ArticlePDF Available

Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt: The Racial Logic of Global Capitalism—An Introduction

Authors:

Abstract

I could feel the knife in my hand, still slippery with perspiration. A Slave was a slave. Anything could be done to her. And Rufus was Rufus—erratic, alternately generous and vicious. I could accept him as my ancestor, my younger brother, my friend, but not as my master, and not as my lover . . . . . . I pulled the knife free of him somehow, raised it, and brought it down again into his back. This time he only grunted. He collapsed across me, somehow still alive, still holding my arm. . . . Something harder and stronger than Rufus's hand clamped down on my arm, squeezing it, stiffening it, pressing into it—painlessly, at first—melting into it, meshing with it as though somehow my arm were being absorbed into something. Something cold and nonliving. Something . . . paint, plaster, wood—a wall. The wall of my living room. I was back home—in my own house, in my own time. But I was still caught somehow, joined to the wall as though my arm were growing out of it—or growing into it. . . . I looked at the spot where flesh joined with plaster, stared at it uncomprehending. I was the exact spot Rufus's finger had grasped. I pulled my arm toward me, pulled hard. And suddenly, there was an avalanche of pain, red impossible agony! And I screamed and screamed. Houses are unsettling hybrid structures. A house is, in all its figurings, always thing, domain, and meaning—home, dwelling, and property; shelter, lodging, and equity; roof, protection, and aspiration—oikos, that is, house, household, and home. A house is a juridical-economic-moral entity that, as property, has material (as asset), political (as dominium), and symbolic (as shelter) value. Houses, as such, refer to the three main axes of modern thought: the economic, the juridical, and the ethical, which are, as one would expect, the registers of the modern subject. It is, in fact, impossible to exaggerate the significance of individual (private) property in representations of modernity. No wonder, in Kindred, Octavia Butler chose to signal the end of Dana's incomprehensible task—her travels to antebellum Maryland to save her white ancestor, Rufus, whenever his life was in danger—with her losing part of her arm (at the "exact spot Rufus's fingers had grasped") stuck in the wall of her house. A "red impossible agony" marked the end of her forced journeys, reminding Dana that whenever summoned by Rufus she could either kill him or let him die. Since her charge was to keep him alive, the only choice she ever had was never hers to make. Having made the choice, she finally realized that, as his descendant, she had a debt to Rufus, expressed as the obligation to keep him alive. Failing to meet this obligation, killing him or letting him die, tantamount to refusing the debt, and with it the relationship, as it did, would result in punishment of the worst kind for Dana. Failing to pay a mortgage, the notorious subprime loan, charged interest rates far in excess of those offered to "prime borrowers," "high-risk borrowers," like Dana, also owe a debt that exceeds the legitimacy of both the law (contract) and morality (obligation). References to law and morality, expectedly, prevail in condemnations of those served with "subprime" loans, who are construed as intellectually (illiterate) and morally (greedy) unfit if measured against any existing descriptors of the modern economic subject: the (liberal) rational self-interested, the (historical-materialist) productive-creative laborer, and the (neoliberal) obligation-bound debtor/creditor. The "immanent risk of foreclosure" and ultimately loss of home for millions in the United States overwhelmingly affected Black and Latino/a borrowers and communities. Lacking property and stocks passed down through generations and burdened by greater reliance on consumer credit, Black and Latino/a borrowers were less able to weather the sudden decline in home values. Foregrounding their predicament, the incomprehensible task of affording the consequences of not-paying what the lenders knew were unpayable debts allows questions that challenge the assumption that the failure to meet an obligation should necessarily lead to punishment when the lender's profits are secured by betting and spreading the...
| 361Introduction
©2012 The American Studies Association
Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt:
The Racial Logic of Global Capitalism—An
Introduction
Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva
I could feel the knife in my hand, still slippery with perspiration. A Slave was a slave.
Anything could be done to her. And Rufus was Rufus—erratic, alternately generous and
vicious. I could accept him as my ancestor, my younger brother, my friend, but not as my
master, and not as my lover . . .
. . .
I pulled the knife free of him somehow, raised it, and brought it down again into his back.
This time he only grunted. He collapsed across me, somehow still alive, still holding my arm.
. . .
Something harder and stronger than Rufus’s hand clamped down on my arm, squeezing it,
stiffening it, pressing into it—painlessly, at first—melting into it, meshing with it as though
somehow my arm were being absorbed into something. Something cold and nonliving.
Something . . . paint, plaster, wood—a wall. The wall of my living room. I was back
home—in my own house, in my own time. But I was still caught somehow, joined to the
wall as though my arm were growing out of it—or growing into it. . . . I looked at the spot
where flesh joined with plaster, stared at it uncomprehending. I was the exact spot Rufus’s
finger had grasped.
I pulled my arm toward me, pulled hard.
And suddenly, there was an avalanche of pain, red impossible agony! And I screamed and
screamed.
—Octavia Butler, Kindred
| 362 American Quarterly
Houses are unsettling hybrid structures. A house is, in all its figurings,
always thing, domain, and meaninghome, dwelling, and property;
shelter, lodging, and equity; roof, protection, and aspirationoikos,
that is, house, household, and home. A house is a juridical-economic-moral
entity that, as property, has material (as asset), political (as dominium), and
symbolic (as shelter) value. Houses, as such, refer to the three main axes of
modern thought: the economic, the juridical, and the ethical, which are, as one
would expect, the registers of the modern subject. It is, in fact, impossible to
exaggerate the significance of individual (private) property in representations
of modernity.1 No wonder, in Kindred, Octavia Butler chose to signal the end
of Danas incomprehensible task—her travels to antebellum Maryland to save
her white ancestor, Rufus, whenever his life was in danger—with her losing part
of her arm (at the “exact spot Rufuss fingers had grasped”) stuck in the wall of
her house. A red impossible agony” marked the end of her forced journeys,
reminding Dana that whenever summoned by Rufus she could either kill him
or let him die. Since her charge was to keep him alive, the only choice she
ever had was never hers to make. Having made the choice, she finally realized
that, as his descendant, she had a debt to Rufus, expressed as the obligation to
keep him alive. Failing to meet this obligation, killing him or letting him die,
tantamount to refusing the debt, and with it the relationship, as it did, would
result in punishment of the worst kind for Dana.
Failing to pay a mortgage, the notorious subprime loan, charged interest
rates far in excess of those offered to “prime borrowers,” “high-risk borrow-
ers,” like Dana, also owe a debt that exceeds the legitimacy of both the law
(contract) and morality (obligation). References to law and morality, expect-
edly, prevail in condemnations of those served with subprime” loans, who are
construed as intellectually (illiterate) and morally (greedy) unfit if measured
against any existing descriptors of the modern economic subject: the (liberal)
rational self-interested, the (historical-materialist) productive-creative laborer,
and the (neoliberal) obligation-bound debtor/creditor. The “immanent risk
of foreclosure” and ultimately loss of home for millions in the United States
overwhelmingly affected Black and Latino/a borrowers and communities. Lack-
ing property and stocks passed down through generations and burdened by
greater reliance on consumer credit, Black and Latino/a borrowers were less able
to weather the sudden decline in home values.2 Foregrounding their predica-
ment, the incomprehensible task of affording the consequences of not-paying
what the lenders knew were unpayable debts allows questions that challenge
the assumption that the failure to meet an obligation should necessarily lead
to punishment when the lenders profits are secured by betting and spreading
the risk globally, against the “high-risk” borrower.3
| 363Introduction
In considering the unpayable debts as a trigger for the current financial crisis,
this special issue highlights the racial and colonial logic of global capitalism.
Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, Roland
Robertson, and other early theorists of globalization have called attention to
the significance of risk.4 Few of these scholars, however, anticipated that ra-
cial/cultural difference, as an element of representation, would enter into risk
calculations in the ways it did during the boom phase of the housing market.
Moreover, subsequent research on the “circulation of risk,” shifting the analytic
focus away from the postindustrial North, revealed that unregulated flows
of capital are engendering a turbulence that is undermining the lives of even
peoples who inhabit territories incomparably distant and different from the
landscapes of metropolitan capital.”5 Nor did this scholarship anticipate that
the state—the nation-state most theorists saw disappearing, engulfed by a
global political entity to come—would play such a pivotal role in creating the
institutional conditions to test these risk calculations.
Given the public outrage against the unjust “socialization of loss” extracted
by investment banks, it is difficult to see the bailout of Wall Street as anything
other than a massive debt forgiveness scheme for those at the “top of the guilt
[profit] hierarchy” for the current crisis.6 Why then should the holders of the
“subprime mortgage” pay the exorbitant interest rates attached to their loans?
Why should the economically dispossessed be expected to take on the risk
assumed by those who, enabled by the privatization of public housing and
the deregulation of financial markets, bet against them? Why should they
pay for those who bet on the “truth” of prevailing constructions of Blacks
and Latino/as’ racial (moral and intellectual) traits, on the certainty that they
lack in “creditworthiness” and are “untrustworthydebtors? Questioning
and challenging the moral grammar of neoliberal debt management can be
traced back to civil disobedience and calls for a “debt jubilee” for structurally
adjusted Africa a decade before the current crisis, and were foreshadowed in
Argentina’s unprecedented sovereign default in 2001 paving the way for the
“unthinkable” exit of Greece from the eurozone in 2012.7 “Millennial capital-
ism,” where wealth is generated purely through exchange . . . as if entirely
independent of human manufacture,” has unleashed debtors’ revolts in many
forms.8 In the global South, the last three decades have seen an upsurge of what
the anthropologist Janet Rotiman has called “fiscal disobedience,” from food
and price riots, tax revolts, boycotts, farmer suicides and protests, organized
and spontaneous opposition to high-interest microfinance loans—which set
powerful precedents for the kinds of anti-austerity uprisings and movements
that we see in Europe and North America today.9 This special issue reads the
subprime crisis as a relative” of crises that transformed the political economic
| 364 American Quarterly
horizons of Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s. We hope
to highlight these resonances approximating national and global responses to
the logic of neoliberalism to profit from calculated “mistakes” (like lending
money to persons and nations precisely because they would not be able to pay
it back) and read the subprime crisis through a dual lens of race and empire.
American studies as a field has housed scholars interested in the relation-
ship between the architectures of U.S. Empire and the apparatuses of social
(racial-ethnic, class, and gender-sexual) subjugation.10 The global financial
crisis cannot but compel us to further this exploration. In putting together
this special issue, we posed the following question: How could the predatory
targeting of economically dispossessed communities and the subsequent bailout
of the nation’s largest investment banks, instantly and volubly, be recast as a
problem caused by the racial other (“illegal immigrants” and “state-dependent
minorities”)?11 Beyond the immediate politics of blame, our interest is in
situating the racial moment of the financial crisis in the last three decades of
neoliberal backlash waged across the postcolonial (global) South. As a starting
point for our discussion we assume that these recent histories are themselves
embedded in the colonial and racial matrix of capitalist accumulation of land
(conquest and settlement), exploitation of labor (slavery, indentured labor,
forced migration), appropriation of resources, and ultimately the very meaning
of debt in what Walter Mignolo calls the “modern/colonial world system.”12
We begin to frame an answer to our question by considering how this
unpayable debt marks the particular operation of postcolonial/racial subjuga-
tion, one that shows how the state continues to play a crucial role ensuring
the health of global capitalism. In this sense, we argue that the term subprime
mortgage has become a racial signifier in the current debate about the causes
and fixes for a capitalism in crisis. Here, our argument resonates with Ananya
Roy’s compelling point that microfinance loans targeting” poor women in
remote villages and urban peripheries are the “new subprime frontier of mil-
lennial capitalism.” As with high-risk mortgages, these are “instruments of
financial inclusion and instances of exploitative, even predatory, lending.” For
Roy, the contradictory premise is that the subprime marks the limits of the
democratization of capital,” in this case the tenuous promise of a “pro-market
pro-poor” fix to the problem of unequal neoliberal development.13 Similarly,
we read the “subprime” as a racial/postcolonial, moral and economic referent,
which resolves past and present modalities and moments of economic expro-
priation into natural attributes of the “others of Europe.” With this, we seek to
dissolve the subprime signifier of 2008 as the latest in a succession of historic
processes of what David Harvey identifies as accumulation by dispossession.”14
| 365Introduction
Naming the global crisis the “subprime crisis,” the dominant voices across
the U.S. media did more than merely reproduce the conservative mantra that
blames Blacks and Latino/a immigrants for all the evils that befall the nation.
In the remainder of the introduction, we highlight how the subprime crisis
facilitated this exacting of profits from places and persons produced as unsuitable
economic subjects. We do so by shifting the focus on to how conquest and
slavery, along with the postcolonial apparatus of raciality, produce places and
persons marked by a debt that—like Danas to her slave-owner ancestor—can-
not be settled even with death.
In the next section, we foreground a racial/postcolonial analysis of the cri-
sis in relation to a brief overview of the works of two critical scholars: David
Harvey and David Graeber. Framing the discussion of the subprime crisis in
terms of how it represents a moment of racial/colonial—that is, postcolo-
nial—subjugation characteristic of a new configuration of the state/empire
and market axis, the second section of the introduction provides a historical
overview of the current moment of crisis. In the final section, we show how
the essays assembled in the special issue interrogate the “official story” of the
crisis across three interrelated dimensions. The first set of essays locates the
current moment of crisis both temporally and spatially, drawing connections
to previous moments of debt, austerity, and resistance in response to U.S.-led
neoliberal transformations both at “home” and abroad. Reading literary and
media texts, the second set of essays targets more directly the political-symbolic
(discursive, ideological, and cultural) realms, and describes how the naming of
the crisis “subprime” refigures old and new mechanisms of writing of the racial
subaltern as naturally (morally and intellectually) unable to thrive in the modern
capitalist configurations built by Europeans and their descendants everywhere.
Finally, the third set of essays focuses on how economically dispossessed Blacks
and Latino/as, living in urban United States, now exist in a racial architecture
in which postracial discourse and neoliberal practices combine to exact even
more profit from the very penury resulting from the expropriation unleashed
in previous moments and modalities of racial and colonial subjugation.
Dispossession and Debt: The Racial Logic of Global Financial
Capitalism
In his account of the global financial crisis, The Enigma of Capital, David
Harvey recalls that the early wave of foreclosures did not cause much alarm
because “the people affected were low income, mainly African American and
immigrant (Hispanics) or women single-headed households.”15 Panic began
| 366 American Quarterly
to spread when foreclosures hit “white middle-class” households in 2007, and
it was only in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy
that the crisis became official, its demise caused by “the mountain of ‘toxic’
mortgage-backed securities held by banks or marketed to unsuspecting in-
vestors all around the world. Everyone had acted as if property prices could
rise forever.”16 Many of the essays assembled in this special issue draw from
Harvey’s generative concept of “accumulation by dispossession” to describe
the workings of contemporary U.S. capitalist empire. Here we are engaging
with Harveys arguments because of its significance in current critiques of race
and empire. However, when designing this introduction, and considering the
contributions as a unified intervention in both American studies and critical
racial and ethnic studies, we were left with a question: if, as scholars in these
fields recognize, colonial, racial and imperial modalities of power include very
efficient mechanisms of expropriation (of land, resources, and labor) what is
left to be dispossessed in this new moment of (accumulation by) dispossession?
How is it that they are rendered expropriatable anew?
In The New Imperialism Harvey provides a gripping analysis of the world
after 9/11, where the combined wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he argues,
mark a new phase of U.S. imperial domination. For Harvey, “accumulation
by dispossession” describes this new imperial moment, where primitive accu-
mulation (forced extraction and privatization of the commons) has become
a more dominant feature of neoliberal globalization as opposed to expanded
reproduction (economic growth where workers are incorporated as consumers).
He argues that in addition to the “appropriation and cooptation of pre-existing
cultural and social achievements as well as confrontation of supersession,”17
“primitive accumulation” and its new guise “accumulation by dispossession”
are contingent on the (state-sanctioned) use of force with the effect of recon-
stituting the power of global elites against the diminished capacity of organized
labor worldwide. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s liberal critique of imperialism,
Harvey argues that the very constitution of neoliberal globalization can be
seen as a process of acquisition of “new territories”—either through national
or regional financial crises. Explaining the current crisis in The Enigma of
Capital, Harvey points to the squeezing of variable capital (wages) for the vast
majority of U.S. workers: “Household debt skyrocketed, but this required that
financial institutions both support and promote the debts of working people
whose earnings were not increasing. This started with the steadily employed
population. [By the late 1990s, the] market had to be extended to those with
lower incomes. . . . Financial institutions, awash with credit, began to debt-
finance people who had no steady income.”18 Returning once again to Danas
| 367Introduction
predicament, the essays in this issue ask the question that Harvey does not
even consider, one that he also seems to see as already asked and answered by
the subprime mortgages themselves and their securitization, which is: what is
it about blackness and Latinidad that turns one’s house (roof, protection, and
aspiration) and shelter into a death trap?
A brief discussion of the anarchist anthropologist David Graeber’s alterna-
tive history, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, can unpack this question. In this
much-lauded book, Graeber offers an alternative account of economic his-
tory, returning exchange to the core of the critique of capitalism.19 Having a
historical trajectory that precedes the advent of money, he argues that three
“modalities of behavior” have existed to different degrees in all societies across
time: communism, exchange, and hierarchy. In Graeber’s reading, Blacks and
Latino/as might have been so “naturally” blamed for the crisis because of
their unrootedness, by the fact that as racial subalterns they are but strangers.
Regarding prevailing accounts of human collectives and human relationships,
Graeber’s argument extends familiar accounts of human relationships—in-
cluding Robert E. Parks definition of “race relations” as the kind that develop
between strangers.20 What he does add to these discussions is an argument
that ties violence and monetization; only with the advent of money do all
earlier forms of obligation become quantifiably precise debt. Graeber’s argu-
ment is relevant here because this assemblage of essays and Graeber’s book
have something to contribute to one another. That something seems crucial
to the subprime enigma. For the colonial, following his logic, marks Blacks
and Latino/as as unrooted—they exist in an impersonal social context from
which they originate and from which their very presence produces. Instead
of taking this fact for granted, we see the authors in our volume engaging the
following question: How could anyone expect to profit from unpayable loans
without debtors who were already marked by their racial/cultural difference
ensuring that at least some among them would not be able to pay? This is
precisely what makes “high-risk” securities profitable. The Black and Latino/a
holders of subprime loans, like Dana, owe incomprehensible and unpayable
monetary debts precisely because they are not constructed as referents of either
the relationship between persons presumed in commerce (which Graeber states
precedes all other economic circumstances) or the capacity that according to
Karl Marx ultimately determines their value of exchange (the productivity
which John Locke, David Ricardo, and Marx agreed elevated the human
thing). Here raciality, the onto-epistemological toolbox that has transmutated
the spatial “others of Europe” into historical “others of whiteness,” seizes and
undermines any possible relationship by establishing that the white/European
| 368 American Quarterly
alone is superior because he alone knows transcendentality.21 Raciality, as it
places the “others of Europe” before the horizon of death,22 disappears with
the very possibility of a relationship that would make a debt/credit situation
comprehensible and hence the debt something that could be eventually paid
precisely because of how it makes the colonial (African and Indigenous) other
and their descendants as lacking the moral attributes (self-determination, self-
transparency, and self-productivity) characteristic of persons and places (the
ones they originate from) that truly embody the traits that distinguish the
proper economic subject.23
What we suggest is missing in the preceding discussions of accumulation/
dispossession and debt is the consideration of how these new territories” of
consumption and investment have been mapped onto previous racial and colo-
nial (imperial) discourses and practices. If we go back to C. L. R. Jamess Black
Jacobins, Cedr ic Robinson’s Black Marxism, and Frantz Fanons The Wretched of
the Earth, to name only three classic anticolonial, racial, and global interroga-
tions of historical materialism, we are reminded of how historical materialism
alone cannot account for the ways in which capitalism has lived off—always
backed by the colonial and national state’s means of death—of colonial/racial
expropriation.24 As Manu Goswami writes in her critique of both historical
materialism and the “excisionofsocioeconomic coordinates from colonialism
in postmodern theory, we must look at the tangled causal relationshipsof the
lived experiences of the colonial space and the expansive logic of capital.”25
Contesting the evolutionary assumptionsthat guide Harvey’s theories (“Flex-
ible accumulation follows Fordist production as barbarism follows savagery”),
Anna Tsing proposes instead the notion of “spectacular accumulation,” which
“occurs when investors speculate on a product that may or not exist.”26 This
could mean biotechnology or real estate, but her point is that it could also take
us back to the “South Sea bubble and every gold rush in history.”27 Return-
ing to how the subprime crisis allows us to highlight links otherwise missed
by prevailing accounts of racial subjugation, we draw on Roy’s argument that
microfinance (subprime) loans targeting poor women in the global South are
part of a “frontier of empire.” Roy traces the travel of microfinance mediated
by a “kinder and gentler World Bank” from Bangladesh to Afghanistan and
throughout the Middle East: “As microfinance is a preferred weapon of mass
salvation, so the Middle East is the site at which the war on terror and the
war on poverty are conjoined.”28 This evokes a kind of space of death Achille
Mbembe describes as distinctive of the postcolony.29 In short, the essays in this
issue add to the library of postcolonial and critical racial theories of the state
| 369Introduction
that establish how neoliberal architectures and discourses of dispossession act
on earlier forms of racial and colonial subjugation.
Building on this challenge, we come back to the question of how to theorize
racial/ postcolonial subjugation and economic exploitation in the context of the
current financial crisis.30 The concept of differential inclusion seeks to attend
to the degrees in which the various racial subaltern collectives enter into the
U.S. racial configuration,31 but cannot help explain why Blacks and Latino/as
figure as highly profitable as aberrant economic subjects in the very articulation
of postracial claims of achieved equality. Race in the naturalized ways U.S.
Americans deploy the term cannot be the privileged and sole critical descriptor
of the variety of ways in which the racial/colonial logic of displacement, dis-
possession, debt, and death have visited the “others of Europe,” as conquered/
colonized natives, enslaved Africans, Asian indentured laborers, and so on. The
common usage of the term assumes that race as a social operator enables and
protects white privilege against every other nonwhite collective. In the case of
the subprime crisis, this might mean that because Asian home owners were
more protected than their Black and Latino/a counterparts, one could make the
case that class inequalities as opposed to race offer more explanatory insight.
In fact, scholarly and popular writing about inequality in the United States
today and its social consequences by both liberal scholars like Theda Skocpol
and neoconservative provocateurs like Charles Murray of Bell Curve infamy
make exactly this argument.32 As with other improper economic subjects, the
excess value the Black and Latino/a subprime mortgage holder refers to their
ontological deficiency, or as G. W. F. Hegel describes Africa, for being a thing.33
How raciality disappears with that relationship and the capacity that sub-
stantiates it can be understood only if one attends to two other aspects of
the modern subject—which both raciality and historicity attribute to persons
and places to determine their legitimacy as juridical, economic, and ethical
entities. Raciality thus produces the “other of Europe” as a being without
self-determination. Both natural history and science of life take geographic
and bodily traits as signifiers of mental (moral and intellectual) characteristics,
which register how universal reason has deployed its productive powers. For
natural history, these correspondences were welcome as a moment of the very
cataloguing that was knowledge itself, a knowledge that reiterated European/
white superiority but had no concern with the “others of Europe” because it
also established that they would not be able to thrive or survive outside their
original environs. For the science of life the stakes were higher. In the post-
Enlightenment era, once universality and historicity became ethical descrip-
| 370 American Quarterly
tors of the properly human, then the task of justifying how rights such as life
(security) and freedom had not been ensured for all human beings required
that human difference—which could be registered only as mental difference—
become irresolvable.34 Expropriating or killing the native or the slave would
not be morally tenable if they could claim the same self-productive (mental)
capacity as conquerors, settlers, and masters. As Sylvia Wynter has described in
her groundbreaking work, two major epistemological and cosmological trans-
mutations corresponding to Michel Foucault’s chronology of modern thought
very effectively reconciled the foundational ethical turn within colonial history:
from the secular (terrestrial) human that characterized the Renaissance to the
scientific (global) mapping of humanity in the nineteenth century. Raciality
skillfully located the modern subject within the confines of Western Europe
and its North American outpost.35
In turn, the proximity that is eradicated by monetization as assumed in
Graeber’s account of the emergence of debt/credit does not hold. As Wynter
describes, the first question asked about the inhabitants of “discovered lands”
was whether these were divine creatures, whether their nakedness marked the
innocence of proper subjects of the divine ruler or the wickedness of those who
do not fear his name. After the “first encounter,” the recurrent question left to
those with a scientific itch led to the following question: Given the fact that their
heads (and other body parts) clearly indicated their mental (intellectual and
moral) inferiority, would their inferior traits contaminate the mixed offspring?
And in the case of Brazil, whether they would aid the task of civilization by
accelerating their (in this case the Blacks’) demise?
Focusing on the productive effects of the analytics of raciality allows us to
shift the question from a consideration of how exclusion and differentiation
contradict the modern ethical embrace of the universal. This allows us to see
how racial and cultural differences have instead been deployed to reconcile
a conception of the universal (as encapsulated by the notion of humanity)
with a notion of the particular (of difference as marked in bodies and spaces).
This discussion is meant to show how incomprehensible (moral) obligations
and unpayable (monetary) debts—such as Dana’s and those offered subprime
loans—expose a political-economic architecture that has always thrived on
the construction of modern subjects who lack mental (moral and intellectual)
capacities. In other words, the analytics of raciality allow us to see how, since
the last third of the nineteenth century at least, modern political-economic
architectures—in Europe and in its colonies—have been accompanied by a
moral text, in which the principles of universality and historicity also sustain
the writing of the “others of Europe(both a colonial and racial other) as
| 371Introduction
entities facing certain and necessary (self-inflicted) obliteration. Just like this
time around in the global financial capitalist casino, the house (the cozy state-
financial capital home) cannot but always win because when betting on the
other’s (Black and Latino/a) inability to pay back its debts, it is betting on
something it has itself brought into being.
Debt, Neoliberalism, and Crises
In The Darker Nations, Vijay Prashad makes a polemic and persuasive case
that debt played a central role in the “assassination of the Third World”; in
fact, its “obituary” was written in New Delhi in 1983, at the meeting of the
Seventh Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting. Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi mediated between Fidel Castro’s address to delegates “about how the
unfolding debt crisis portended the end of the Third World” and the promise
of a technocratic neoliberal future spelled out by S. Rajaratnam, Deputy Prime
Minister of Singapore. Prashad writes of the growing consensus among the
more influential” NAM elites to resolve the debt crisis engulfing Latin America
and Africa, who argued that “individual contracts between the indebted state
and its debtor should be the approach, rather than the totality of the Third
World against their creditors.”36 We feel that it is useful to revisit the trajectory
of neoliberalism beginning with the assassination” of the anticolonial utopian
project, fully aware of its many internal flaws.
Fields like American studies and cultural studies are well versed in critical
research that has tracked how neoliberalism as a mode of government and a
political rationality became hegemonic in the United States and the United
Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s.37 It is, however, sometimes forgotten that it
was Latin America—the Southern Cone countries including General Augusto
Pinochet’s Chile in the 1970s—that became a “laboratory experiment” for
Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman, and the “Chicago Boys” to carry out
the first iterations of austerity that were adopted by the World Bank in the
1980s.38 By the early 1990s and under the presidency of George Walker Bush,
the neoliberal program seemed well on its way to institute its own worldwide
version of Pax Americana in the guise of what Timothy Mitchell has termed
“McJihad.”39 That peace could not begin to materialize, as the Cold War was
followed by two simultaneous shifts that rendered the human a global (racial)
signifier: first, the elevation of the human rights framework into the new global
ethical program, and second, the emergence of a new principle for international
relations, which allowed for the use of force to stop humanitarian crisis.40
Leading both efforts, the United States, with its economic and military might,
| 372 American Quarterly
became the sole ruling power advancing the cause of hegemony of financial
capitalism. We can look back at this period as one where scholarly attention
turned to much more optimistic accounts of globalization, when very few
would challenge the description of the U.S. performance in the global context
as that of an empire.41
During President Bill Clinton’s two terms, the U.S. postracial moment was
established with the systematic and effective dismantling of welfare provisions,
investments in the carceral system, the growing precarity in labor markets, and
the attacks on affirmative action and other race-conscious policies. Clearly,
this was not because the goals of the civil rights movement had been achieved.
Rather, the few existing mechanisms for redress had been eliminated, and it
was time to announce that they were officially obsolete. Already a significant
portion of the library of critical racial and ethnic studies is composed by
scholarship examining the discursive strategies—replete with tropes like the
“welfare queen,” the “gang banger,” and the non-tax-paying dependent “illegal”
immigrant—deployed to justify the gutting of welfare programs and the design
and implementation of extreme crime and immigration policies.
Less attention, however, has been given to the temporal discursive continu-
ities—between the “welfare queen” and the prototypical subprime borrower as
the “single African American woman”—or to the accumulation of the effects of
the corresponding policy changes. Even more dramatically, the succession of a
“war on drugs” by a “war on terror” also registers a spatial discursive continuity,
and the ways in which the main tools of raciality (racial and cultural difference)
effectively produce the kind of necessary subaltern subjects. In the context of
the U.S.-led occupation and ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is
now recognition that in contrast to prevailing counts of globalization in the
1990s, “Empire is back,” as Randy Martin asserts in the opening lines of An
Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Manage-
ment. Martin argues that “preemption or bringing the future into the present”
through military strategies based on logics of securitization and arbitrage have
structured a “pre-emptive approach to foreign policy.” As revelations about
the Obama administrations “exponential expansion” of targeted assassinations
and reliance on drone strikes make apparent,42 a decade plus of pre-emptive
warfare has indeed led to indifference for much of the American public steeped
in discourses of self-management and an “ethos of responsibility,” ready to
blame Afghanis, Iraqis, and now Pakistanis for their own descent to violence,
chaos, and corruption. Martin argues that the war on terror “is modeled on
earlier wars against crime and drugs and various populations (youth, the poor,
the underperforming) considered at ‘risk of social failure.’” In Afghanistan and
| 373Introduction
Iraq “the urge to cut and run from an investment gone bad while proclaiming
victory . . . becomes obligatory to formulate yet impossible to execute,” while
in the process, a debt is amassed that circulates but can never be closed or
cancelled.”43 How effectively the neoliberal translates the harmful aftereffects
of its economic technologies and strategies and the negative side effects of its
own remedies can be comprehended only if one acknowledges that the success
of this discursive technique rests on what the tools of raciality already offers it,
the appropriate persons and places to attribute moral failures.
Unquestionably the latest financial crisis, its historical roots and sociopoliti-
cal cultural aftermath, is already and will remain the subject of a broad range of
academic inquiry.44 T h i s i ss u e w a s o r ga n i z ed b y a ve r y e x p li c i t f o rm u l a ti o n p l a c-
ing the workings of race and empire at the center of inquiry. From beginning
to end, the essays in this issue embraced this question, rearranging it according
to a given disciplinary, theoretical-methodological, and thematic preference.
In a sense, the essays in the first section of the issue, under the heading “Debt,
Discipline, and Empire,” provide a reading of the current crisis against the
backdrop of the “assassination of the Third World.” In “Debt, Power, and
Crisis: Social Stratification and the Inequitable Governance of Financial Mar-
kets,” James Heintz and Radhika Balakrishnan introduce an account of credit
markets that exposes all that Adam Smith’s invisible hand conveniently hides.
The essay describes the empirics of “debt-fueled economic distress” highlight-
ing the continuities among the Latin American debt crisis, capital flight from
Africa, and the more recent subprime crisis and the European sovereign debt
crisis. The authors show how power in credit markets refers to a relationship
that links the present to the future: the creditor gives funds now expecting
access to revenue later. Because inequality is presupposed in this relationship,
in moments of distress, any remedial intervention should attend to and redress
the debtors, not the creditors. Needless to say the very opposite has happened
in all four cases they discuss: those already in a subaltern position—as social
or global (postcolonial) subjects—have paid for fixing or keeping the system
intact, while those who have profited from the inequality/vulnerability of
debtors have been rescued either by a particular government or a multilateral
juridico-economic body (the European Union or the International Monetary
Fund [IMF]). The essay ends by offering an “alternative approach to govern-
ing credit markets,” one foregrounding economic and social rights that can
be seen as potentially subverting the dominant human rights framework by
(re)introducing a redistributive mandate.
Turning to the Asian crisis, in “The Uses of Asianization: Figuring Crises,
1997–98 and 2007–?,” Laura Hyun Yi Kang examines how race and empire
| 374 American Quarterly
work very productively when deployed to describe and justify assessments of
the trajectory of an economic subject, in this case a place, namely, Asia. Refus-
ing the view that strangeness alone would account for how some debtors are
treated more “impersonally”—hence less amicably—than others, Kang assesses
the limitations of the discourse of modular Asian developmental nation-states
in East and Southeast Asia and their subsequent fall from grace in 1997. She
exposes how the practices and interpretations of the “Asian miracle,” the
“Asia n c ri si s,” a nd the “As ia n re co ve ry” we re the j oi nt p ro du cti on of a ju rid ico -
economic assemblage made up of the U.S. government (Treasury), financial
capital (Wall Street), and the World Bank/IMF. Further, she reads and guides
us through the workings of the figuring (as a productive strategy) of “Asia
as a unified economic subject and place. Here Kang tackles the critical task,
namely, to de-Asianize the 1997–8 Asian Financial Crisis—namely, denatural-
ize the expert discourse that both creates the Asian miracle and sets the terms
for the Asian recovery aftermath of the Asian crisis. Kang’s essay effortlessly
ties together the critique of empire and of race when it traces how these three
moments of “Asianization” of financial troubles are deeply gendered in their
consequences for workers and citizens in Asia.
In “The Tale of Two Gulfs: Life, Death, and Dispossession along Two Oil
Frontiers,” Michael Watts takes us on a surreal geo-economic-politico-historical
trip to the Niger delta and the Gulf of Mexico. Expanding on Harvey, he
deploys the construct “oil frontier” to describe two “local pockets of disorder
and catastrophe in the oil assemblage” that point to the “deep pathologies and
vulnerabilities within the operations of imperial oil.” Watts’s analysis reads like
a recurring nightmare that cannot but make us think of economic affairs in
terms of Graeber’s formulation of debt and credit. Along with the previous
two essays, Watts asks us to engage the subprime by considering today’s disas-
ter capitalism through its legacies of colonial expropriation: “The petroleum
frontier followed the slave and palm oil frontiers.” Watts invites us to consider
how financial capital—calling attention to the significance of “paper oil” in
this process—benefits from existing political structures, including practices
such as corruption introduced through the colonial encounter. Perhaps more
importantly, his essay also shows how the material” referent (paper oil) is a
natural resource capable of the same kind of total—ideologically unmedi-
ated—violence Fanon states prevails in the colonial context and will remain
sine qua non for profit. Naming the “oil frontier” the place of dispossession,
Watts’s essay invites the question of whether it matters that the crises of global
financial capitalism are temporal (happening once and then again) or spatial
(happening here and there).
| 375Introduction
The last essay in this first section reminds us that power, if it is a concept
relevant to critical scholarship, needs to be reworked at every significant junc-
ture. In “Debt and Discipline,” Tayyab Mahmud asks us to rework the concept
of power in very dramatic ways, combining critical political economy with the
“conceptual tool kit of Michel Foucault.” In this essay, power is returned to the
account of the economic both in its productive and in its restrictive guises—as
poesis and nomos. As Mahmud writes, “In the neoliberal era the hidden hand
of the market and the iron fist of the law worked in concert to forge govern-
mentalities that suture debt with discipline.” Mahmud provides a detailed
overview of the internal U.S. neoliberal counterrevolution, emphasizing the
state’s “radical use of monetary policy and smashing the power of organized
labor” in favor of precarious labor markets. The essay takes us through the states
active role in the “creation of aggregate demand through private debt,” which
ultimately leads to what Mahmud calls “the entrapment of working classes and
racial minorities into a circuit of debt” while investing in the “penalization of
poverty.” Mahmud astutely observes that it is the “self-discipline” of debtors
in the neoliberal era that mark the present moment as distinct from previous
historical and colonial forms of debt. It is all the more disturbing when we
are reminded of how strategies to bring about freedom—such as individual
responsibility, entrepreneurship, and so forth—lead to worship and hope but
become means through which we are but well-functioning cogs in the neolib-
eral financial machine. The essay concludes on a more hopeful note, pointing
to the wave of global opposition movements in the wake of the Arab Spring,
Occupy Wall Street, and resistance to austerity measures in Europe, and in
this sense links back to Heintz and Balakrishnan’s alternative proposal, what
Mahmud calls the “popular democratization of finance.”
The three essays in the second section, titled “Cultures of Neoliberalism:
Contesting the Pathologies of Debt,” invite us to raise more direct questions
about the prevailing representations of the causes and solutions for the global
financial crisis. All three essays focus on the United States. However, each one
questions how economic subjects—both victims and perpetrators of the cri-
sis—are invariably misrepresented. And in doing so, these essays offer critical
insight in terms of reconsidering the logics of blame that structure the global
crisis of the “subprime.” In “Gambling with Debt: Lessons from the Illiter-
ate,” Sarita See draws inspiration from Fred Moten’s provocation and begins
her essay by asking “what debt do we owe the subprime debtor?” What if the
house that was bought but could never be paid for was a referent to a wholly
distinct conception of existence, one that might not be resolved by any of
the instantiations of the economic (the thing, the dominium, the meaning).
| 376 American Quarterly
Responding to the pedagogic tendency among both liberals and progressives
for financial literacy of the economically dispossessed, See wants us to reverse
the “direction of learning and edification. Let us for once consider the les-
sons that the illiterate offer to the literate rather than the other way around.”
Her thoughtful essay focuses on the short story and stage adaption of Carlos
Bulosans “Romance of Magno Rubio” published in the 1940s, but “staged in
Filipino America for years preceding and succeeding the 2008 financial crisis.”
Reading Magno Rubio’s calculations that resolved words in an economy of
love, Sees essay at once signals and brackets the power differentials character-
ing the kinds of exchanges, the debt/creditor relationships, named subprime.
In “Realty Reality: HGTV and the Subprime Crisis,” Shawn Shimpach also
invites us to follow him on a trip through text and context, one that provides
us with a popular cultural “literacy” necessary to respond to the dominant
views of the causes of the “crisis of the subprime” circulating among the Tea
Party digerati. Shimpach begins his essay by stating the obvious, which bears
repetition: “The current financial crisis was not caused by duped viewers of
basic cable television.” What follows is a discussion of the successful television
network HGTV (Home and Garden Television) to show the “complexity of
the processes by which political economies become textualized.” Successfully
avoiding the dominant Manichaean take on popular culture and reality televi-
sion in particular, Shimpach analyzes how HGTV was able to carve its niche,
with low-budgets and subcontracted staged programs that fulfilled many of
the needs of neoliberal governmentality. This includes serving one of the most
effective elements in the production of subjects, which is the mere satisfac-
tion of aspirational desire for, let us say, peering into someone’s else process
of choosing a home. Reading this essay and its account of the “staging of the
economy” after having been called to reconsider power in financial relation-
ships by Mahmud’s essay is particularly effective. As Shimpach argues, “In the
context of increasingly global, increasingly abstract, highly financialized ways
of being in the world, this textual staging offers much more than lessons in
the mundanities of middle-class life: it also offers a way to imagine participa-
tion and proximity to others. It effaces the reality of a continuing legacy of
significant racial disparities in access to this middle-class life by staging the
way to imagine it as accessible to all.”
Precisely the possibility, the need, the history, of counterproduction is the
subject matter of the last essay in this section, by Catherine Squires, “Color-
ing in the Bubble: Perspectives from Black-Oriented Media on the (Latest)
Economic Disaster.” Following through the trust of the critical racial analytic
program, Squires analyzes Black U.S. news media as potential sites of “coun-
| 377Introduction
terdiscourse” in their coverage of causes and responses to the subprime crisis.
Squires first examines how postracial and neoliberal discourses are “intertwined,
promoting a view of empowered, multicultural individuals now unhindered
by racism” and “free” to consume or fail. Squires compares the historical role
of the “black public sphere” and its association with critiques of capitalism
and consumer culture with its modern digitally transformed niche-marketed
counterpart. She then focuses on three “black-oriented news outlets” to “pro-
vide some coordinates for where neoliberal logics have been incorporated into
black media vehicles set up ostensibly to provide information and opinions not
widely circulated in dominant media.” While there are surely signs of hope with
online publications like Colorlines, Squires concludes her essay along the lines
of Heintz and Balakrishnan, and Mahmud above, by pointing to the urgent
need for public engagement in media-based activism to propose meaningful
political alternatives.
In the final section of this issue, “The Postracial Urban: Security, Space,
and Resistance,” we turn to four essays that focus on the subprime crisis as
a reflection of a discursive and institutional shift in the contemporary U.S.
racial panorama. Each delves deeper into the confluence of the neoliberal
juridico-economic regime to map how racial inclusion (postracial) and se-
curity discourses combine to support the range of state- and market-based
strategies that assembled the financial architecture responsible for the crisis of
the subprime. In “New Racial Meanings of Housing in America,” Elvin Wyly
and his coauthors take us on a whirlwind, data-filled journey to show us how
and why Blacks and Latino/as would bear the bulk of the burden (monetary
and moral) of financial deregulation coupled with the effects of de jure racial
discrimination and segregation. Fleshing out the empirics of power differentials
highlighted by Heintz and Balakrishnan and Mahmud, this essay examines
the postracial move toward the predatory incorporation of previously excluded
populations. As with Watts’s essay highlighting the disjunctive spatial dimen-
sions of such crises, this piece is also written by critical geographers and focuses
on the crucial spatial dimensions of the crisis: “The predatory exploitation of
the urban core has gone mainstream, altering the spatial relations of privilege
on the expanding frontiers of Sun Belt suburbia.” Neither racial exclusion nor
differential inclusion can account for the fact that despite the fact that non-
Hispanic whites numerically held more subprime loans, Blacks and Latino/as
account for the overwhelming majority of foreclosures. Against the prevailing
argument that attributes this outcome to greed and illiteracy, this essay shows
how the global financial crisis resulted from regulatory changes that facilitated
the consolidation of the current financial regime and artfully mapped the ef-
| 378 American Quarterly
fects of past and present racial subjugation (accumulated expropriation) onto
the new global financial web of risk.
In “Welcome to My Cell: Housing and Race in the Mirror of American
Democracy,” Ofelia O. Cuevas turns our attention to another necessary
discursive dimension: the discourse of security that connects U.S. racial and
imperial practices that emerge under the George W. Bush administration in
the wake of 9/11. Cuevas identifies three distinct and interconnected features
of this discourse: the costly deployment of the military in Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Pakistan to protect U.S. Americans “at home”; the weakening of consti-
tutional protections “at home” to facilitate legal practices necessary to secure
the homeland; and policies to increase the rate of home ownership to ensure
economic security. Importantly, Cuevas brings to the fore an often unremarked
aspect of the debate on housing in the United States: “What was elided in
this revamped discourse of security and its emphasis on home . . . was the fact
. . . that the state has pursued its own ‘ontological securityby undertaking one
of the most massive public housing projects in the history of the world: the
incarceration of millions and millions of its citizens.” Exploring the discursive,
institutional, and juridical contradictions inherent to the notion of security,
Cuevas argues that “the relationship of the racial subject to property and home
is one that exists in the violent abstraction of the future which they will pay for
in the form of debt.” She shows how raciality, as in every time security refers
to property, immediately positions Blacks and Latino/as in an ontologically
distinct place. Cuevas’s essay insightfully unpacks how the subprime crisis
found a fertile terrain already prepared by the workings of the U.S. state in
the last three decades and the cultivation of the postracial discourse that built
(and later exported) the carceral system.
At this point, it might be productive to ask what it might take for an orga-
nized political response to emerge, given the “evidence” presented in the essays
summarized thus far, to finally bring the postracial neoliberal bandwagon to a
halt? In “The Black Mohicans: Representations of Everyday Violence in Post-
racial Urban America,” John D. Márquez reads the conditions of production
of the very “evidence” that both justifies the assemblage of the U.S. carceral
system and the Obama administration’s decision not to help the “greedy and
illiterate” ghetto (Black and Latino/a) borrowers. Márquez introduces a no-
tion of “ghetto violence” to unsettle the deployment of racial and colonial
difference that naturalizes violence, which is an effect of strategies of “total
violenceand symbolic violence characteristic of colonial domination and racial
subjugation. To situate a decolonial approach that both rejects and undoes
this naturalizing effect, characteristic of existing social-scientific tools, this es-
| 379Introduction
say deploys two analytic strategies, which move the racial critique against the
grain of available socio-scientific “truths” and the postracial discourse. First, it
examines media representations of the deaths of victims of “ghetto violence” in
Chicago, which were crucial to justify the implementation of the policies and
structures of the U.S. carceral system. Second, he deploys a historical analysis
that shows leaders of Black and Latino gangs register the role of anticolonial
theorizing and practice in the design of their organizations. Márquez’s essay
ultimately turns our attention to the most pressing and difficult task before
those building political movements of opposition and the necessity to resist
the homogenization of the 99%.
In “Blues Geographies and the Security Turn: Interpreting the Housing
Crisis in Los Angeles,” Jordan T. Camp takes up the above challenge and reflects
on the “racial, spatial and class dynamics” of the activist politics and ethics
of housing in Los Angeles. Camp highlights another often missed dimension
of the transformed housing market—the coincidence between urban renewal
programs that are gentrifying downtown Los Angeles as the foreclosures caused
by the subprime crisis increases the number of homeless Black individuals
and families moving to Skid Row. Once again in this essay, security more
immediately expresses how the crisis reflects the workings of the state-market
axis through the criminalization of homelessness, experiments in new policing
technologies, and mass incarceration. In tracing the genealogy of radical Black
organizing for social justice and racial equality, Camp draws on the legacy of
Clyde Woods and writes of the pressing need for scholars of neoliberalism
to analyze its historical and geographical roots in the racist counterrevolution
against the Second Reconstruction.” Further exposing the naturalizations that
sustain the “subprime” logic, Camp situates today’s protests against housing
injustice in a genealogy of post–civil rights organizing for social justice and
racial equality. Our last essay, like the first essay in this collection, calls for a
radical rethinking of the human rights framework. Building on this historical
trajectory for social justice in LA, similar to the trajectory described by Márquez
above, allows us to imagine possibilities for the politics of opposition against
both neoliberalism and postcolonial empire.
Conclusion
Let us close with two provocations by way of the question that now more than
ever hovers over our work intellectual and political: What is to be done? In
her presidential address to the American Studies Association in 2011, Ruth
Wilson Gilmore made a passionate plea to better understand—and to formu-
| 380 American Quarterly
late a plan of action for dissolving—the relationship between race, economy,
and empire, not simply as an academic exercise but as a political act essential
in an age of growing militarization and inequality.45 Her picture of the neo-
liberal drawing board highlights three sites: namely, “structure adjustments,”
“security enhancement,” and “the anti-state state.” For Gilmore the first task
before those of us who find this drawing deeply violent—those of us who at-
tend to and respond to the fact that it both deploys and reproduces the arsenal
of racial/knowledge power, which renders so many, as she puts it, vulnerable
to “premature death”—is to organize. “Policy,” she teases, “is to politics what
method is to research.”46 Policy and politics have framed this special issue
because the papers collected here, as they engage the state-market axis, or the
political and economic moments of violence, deploy conceptual, analytic, and
methodological tools that signal the relevance of both. These conversations
and debates about the subprime crisis demonstrate the point highlighted in
the first part of this introduction, that debt allows morality to encompass the
relationship, thus foreshadowing how Danas relationship with her master is
also fundamentally political in character.
Any program that takes up Gilmore’s challenge would have to begin by
undoing the separation between the ethical and the political at the core of
liberal (and neoliberal) thinking. This would release us from the burden of
representation, to dissipate what David Lloyd describes in his discussion
of what is to be done,” after Gayatri Spivaks “Can the Subaltern Speak?”:
“Discussion of the essay seems to lead inevitably to a sense of ontological
consternation, in that it gets read over and again as posing to the reader not
merely the pragmatic question as to ‘what is to be done?’ in relation to the
subaltern, but the question, ‘by what right are you here assuming any relation
to the subaltern?’”47 Because the violence of racial and colonial subjugation
works so effectively at the level of representation, we need to refuse “ethical
consternationand recuperate the relationship as a descriptor of difference,
and not commonality.48 This also allows us to avoid the equally paralyzing
and more common obverse effect of “ethical oblivion”: “We have no relation
to the subaltern, so why should we care?”49 More importantly, moments and
movements of resistance might be better understood by methods heeding Av-
ery Gordon’s call to engage the ghosts or Fred Moten’s invitation to ask what
subprime debtors might teach us, offering a wholly distinct ethical program,
as suggested by Nahum Chandler.50
In a book published a year before the transformative events of the Arab
Spring, Asaf Bayat wrote of “the non-movement of the urban dispossessed”
in the Middle East: the collective actions of non-collective actors . . . that
| 381Introduction
have come to represent the mobilizations of millions of the subaltern, chiefly
the urban poor, Muslim women, and youth.” Bayat’s description of how the
“quiet encroachment of the ordinary” impinging on the propertied and the
powerful through the “unlawful acquisitions of land and shelter” resonate with
everyday forms of resistance across much of the global South after three long
decades of neoliberal reform. Bayat, among other observers of Middle Eastern
history and politics, has argued that it was the “middle class poor”—educated
but unemployed and “subsisting at the margins of the neoliberal economy”—
who sparked the events in Tunisia and Egypt and who would inspire a new
global politics of protest in 2011.51 A nonmovement movement sparked by
the indignation of Arab “street vendors, sales-persons, boss-boys, or taxi driv-
ers” found unity in the ousting of U.S.-backed autocratic leaders like Hosni
Mubarak.52 While it is beyond the scope of this introduction to delve into a
meaningful discussion of the lessons from the (ongoing) uprisings in the Middle
East and North Africa, this detour is meant simply to signal the need to better
understand the logic of solidarities forged out of difference.
Similarly, those in the global North who celebrate the resurgence of a uni-
versalist oppositional politics with audible sighs of relief that the “era of identity
politics is behind us” might be reminded by the essays in this collection that
neoliberal dispossession and debt are not lived in the same way by everyone.53
Recognizing the significant political success of the OWS movement in shift-
ing the debate on the economy away from the populist Tea Party narratives,
Rinku Sen of the Applied Research Center called for organizing “that chal-
lenges segregation, not only that of the 1% from everyone else, but also that
which divides the 99% from within.”54 This cannot simply be accomplished, as
some researchers have suggested, with “occupiers reaching out to working class
people and people of color” engendering “trust and solidarity” by “occupying
the hood and barrio.”55 Once again, as many of the essays in this collection
remind us, this paternalistic approach—because it begins from the assumption
of the absence of a relationship—to the targeting of “othered” populations can
hardly bring about radical social or global justice.
The crises of neoliberalism at the heart of empire and the vast oppositional
energies it has mobilized make Gilmore’s provocation for a politics of organiza-
tion based on an alternative ethic and for a method that will take us beyond
structures of racial/postcolonial subjugation all the more pressing. For as in-
dicated by the essays in this issue, these politics and policies would assume a
negative answer to the question: Why should economically dispossessed Blacks
and Latino/as pay for those who bet on and profited from their inability to
pay the unpayable debts? In each of the financial crises discussed in this issue,
| 382 American Quarterly
we find that the blame has been placed on persons and places that, like Dana,
have been produced by racial power/knowledge as marked by mental traits
that render them unable to inhabit the economic, legal, and moral positions
unique to the modern subject. An alternative ethics, the essays in this issue
suggest, would have to necessarily focus on the very relationship and capacity
arrested and denied by the tools of raciality—in particular by racial and cultural
difference. From there, politics that acknowledges temporal and spatial differ-
ences, historical and geographic specificities could emerge, without “oblivion
or “consternation,” while recognizing the unpayability of such debt. Without
such attention to the productive yet violent effects of raciality, and the kind of
comprehension of social and global difference it enables, it will be difficult to
realize the kinds of solidarities necessary to sustain the organizing that Ruth
Gilmore Wilson reminds us oppositional movements cannot do without.
Notes
We would like to thank Sarah Banet-Weiser for being a truly supportive and generous editor throughout
this rather lengthy process; Jih-Fei Cheng (AQs managing editor) and Paula Dragosh (copy editor) for
being extremely patient and accommodating; and last but not least we wish to express our gratitude to
the anonymous reviewers whose comments and feedback helped structure and improve the essays in
this collection. It goes without saying that we are grateful and, indeed, indebted, to all of the authors
of these essays.
1. For John Locke (Two Treatises on Government [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988]), for
instance, the household remains the last domain of patriarchal rule, where the patriarch enjoys full
freedom, where both as master and as husband, the citizen obeys but has the obligation to protect
and punish his own, namely, wife, children, and servants (or slaves). Indeed, neither Locke’s system
of reward and punishment (the law) nor Thomas Hobbes’s artificial body (the state)—the juridico-
political figures manufactured by the social contractors—would intrude in the household in such a
way.
2. According to a number of studies on racial and ethnic disparities in the aftermath of the subprime
crisis, it is a relatively uncontested fact that while non-Hispanic whites made up the majority of at-risk
borrowers, African Americans and Latina/o borrowers were much more likely to experience foreclosure
(one study found this rate to be 76 percent and 71 percent, respectively, compared with non-Hispanic
whites). For more detailed discussion of this point, see James Carr, Katrin B. Anakar, and Michelle L.
Mulcahy, “The Foreclosure Crisis and Its Impact on Communities of Color: Research and Solutions,”
White Paper, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, 2011, www.ncrc.org/resources/reports-
and-research/item/665-white-paper-the-foreclosure-crisis-and-its-impact-on-communities-of-coloras,
well as Wyly et al., this issue.
3. These include, among other strategies, financial “innovations” like the infamous “no income no jobs
no assets” (NINJA) loans targeting women and communities of color. Karen Ho’s rich ethnographic
study of Wall Street sheds light on the specifics of such practices and the ways in which investment
bankers claimed that “their ingenuity was finally breaking down barriers of race and class, which the
traditional ‘redlining’ commercial was unable to do with his simple, ‘vanilla’ toolkit of conventional
loans that lacked the advantage of global securitization.” See Karen Ho, Liquidated: An Ethnography
of Wall Street (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2009), 298–302.
4. Among other titles, see Roland Robertson, Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture (London:
Sage, 1992); Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: Sage, 1992); Anthony
| 383Introduction
Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Oxford: Polity, 1990); and the collection edited by Mike
Featherstone, Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization, and Modernity (London: Sage, 1990).
5. Edward Li Puma and Benjamin Lee, Financial Derivatives and the Globalization of Risk (Durham,
N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004), 5.
6. Paula Chakravartty and Dan Schiller write about the dominant media’s framing of the bank’s logic,
which continues to demand the privatization of profit and the socialization of loss. See Paula Chakra-
vartty and Dan Schiller, “Neo-Liberal Newspeak and Digital Capitalism,” International Journal of
Communication 4, http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc. Dennis Kelleher, a financial reform activist, states
that investment banks aggressively opposing regulatory intervention are quick to forget that they are
“at the top . . . of the hierarchy of guilt” for the crisis (quoted in Annie Lowrey, “Facing Down the
Bankers,” New York Times, May 30, 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/05/31/business/kelleher-leads-a-
nonprofit-better-markets-in-fight-for-stricter-banking-rules.html?pagewanted=all).
7. Janet Roitman, Fiscal Disobedience: An Anthropology of Economic Regulation in Central Africa (Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005); Eric Helleiner, “The Strange Story of the Bush Administration
and the Argentine Debt Crisis,” Third World Quarterly 26.6 (2005): 951–69.
8. Millennial or “messianic” capitalism as discussed in Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff, “Millennial
Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming,” Public Culture 12.92 (2000): 301.
9. For more on the politics of debt revolts in response to microcredit lending schemes, see Ananya Roy,
Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development (New York: Routledge, 2010), chap.
5; and Julie Elyachar, Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in Cairo
(Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005).
10. See, for instance, Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham, N.C.: Duke
University Press, 1996); Vicente Rafael, White Love and Other Events in Filipino History (Durham,
N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000); and the collections: Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd, The Politics of
Culture in the Shadow of Capital (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997); Amy Kaplan and
Donald Pease, Cultures of United States Imperialism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993).
11. As early as September 2007, Glen Beck on Fox was placing the blame on “illegal immigrant” home
owners and pointing fingers at federal programs introduced in the Clinton administration promoting
home ownership for minority communities, echoed across Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the financial
press, and across much of the online discussions. For more on dominant media discourse on the fi-
nancial crisis, see Catherine Squires, “Bursting the Bubble: A Case Study of Counter-Framing in the
Editorial Pages,” Critical Studies in Media and Communications 28.1 (2011): 28–47.
12. Walter Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000).
13. Ananya Roy, Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development (New York: Routledge,
2010), 218–19.
14. See David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
15. David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital (London: Profile Books, 2010), 1.
16. Ibid., 4.
17. See Harvey, New Imperialism, 146.
18. Harvey, Enigma of Capital, 17.
19. David Graber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2011).
20. Robert Ezra Park, Race and Culture (New York: Free Press, 1950). To be sure, old and recent accounts of
the political also rehearse this view that, in the absence of moral ties, violence rules human relationships;
this is the case in Carl Schmitt’s definition of the political in terms of a distinction between friend and
enemies, in Jacques Derridas elaboration of hospitality as a choice in face of the arrival of the stranger,
and even in Giorgio Agamben’s description of “bare life” as one stripped of a moral claim (the one that
can be killed but not sacrificed). See Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2007); Jacques Derrida and Ann Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality (Stanford, Calif.:
Stanford University Press, 2000); and Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life
(Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998).
21. For an elaboration of the view of how the racial transmutates the colonial, see Denise Ferreira da
Silva, “Before Man: Sylvia Wynter’s Rewriting of the Modern Episteme,” in The Realization of Living:
Sylvia Wynter and Being Human, ed. Katherine McKittrick (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press,
forthcoming).
22. For an elaboration of how the analytics of raciality produces the racial subaltern subject as an onto-
epistemological figure defined by the logic of obliteration, how transcendentality (and its principles of
| 384 American Quarterly
universality and historicity) and self-determination are deployed to describe the post-Enlightenment
European/white persons and places, see Denise Ferreira da Silva, Toward a Global Idea of Race (Min-
neapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).
23. Such an effect is also reproduced in what Barnor Hesse sees as modern philosophers’ refusal to recog-
nize the deep racial (because referents of the colonial) character of modernity’s favored self-description
(“Racialized Modernity: An Analytics of White Mythologies,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 30.4 [2007]:
643–63).
24. C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins (New York: Vintage Books, 1989); Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of
the Earth (New York: Penguin Classics, 2001); and Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of
the Black Radical Tradition (London: Zed Books, 1983).
25. Manu Gowswami, Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 2004). Relevant to our argument here, see the introduction and chapter 1.
26. Tsing is responding to Harvey’s previous writings, but her point is no less relevant in terms of pointing
out “the heterogeneity of capitalism at every moment of time.” See Anna Lopenhaupt Tsing, Friction:
An Ethnography of Global Connection (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005), 75–77.
27. Ibid. This brings to mind Arjun Appadurai’s essay on the layers of history that shape the “spectral”
quality of real estate speculation in ethno-linguistically and class-fractured globalized cities like Mumbai.
Describing a more complex and contested process of no less violent a process of accumulation, Ap-
padurai writes: “To speak of spectrality in Bombay’s housing scene moves us beyond the empirics of
inequality into the experience of shortage, speculation, crowding and public improvisation. It makes
the space of speculation and specularities, empty scenes of dissolved industry, fantasies of urban plan-
ning, rumors of real estate transfers, consumption patterns that violate their spatial preconditions,
and bodies that are their own housing (“Spectral Housing and Urban Cleansing: Notes on Millennial
Mumbai,” Public Culture 12.3 [2001]: 635).
28. Roy, Poverty Capital, 114–15.
29. Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” Public Culture 15.1 (2003): 11–40.
30. We recognize the explanatory advantages of concepts such as racism, race consciousness, and even
coloniality of power. See Anibal Quijano, “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America,”
Nepantla: Views from the South 1.3 (2000): 533–80. All of these concepts attempt to show how colo-
nialism and (its attendant) slavery have performed a crucial work of power—in particular economic
but also political—for a political (juridical, economic, and symbolic) configuration that defines itself
by the opposite principles. What this framing of raciality does, however, is to show that exclusion and
unfreedom have been more than necessary (for primitive or “spectacular” accumulation) or expedient
aspects subcontracted to the others of Europe/whiteness. Raciality, as the naming of a productive as-
semblage enables the ethical demand that these “others of Europe” be done away with so that reason
and freedom—embodied in the European/white being—can flourish in the stage of world history.
31. For an examp le of the effects of deploy ment of differential inclusion, see Yen Le Espiritu, Home Bound:
Filipino American Lives across Culture, Communities, and Countries (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2003).
32. Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America (1960–2010) (New York: Crown Forum,
2012); Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williams, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
33. G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History (New York: Wiley Book, 1899), 96.
34. This argument is developed in Silva, Toward a Global Idea of Race; and Denise Ferreira da Silva, “No-
Bodies: Law, Raciality, Violence,” Griffith Law Review 18.2 (2009): 212–36.
35. Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Toward the Human, After
Man, Its Overrepresentation—an Argument,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3.3 (2003): 257–337.
36. Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: New Press, 2008),
210–14.
37. Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy
(Boston: Beacon, 2004); Nicholas Rose and Peter Miller, Governing the Present: Administering Economic,
Social, and Personal Life (New York: Polity, 2008).
38. Greg Gradin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism
(New York: Holt, 2010), 171–73.
39. Mitchell’s term is useful in shedding light on the false distinction that was made even by critics of U.S.
Empire in this period, that contrasted the globalizing power of capitalism with the “tribal particular-
| 385Introduction
isms” that opposed the homogenizing force of capital. That “McWorld” and “Jihad” were actually
co-constitutive of U.S. Empire in the Middle East is meant to show the “lack of contradiction between
the logic of capitalism and other forces and ideas it encounters.” See Timothy Mitchell, “McJihad:
Islam in the US Global Order,” Social Text, no. 73 (2002): 1–19.
40. This argument has been advanced by several recent works including Roy, “Poverty Capital”; and James
Pec k, Ideal Illusions: How the US Government Co-opted Human Rights (New York: Metropolitan Books,
2011). For an especially sharp analysis of humanitarianism and U.S. Empire, see Mahmood Mamdani,
Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (New York: Three Rivers, 2010).
41. For an elaboration of this point, see Paula Chakravartty and Yuezhi Zhao, Global Communications:
Toward a Transcultural Political Economy (Boulder, Colo.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), 11–16.
42. www.salon.com/2012/06/07/probing_obamas_secrecy_games/singleton/.
43. Randy Martin, An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management
(Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007), 9–12.
44. For example, Craig Calhoun and Georgi Derlugian have recently published a three-volume series titled
Possible Futures on the history, governance regimes, and possible aftermath of the financial crisis that
provides a useful comparative overview by prominent scholars of globalization: Craig Calhoun and
Giorgi Delurgian, Business as Usual: The Roots of the Global Financial Meltdown (New York: New York
University Press, 2011); Calhoun and Delurgian, The Deepening of the Crisis: Governance Challenges
after Neoliberalism (Ne w Yor k: Ne w York Uni ver sit y Pre ss, 201 1); Cal hou n an d De lur gia n, Aftermath:
A New Global Economic Order? (New York: New York University Press, 2011).
45. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “What Is to Be Done?” American Quarterly 63.2 (2011): 245–65.
46. Ibid., 264.
47. David Lloyd, “Representation’s Coup,” Interventions (forthcoming): 2.
48. This goes against Graeber’s formulation of strangers bound by “moral ties” as discussed in the first
section of this introduction. Graeber has, of course, risen to great prominence as the media-appointed
“antileader” of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
49. For an articulation of ethical oblivion as an effect of the workings of raciality, see Silva, “Before Man.”
50. Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997); Fred Moten, In
the Break (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).
51. Asaf Bayat, Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford
University Press, 2010).
52. Asaf Bayat, “A New Arab Street in Post-Islamist Times,” Foreign Policy–Middle East Channel (2011),
http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/01/26/a_new_arab_street.
53. The following statement by Todd Gitlin, author of a new book titled Occupy Nation, is representative
of this kind of commonsense argument: “I hadn’t realized this until I checked off the movements of
my recollection, that they had started as minority uprisings—at least expressions of dissidence—in
comparison to the population as a whole. So the Civil Rights Movement, which obviously was
popular with black people but not with Americans overall, certainly not in the South, when it broke
out. The anti-Vietnam War movement represented a small minority, maybe a little more than 10%,
when it erupted. The women’s movement, it’s hard to say—possible exception there. The gay move-
ment was certainly not a popular movement over all. I see this more as the rule than the exception
(www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2011/10/todd-gitlin-on-why-ows-is-different-from-all-other-
social-movements.html).
54. Rinku Sen, “Race and Occupy Wall Street,” Nation (2011): www.thenation.com/article/164212/
race-and-occupy-wall-street.
55. Jeff Juris, “Reflections of Occupy Everywhere: Social Media, Public Space, and Emerging Logics of
Aggregation,” American Ethnologist 39.2 (2012): 259–79.
Article
Full-text available
The present article takes the following question as its starting point: What does it mean to think about eviction and its consequences based on the narratives of women who have faced these processes? By examining the narratives and thoughts of women who have either undergone eviction or are living under its threat, it is possible to highlight dimensions of the process that may otherwise go unnoticed by analyses that focus on other dimensions, and which do not appraise the characteristics of those being evicted and what this represents in terms of the totality of the phenomenon. By shedding light on the multiplicity of impacts resulting from the eviction processes, it is possible to return to the conceptual notion itself, so that it may be formulated from the bottom up, i.e., from the various experiences that comprise it. Ultimately, what is eviction? What does it mean to live under the threat of losing your home?
Article
The present article takes the following question as its starting point: What does it mean to think about eviction and its consequences based on the narratives of women who have faced these processes? By examining the narratives and thoughts of women who have either undergone eviction or are living under its threat, it is possible to highlight dimensions of the process that may otherwise go unnoticed by analyses that focus on other dimensions, and which do not appraise the characteristics of those being evicted and what this represents in terms of the totality of the phenomenon. By shedding light on the multiplicity of impacts resulting from the eviction processes, it is possible to return to the conceptual notion itself, so that it may be formulated from the bottom up, i.e., from the various experiences that comprise it. Ultimately, what is eviction? What does it mean to live under the threat of losing your home?
Article
Scaling up finance to expand renewable energy generation in Africa has become common sense in climate discourses. This article problematizes renewable energy finance in Africa and particularly Senegal from a perspective of global historical power relations. The article builds upon and contributes to literature on financial subordination and geographies of renewables finance. Starting point of the study is that literature on renewables finance with a critical perspective on race and colonial continuities is rare. It therefore draws on the concept of racial capitalism to unpack how finance differentiates along racialized lines and echoes colonial power. Empirical evidence is provided based on an analysis of renewables finance in Senegal. The country has attracted considerable investments into the renewables sector due to electricity sector reforms. In the first step, the article examines how these reforms drive private sector participation. Second, it analyzes the financing structure of two major renewable power plants. The analysis focuses on financial subordination visible in currency hierarchies that is traced back to colonial power and racialized financial logics. In sum, the article suggests to understand RE finance through the lens of financial subordination in colonial perspective to unravel its racializing dimension.
Article
The perceived neglect of the ocean to state and industry actors has seen frontier rhetoric emerge as it is rendered visible under the Blue Economy agenda. By framing the marine scape as underutilised, capitalist expansion is being legitimised. Drawing on the case of Namibia, I argue that the afterlives of colonialism and apartheid are being repurposed to present the ocean as a Blue Economy opportunity. The physical disconnection of citizens from the marine scape, and the dominance of fishing and mining industries, has been used by state and development actors to present it as empty of socio‐cultural relations. However, to declare Namibia’s coasts and ocean as forgotten unless articulated through capital is to conceal that they have been labelled “no‐go” zones. I argue that, by considering exclusions and looking beyond proximity in discussions of equity and representation, the marine scape is articulated by civil society, to elucidate forms of resistance.
Article
The financialisation of land and housing marks a new empire colonising the urban landscape in which territories are increasingly captured and populations are dislocated and dispossessed. Under this model of urban development, the link between capital and built space has reached unprecedented scale and speed by mobilising new legal, political and economic instruments. In this article, we examine how law constitutes and operates this link by enabling a true domination of finance over built space. At the foundation of the connection between space and finance lies the liberal idea of private property, which has historically modulated the territorial organisation of cities and established borders between the city and its margins. Identified all over the world as outcast and subnormal, the urban margins are stigmatised, criminalised and racialised places which are under permanent threat and, simultaneously, functional to the real estate financial capital. Performing the role of preferred territories to be used as new frontiers of capital expansion, these places can be deeply marked by violence and destruction in the name of legality. But in addressing this scenario, it is important to recognise that the city is under dispute and, beyond the capture of territories by finance, there is also a permanent movement of emplacements, generating landscapes for life. Different resistance experiences in cities around the world, with their use of insurgent tactics such as occupations, communal forms of ownership and other collective and complex bonds with land, perform blockages against the referred submission of built space to finance. We argue that, in this ‘urban warfare’, space is not the scenery where battles take place, but rather the object of these battles itself. In this context, insurgent spatialities and legal forms emerge as key collective processes of building new forms of urban life.
Article
In this introduction to the themed Special Feature ‘Law at the margins of the city’, we present a roadmap of concepts and practices across the various fields that are explored in this collection of articles. We invite readers to visit a disciplinary and creative encounter by untangling different routes and layers connecting law, finance, raciality, urban poverty and radical insurgencies. The aim is to delineate and reinaugurate an existing but still not entirely explored area of knowledge, in which the contributing articles provoke insightful critiques about legal articulations on and from the margins of the city. Through a multi-sited perspective, reflected in the contexts from which the invited authors are writing, we suggest that the ‘problem of poverty’ is not only globalised, but also embedded in and facilitated by globally effective legal processes. By bringing together variegated urban experiences in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Italy, Mozambique, Colombia, Turkey and India, that could be read as isolated and localised, a clear global pattern reveals itself in the transformation of cities and their margins. Likewise, a global web of insurgent practices emerges through the local ways in which law is appropriated by resistance groups from the margins. As will be seen in the contributions to this Special Feature, by disputing law and by disputing space, these ongoing practices can work to destabilise an entire world-making system of property, raciality and urban organisation.
Article
This article explores the rise of digital platforms for insurance coverage related to the financial inclusion agenda in developing and emerging economies. The current literature focuses mostly on the emergence and implications of Superplatforms based in core capitalist economies. Combining insights from studies on platform capitalism with post/decolonial scholarship in international political economy, we argue that the rise of inclusive insurance supported by platforms relies on three dimensions of what we term datanalysing: (a) an interoperable and safe digital infrastructure legitimized by international standards; (b) the collection of racially hierarchized data; and (c) the appropriation of data by objectifying the targeted individuals. As datanalysing turns populations from the Global South into profitable resources from which extracting financial value, it sustains colonial practices censing and classifying subjugated populations. We illustrate our argument with the case of motor insurance coverage. Our analysis offers a wider empirical understanding of the global expansion of platform capitalism to previously unmarketable populations. We suggest that research should place greater emphasis on socio-historical dimensions to highlight the inconsistent and exploitative character of the inclusive insurance agenda.
Article
In 2017, the Philippine government boosted its campaign on Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) reintegration, a set of programmes designed to aid returning Filipino labour migrants. In this paper, I examine migrant reintegration through the case of returned migrants to the province of Benguet, Philippines. Rather than use “sustainability of return” as main focus of assessment, I foreground instead the historical geographies undergirding the current reiteration of this migration policy. By doing so, I demonstrate how the “gambling” practices of returned migrants can be read as not an easy acquiescence to the neoliberal imperative for self‐entrepreneurship encouraged by the Philippine state. In highlighting gambling as an embodied strategy emerging from and through imperial histories, I argue that migrant reintegration gets revealed as rehearsal of certain colonial logics that have oriented certain peoples to the labour of serial risk taking for survival. Close attention to return migrants’ gambling practices raises urgent questions regarding the relentless push for entrepreneurship as development solution.
Book
The literature on governmentality has had a major impact across the social sciences over the past decade, and much of this has drawn upon the pioneering work by Peter Miller and Nikolas Rose. This volume will bring together key papers from their work for the first time, including those that set out the basic frameworks, concepts and ethos of this approach to the analysis of political power and the state, and others that analyse specific domains of the conduct of conduct, from marketing to accountancy, and from the psychological management of organizations to the government of economic life. Bringing together empirical papers on the government of economic, social and personal life, the volume demonstrates clearly the importance of analysing these as conjoint phenomena rather than separate domains, and questions some cherished boundaries between disciplines and topic areas. Linking programmes and strategies for the administration of these different domains with the formation of subjectivities and the transformation of ethics, the papers cast a new light on some of the leading issues in contemporary social science modernity, democracy, reflexivity and individualisation. This volume will be indispensable for all those, from whatever discipline in the social sciences, who have an interest in the concepts and methods necessary for critical empirical analysis of power relations in our present.
Book
Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that 5,000 years ago, during the beginning of the agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems. It is in this era, Graeber shows, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors. With the passage of time, however, virtual credit money was replaced by gold and silver coins—and the system as a whole began to decline. Interest rates spiked and the indebted became slaves. And the system perpetuated itself with tremendously violent consequences, with only the rare intervention of kings and churches keeping the system from spiraling out of control. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a fascinating chronicle of this little known history—as well as how it has defined human history, and what it means for the credit crisis of the present day and the future of our economy.
Article
"This volume unravels a complex web of connections around the current financial and economic crisis. Among its revelations are: the difficulty of a renewed Keynesian solution because of the gridlock of weak national and transnational institutions with inadequate authority and oversight; the irony that cap-and-trade solutions to environmental issues rely on the same bankers and traders at the core of the financial crisis; and the maneuvers of offshore capitalism in evading state regulation by instant electronic financial transfers under flags of convenience. This work peels back the skin of a rather sinister global beast." © 2011 by Social Science Research Council. All rights reserved.
Article
When has it become a matter of fact — more than evidence, and yet not a self-evident ‘truth’ — that a (perhaps never to be known) number of young males and females perish as subjects of law’s preserving violence? In this article, this question will guide a consideration of a dimension of contemporary global existence that should become a theme of the theorising of the political. It describes a political scene in which the arms of the state — the police and the military — deploy total violence as a regulating tactic. More specifically, it reads the state’s occupations of Rio de Janeiro’s economically dispossessed neighbourhoods, where drug traffickers compete to institute the ‘law of the land’, as enactments of a different kind of founding contract, racial violence signifies. In this account of the political (ethical-juridical) scene, the dead bodies of black and brown teenagers count not as casualties of urban wars, but as signifiers of the horizon of death. For the racial subaltern’s existence as an effect of the tools of raciality (racial and cultural difference) unfolds in territories in which the state acts only in the name of its own preservation.