always on the bottom) is a “common interest” shared by the women workers of the world. The ideological symmetries that she specifies are concepts that communicate (1) “unskilled labor,” (2) the tediousness of the task at hand, and (3) the secondary, supplementary nature of the occupation in comparison to being a housewife.

These ideas culminate towards the end of the essay, when she expresses that “interests can be characterized as ‘objective’” and that “the content of needs and desires…remains open for subjective interpretation” (23). By splitting the “interests” into objective and subjective concepts, solidarity can be produced among the women workers with the objective interests in mind, while local communities can still defend the specific contents of their needs. In order to produce this solidarity, first there must occur a redefinition of women’s work that is not patriarchal, but casts women in roles of their own agency and “thus indicates a political basis for common struggles” (28). The common struggle is self-evident in their ideological conflicts to be defined as both worker and woman through definitions that make work, and therefore wage-labor, a type of unnecessary leisure.

Response to “Introduction”

The condescension and sniding that many academics in the humanities are apt to perform whenever we are confronted with that haunting term that was once ours but was hijacked by the forces of corporatism and capital, multiculturalism, is perhaps too fast a snide, too quick an instance of hit-and-run disqualification—any instance that the term is brought up, we at once are reminded of diversity training programs, of quick inculcation and upward assimilation, rather than the politics of inclusion and identity that first utilized the term. Multiculturalism in the 1980s was an attempt to bypass all instances of institutional racism by shifting the paradigm towards a tolerance for other cultures. Multiculturalism was meant to provide a respectful and non-presumptive attitude towards others, creating diversity in the workplace and institutions, effectively turning the American melting pot into a multicultural salad, where all elements work together, are equally delicious, and are never meant to dissolve into a single cohesive mass. In this essay I want to investigate the merits and demerits of this multiculturalism by comparing it to its contemporary alternative, cross-culturalism, which takes a step back from plurality and “mere tolerance” towards a politics of responsibility.

In their Introduction to Genealogies, Legacies, Movements, Mohanty and Jacqui Alexander resist “relativist postmodern” for its refusal to acknowledge real social locations and the structural violence experienced by other races, and instead they attempt to bring about a cross-cultural politics, which substitutes relativism for “responsibility, accountability, engagement, and solidarity” (xix). Rather than asking for a global sisterhood in feminist politics, or an equalizing abstraction of identity under a humanitarian guise that attempts to call for global solidarity, claiming all women to be under a similar patriarchy, Alexander and Mohanty stress an understanding of unequal relationships between identities. They see a danger to women of color in post-modern relativism that allows white women, in a move of self-abstraction, to identify with third world women and women of color despite their privilege, their ignorance of intersectionalities of race, class and gender, and their own complicity with the forces of repression that work to marginalize women of color.

Alexander and Mohanty ask for a cross-cultural politics rather than a multicultural politics, stressing that such a new politics would produce “a comparative, relational feminist praxis that is transnational in its response to and engagement with global processes of colonialism” (xx). Such a comparative praxis would enable self-reflection through the Other, would present the deep contextual knowledge that refuses abstraction between different groups, and would project the inequality and structural violence that certain groups allow while others suffer. While multiculturalism permits a rapid complicity with capitalism, cross-culturalism “cannot be about self-advancement, upward mobility, or maintenance of the first world status-quo. It has to be premised on the decolonization of the self and on notions of citizenship defined not just within the boundaries of the nation state but across national and regional borders” (xli). Though they call this type of politics “transborder participatory democracy,” I find “cross-cultural” more apt, as it distinguishes this radical politics form the corporatism of multiculturalism that Alexander and Mohanty are moving against. Indeed, cross-culturalism proliferates not an ideology of self-empowerment, but a hyper-awareness of how one’s own empowerment may be disempowering to others, transcending national borders in this awareness. Yet, what of solidarity then between these groups? How does one create alliances when there is no demarcating line between the oppressed and the privileged, but rather a long hierarchy from better to worse, where towards the bottom lies multiple variations of intersectionalities, turning the American multicultural salad where all is equal and eaten, into a cross-cultural shish kabob, where all minorities are cooked under an oppressive fire and gutted on the same wooden stick, yet who must be consumed one at a time, on a ladder of value.

Assimilation metaphors aside, Alexander and Mohanty qualify their call for a new politics by pointing out that these new cross-cultural women’s movements “cannot be purely reactive in relation to the state” (xl). The experience of being a women of color, or being oppressed, cannot alone qualify one for full understanding within a movement, but rather “it is, in fact, the interpretation of that experience within a collective context that marks the moment of transformation from perceived contradictions and material disenfranchisement to participation in women”s movements” (xl). Here Alexander and Mohanty seem to be invoking group testimonials in everything but name, situations where every member of a group must reflect upon their own oppressive experiences and perhaps experiences of performing oppression on others. In these testimonials, everyone is represented in their particularities, yet, at the same time, are solidified as a group through the very act of testimony and interpretations of that testimony by the group. While Alexander and Mohanty use the word transformation to capture this process og group formation to the individual, could we also not use the words interpellation, self-conditioning, etc.? Does not this act of testimony—as a speech act, as a performative gesture—not require an audience for a collective that might as well be arbitrary? In other words, if interpretation of experience is all it takes to produce a “belonging to” within a community, what matters then of individual context and experience other than as self-reflective (or guilt-producing) narcissism to quickly bypass the feeling of being abstracted? How is being asked to select a moment of personal history, what is perhaps a total exception to the norm of that history, then to have that history interpreted in strange and horrific ways to better understand it in the mission-statement of the group, witnessing the meaning of that experience transformed from something personal and long-forgotten into a structural problem that perhaps had nothing to do with one’s own autonomy and decisions, but rather his gender, race or class, in order to become a participant in a political social movement—how is this “interpretation” any different than the amusement brought about by a magic show when a member of the audience is asked to participate by coming on stage, among the gaze of the audience and their own timidity, only to immediately find himself cut in half, picking the wrong cards again and again, or unable to recognize their own loved ones, merely through the powers of suggestion, meaning making and group pressure? What difference is it then to sacrifice the meaning of experience for the group’s entertainment, their feeling of companionship, or their need for solidarity?

If cross-culturalism is a politics meant to dissolve the abstraction of the group, which makes all instances of oppressive identities equal, then what does cross-culturalism have left to suture individuals into groups and those groups into movements, than affective regimes produced by group testimonials, where it is not what is said that sutures, but the act of saying itself, of offering a piece of personal history, a piece of one’s soul to the group, that interpellates the individual into a collectivity? Such a performance of group solidarity is, of course, not new. It is a remnant of religious interpellation continued today in a modern form par excellence by the religion of Scientology, whose “Free Personality Test” is perhaps little more than a means of extracting personal information, of establishing trust between the participant and the observer, giving the individual the option between group solidity or the insidious possibilities of blackmail, gossip, and even state intervention.

Yet, in this disjuncture within cross-cultural politics between the individual and group solidarity, one finds hope, as usual, in Gayatri Spivak, and in her efforts to rethink cross-cultural politics by emphasizing affect, by “grounding feeling”:

We ‘know’ that to ground thinking upon feeling cannot be the basis of theory, but that ‘is’ how theory is ‘judged in the wholly other’, that ‘is’ the ‘ghost of the undecidable’ in every decision, that ‘is’ how the ‘truth’ of the work is set of posited [gestzt] in the work(ing)…we cannot get around it in the name of academic or arty anti-essentialism (256).

If affect is all that grounds such movements, then so be it. But “grounding feeling” and affect are quite different, where affect may induce one to the powers of suggestion and group feeling of companionship despite arbitrary interests, “grounding feeling” depends on a self-reflective meditation, not on one’s own personal interests, nor on they ways they relate to the world directly, but to the things that one cares about, to the emotions that demand certain roles be taken up, certain ways of engaging with the world, as well as the guilt that must be attended to through global responsibility for one’s own actions. As Spivak says of authors who investigate women’s work in Southeast Asia, as well as activists on the subject, “we had difficulty recognizing theory because it was not framed in a Heideggerian staging of care, or a Derridean staging of responsibility” (258).

Through Spivak’s analysis, the staging of identity politics seems to dissolve under a politics of care and responsibility. Grounding thinking upon feeling is to feel/think of ground itself, to admit, before direct group intervention or testimony, of what one cares about and how one is to take responsibility for that caring. Multiculturalism thus begins to set; a politics of cross-culturalism eclipses it, and how we appropriate theory, how we “take up” the transnational turn, how we seek to produce alignment, with the goal of reaching a critical mass that may substantially shift a paradigm that allows oppressive forces, will determine the effectiveness of this politics of caring and responsibility.

Saskia Sassen’s The Global Situation

Inda, Jonathan Xavier, and Renato Rosaldo. The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2008.


Saskia Sassen’s The Global Situation


Since the 1990s, the term globalization seems to have become an organic specter, from its beginnings as a term used to describe a growing economic and trade phenomenon, to its current state as naming social structures of interconnection and any type of global movement. Like theories of nationalism, liberalism and modernity, globalization could have originated in the post-WWII era with Brettonwoods, or the late 19th Century with the Great Game and the Race for Africa, or with the Dutch East India Company, or with the founding of the New World and the Cape of Good Hope, or, if we be so audacious, with the expansion of the Roman Empire. In all of these origin points, globalization seems to have originated alongside imperialism, in fact, these nearly synonymous terms have very similar qualities: both suggest the outward expansion and inevitable domination of a world super-power, both suggest homogenizing cultural effects despite formal autonomy and sovereignty, and both suggest efforts of rights over territorialization, whether through expansion of the state or through expansion of the economy in Free Trade and Export Processing Zones, etc. Yet these two terms, imperialism and globalization, also carry binary oppositions: one is archaic, the other looks to the future, one reminiscent of racism and the oppression of a cultural particular onto a global order, the other of cultural differences and a type of open pluralism in the face of a neutral world market. If globalization then, in the way we analyze it, can be seen as a term hurtling through space, picking up debris and growing into a critical mass, then is imperialism merely a piece of this debris that has somehow been attached to this term through its genealogy? Or is imperialism within the hard kernel of the idea of globalization, an inseparable and hidden product of globalization, and thus should always be considered within its purview?

To answer this question is out of the limits of this presentation, yet feminists with an understanding of global economic processes have added possible ways of thinking out of empire and globalization through the insistence on critical analysis of the term and its assumptions toward futurity and cultural homogenization (Sassen), through proposing more grounded, collaborative and comparative studies that construct place and the local within global processes (Nagar et al.), and through what Saskia Sassen refers to as Counter-geographies: global markets, translocal networks and communications that easily escape conventional surveillance practices, made possible by a system of global economics, infecting its infrastructure to provide new shadow economies.

Saskia Sassen identifies a lack of critical engagement with the way globalization is analyzed, in the disallowed questions contained within the hope of futurism and newness, in the conflation of ideologies coeval with globalizing effects into a single ideological system, globalization, and finally, in the privileging of certain social actors who embody the connection and hybridity of the metropolis. Through all of these critiques, simple understandings of global processes are debunked for complex, less idealistic understandings that are instantly critical of the new global order, while at the same time, maintain the constructive criticism that yields possible alternatives. How does one negotiate the tensions between the local and the global? How does race, class, gender etc. travel through global flows of capital or otherwise, and how can we deracinate global circulation from the unquestioned access to the good life? Sassen introduces ideologies of scale as a possible alternative, that is, “cultural claims about locality, regionality, and globality; about stasis and circulation; and about networks and strategies” (15). Though it seeks to free us from the abyss of globalization, this term itself is vague and abysmal: does Sassen here mean ideology of scale like an economy of scale, one that has reached a point of transformation into an economy of expansion, and therefore, retain its imperial similarities as a spreading of civilization? Or, is an ideology of scale to be understood as a culturally particular understanding of global networks that are qualitatively different from others? For example, is the way a FDW in Singapore sees the new international division of labor different from the way a white American might see the scale of the NIDL? How might this comparative analysis reveal the privileging of global forces in the global/local dyad?

The comparative analysis implicit within the ideologies of scale is given further grounding in Nagar et als essay on Feminist (re)readings of globalization. Like Tsing, Nagar and company see the literatures of economic globalization scanty at best when it comes to an understanding of subjecthood and excluded spaces that are created by global processes. By neglecting these other spaces, analysis of globalization has commonly reproduced imperial binaries between self and other, dominant culture and other ethnicity, masculinist agency and feminine passivity. Rather than focus on global capital flows, Nagar et al want to examine the effects of globalization on the household, on the dissolvement of the public with the private that occurs within these households, on the importance of an international civil society, and most importantly, on the topologies and scales that happen to incorporate entirely dissimilar ideologies of the same global process (as they put it, tracing the contour lines of a counter-topography). In an argument similar to Tsing;s critique of globalization and conflation, Nagar et al note the new and disparate gender formations that occur through the same global process, where Fordist style factories that hire women may engender a crisis of masculinity for the locals, while affirming masculinity by the white management within those factories. In other words, the only way to critically asses these processes respective to the disparate ways of thinking about the same process, is, according to Nagar et al, by “undertaking a large number of richly contextual studies that cut across many geographic scales…to appreciate which aspects of any particular process or place usefully illuminate circumstances in a different time and place” (21). In other words: “Collaborative research must be undertaken with subjects of globalization in peripheralized places” (20).

In direct opposition to imperial binaries, Saskia Sassen offers such a “topography” of gendered labor that is undertaken for survival. While Sassen acknowledges that in migrant flows of female workers in the sex industry and other forms of affective labor can be seen as given shape by the women themselves—key actors within this global process—Sassen also understands the increasing revenue-making incentives of traffickers and contractors who seek to utilize global infrastructure to foster a shadow economy of sex trafficking. Though the key actors are always the women themselves, the structural violence that creates the necessity for such action is also seen alongside these global movements: the growth in unemployment , of debt servicing, the decrease in traditional forms of profit-making, and the loss of male employment. The circuit of sex trafficking and prostitution is then seen as a counter-geography, a dynamic and locational feature that utilizes the global infrastructure of globalization for underground networks that sometimes support shadow economies. What distinguishes counter-geographies from the shadow economy however, is first that counter-geographies not only take advantage of infrastructure, but of the very questions of sovereignty, of legality and juridical territorialization, in order to circumvent issues of litigation. With sex trafficking, the problems in enforcement are constantly disputed as responsibilities of the country of origin or the country that harbors them. Second, counter-geographies are enterprises of profit-making not only for private criminal actors, but towards governments as well, who use the abyss of transnational legality to selectively enforce their own laws onto an otherwise profitable illegal trade network. Sex trafficking and other forms of migrant labor are prime examples of state complicity with its own opposing forces, as prostitution not only provides large amounts of tourists, but large amounts of domestic markets as well. To Sassen, such counter-geographies create new international divisions of labor around a “serving class,” an off-shore proletariat that provides affective labor through an alternative global circuit (94). These counter-geographies, though implicitly counter-to-the-norm, in fact embody key conditions and structural contradictions that lie at the heart of globalization as an imperial phenomenon. Through the nation-state;s control over work permits, visas, the enforcement of its own laws, the availability to tourists, its ineluctable pull into further governmental debt, its reliance and promotion of remittances, and its ideological control through the media and other networks, these counter-geographies reveal new notions of subjectivity and citizenship, new types of being human, being inside the law, and being inhuman—the new migrant proletariat operating outside the law and subject to both state oppression and invisibility to the sate—reiterate forms of imperial domination.

The feminist understandings of global economics and its effects in Tsing, Nagar and Sassen, reveal instances of imperial dominance within the work of analysis that occurs through the many pitfalls of global analysis. Together, these writers begin to disaggregate this fully-loaded term globalization, understanding it within the context of a new phenomenon that holds imperial implications within its center. As these writers discover, to unconditionally endorse globalization is to ignore our own involvement with imperial dominance, to think of globalization as a new civilization is to name the inhuman savage in those who are unconnected and stagnant, and, finally, to think of globalization as merely an effect of a culturally neutral free market working through cultural pluralisms in order to increase the Gross National Product for all, is to vow complicity with the violence of an not-yet anachronistic.