Nothing to Lose But its (Value) Chains: Capitalism and Violence on a Global Scale

Internationaler Workshop am Max-Weber-Kolleg der Universität Erfurt zu Kapitalismus und Gewalt

One of the most important factors of the global condition is global capitalism. It seems that only today – with a highly developed global market and almost unrestricted mobility of capital, goods, workers, and data – the dynamics of capitalism have been fully unleashed. The apparent absence of a non-capitalist ‘outside’, however, implies that the theory of capitalism can no longer simply externalize the dark sides of the global condition, such as warfare, forced migration, and other forms of violence. According to a common view within social theory, ‘modernity’ would have pacified social relations due to processes of democratization, rationalization, institutionalization of the rule of law, and marketization, whereas pre- and non-modern societies would rely on cruder means such as warfare and other violent practices.
Pre-modern civilisations were not idyllic and were far from being peaceful in many cases. However, in spite of the ostensible withering away of non-capitalist conditions, there are still massive amounts of violence on a global scale: People are driven off their lands, wars are fought over resources, various forms of slavery are noticeable, and private armies control regions that can no longer ‘afford’ a proper state. Under these circumstances, the relation between capitalism and violence needs to be investigated anew. Contrary to standard modernization theory, a number of current studies suggest that there are internal links between capitalism and violence. Recent accounts of dispossession, expropriation, Landnahme and expulsion, among others, all argue that certain forms of violence are not only generally present in capitalist societies but also constitute a necessary condition of their reproduction. Moreover, some of these violent practices are even justified by standard economic and philosophical theories, which describe them as productivity-enhancing and thus conductive to social justice. This would suggest that those forms of violence are not pre-modern, but rather belong to the core, to the very ‘laws of motion’ of capitalism. Furthermore, these violent practices practices are often entangled with other, apparently more pacified capitalist processes, such as those addressed by the concepts of exploitation, alienation, reification, and acceleration.
The question, then, is how to differentiate the various forms of violence that seem to be structurally implied by modern capitalism, and how to formulate their common features and to conceptualize their connections to other capitalist processes. Bearing these questions in mind, in this workshop we would like to ask in what way violence is implied in capitalism, how it connects to other problematic capitalist phenomena, and how critical social theory should address this complex phenomena without falling back into nostalgia or a misplaced romanticism.

Hier geht es zum Veranstaltungsflyer (PDF)