Solar Accumulation: The Worlds-Systems Theory of The Expanse

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The Syfy television series The Expanse (2015-) transposes a form of combined and uneven development from Earth to the solar system, making the human reality of life lived in space a central concern. The Expanse envisions a colonized solar system, replete with a United-Nations-controlled Terra and Luna, a military dictatorship on Mars, and a densely populated asteroid belt. This essay proposes that The Expanse offers an image of a worlds-system, by which we mean an interplanetary system of capital accumulation that reproduces the structure of twentieth-century geopolitical-economy at the level of the solar system. At one and the same time, The Expanse imagines a new cycle of accumulation founded in the planetary system and premised on ecological crisis on Earth and it provides a re-narration of the end of the cycle of accumulation that has been called the long twentieth century or the American century, which exasperated the climate crisis in the first instance. The Expanse is a pivotal narrative that promises a new interplanetary cycle of accumulation and its decline all at once, a fantasy of continuity that simultaneously dramatizes the contemporary crisis of futurity.

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The italicized portions of this dialogue are examples of Belter Creole, a language created by linguist Nick Farmer for the science fiction (SF) series The Expanse. What makes it stand out from other popular conlangs like Klingon or Dothraki is that, rather than attempting to sound “exotic,” with a totally invented vocabulary and unfamiliar grammar, Belter Creole strives to sound like real languages that have undergone normal language-change processes (Colbert and Peterson 2016). Belter Creole plays an unusually important rhetorical role in The Expanse because the series centers language itself. Throughout the series, Belters use their spoken language and its gestures as a critical act of resistance. Belters use language to develop and maintain subject positions—to resist unequal power structures, constructing a semantic space like Gloria Anzaldúa’s frontera.
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Popular culture could be understood as a political battleground where conflicting meanings are inscribed into the “ordinary objects” that constitute that public sphere. This is also true for science fiction television series. This article critically examines how political matters and ethical agencies are represented within The Expanse , a series that takes place within a speculative twenty-fourth century milky way. Firstly, I will situate The Expanse within its generic “system of reference.” Then, I will illustrate how political matters are represented as conjoined with the ethical. While the ethical refers to actions of persons, politics refers to fictional conceptions of what Tristan Garcia’s terms we-ourselves, understood as conflicting and overlapping conceptions of “we.” The conjunction between the political and the ethical in The Expanse is spatiotemporal: the characters, the events they are entangled in, and the spaces that connect discrete events develop through fictional and literal time. I argue that the science fictional representations of “we-ourselves,” and the specific spatiotemporal representational capacities of the television series format, can be understood through the application of Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of the chronotope and the dialogic . That is, The Expanse’s we-representations are chronotopic and the refractive rhetoric of television is dialogic.
This interview with Angela Mitropoulos explores contemporary questions of migration, border control, financial speculation, critical theory and political practice. Mitropoulos is a political theorist, academic and activist based in Sydney, Australia, whose work has examined shifts to post-Fordism and neoliberalism through a critical history of the contract and in relation to the shifting politics of the household. The interview also addresses her recent work, in her capacities as both an academic and an activist, which continues to confront the complex and evolving relationships between political economy, border control, and critical theory.
Book synopsis: In this new and timely cultural history of science fiction, Roger Luckhurst examines the genre from its origins in the late nineteenth century to its latest manifestations. The book introduces and explicates major works of science fiction literature by placing them in a series of contexts, using the history of science and technology, political and economic history, and cultural theory to develop the means for understanding the unique qualities of the genre. Luckhurst reads science fiction as a literature of modernity. His astute analysis examines how the genre provides a constantly modulating record of how human embodiment is transformed by scientific and technological change and how the very sense of self is imaginatively recomposed in popular fictions that range from utopian possibility to Gothic terror. This highly readable study charts the overlapping yet distinct histories of British and American science fiction, with commentary on the central authors, magazines, movements and texts from 1880 to the present day. It will be an invaluable guide and resource for all students taking courses on science fiction, technoculture and popular literature, but will equally be fascinating for anyone who has ever enjoyed a science fiction book.
Recent HBO dramas like Game of Thrones, Luck, and The Newsroom do more than generate HBO brand equity - they quantify that equity and determine the conditions under which it might be converted into other kinds of Time Warner equity. These incipiently financial dramas are futures markets that establish rates of conversion between heterogeneous equities and should be understood as functionally equivalent to the class of financial instruments known as derivatives.
Certain currents within communist thought have emphasized a return to the party form as a model of organization for communist struggle. This essay takes the basic historical materialist position that this demand must be evaluated not according to normative claims about the party’s desirability as a political form but according to its possibility within the concrete situation of potentially revolutionary classes. We inquire into the political economy of revolutionary struggle rather than abstracted political theory—particularly the circumstance that afforded the party form in the twentieth century, the possibility for a specific fraction of labor to stand in place of the proletariat as a whole and to stage its organization from within the material structure of the current labor processes, implementing a program for the seizure of state power and productive means. Finding the conditions that previously made the party form possible to be absent in the postindustrial capitalist core, we assess the political-economic data pointing toward whether such conditions might be present in emerging economies and thus whether these regions might be more conducive to such organizational forms. The available data persuade us against this likelihood and suggest that the kinds of gains available historically to such party formations are no longer on the table—and thus that communist struggle will emerge from transformed conditions, not from any sense of an ideal organizational model based on material conditions that no longer exist.
This essay provides a framework for the literary analysis of financialization during the period recently termed "the long 1970s" and contributes to recent historical scholarship on the rise of finance and economic crises by focusing on literary forms of popular resistance that also flourished during this period of acute crisis. The authors concentrate on two conditions undergirding financialization: the intensified dispossession of people of color in the United States and the acceleration of enclosures worldwide. They explore these transformations via Samuel Delany's Nevèrÿon series, a four-volume fantasy series published between 1979 and 1987. If financialization is conditioned on the interweaving of domestic and international dispossessions and enclosures, Nevèrÿon, they argue, crystallizes - and protests - this interweaving in literary form.
Globalization is a misleading concept, since what is described as globalization has been happening for 500 years. Rather what is new is that we are entering an `age of transition'. We can usefully analyze the current world situation using two time frames: 1945 to the present and circa 1450 to the present. The period since 1945 has been one long Kondratieff cycle, with an A-phase that ran through 1967-76 and a B-phase ever since. The economic and political developments of the last 50 years are easy to place within this framework. The period from 1450 to the present is the long history of the capitalist world-economy, with its secular trends all reaching critical points. This article analyzes the long-term rise in real wage levels, in costs of material inputs of production and of levels of taxation, the combination of which has been creating constraints on the possibilities of capital accumulation. The long history of the antisystemic movements and their structural failures has led to a serious decline in the legitimacy of state structures which is threatening to subvert the political pillars of the existing world-system. For all these reasons, the modern world-system is in structural crisis and has entered into a period of chaotic behavior which will cause a systemic bifurcation and a transition to a new structure whose nature is as yet undetermined and, in principle, impossible to predetermine, but one that is open to human intervention and creativity.
Fear of police terror has long been a daily facet of the lives of economically dispossessed people of colour in the urban spaces of North America, Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. This essay addresses the conditions of possibility of the form of race injustice manifested in racial profiling and police brutality. It challenges the centrality of the logic of exclusion - the view that race is only politically and socially significant when race identification is explicitly or implicitly used to justify discrimination - in the understanding of race injustice. It explores the political-symbolic processes that have produced the mechanisms of racial power of which police brutality is a most dramatic example. To elaborate this critique of the logic of exclusion, I discuss the newspaper account of an episode of police terror in a favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. What the examination of the newspaper coverage of the Chacina de Vigário Geral reveals, is that this form of race injustice indicated the operation of meanings produced in an analytic of raciality, encompassing the various instances of manufacturing the modern concept of the racial - the science of life, the science of man, and the sociology of race relations.
Gothic productions appear in clusters during the capitalist world-market's transition from one economic cycle to another. Using a world-systems approach, I argue that Gothic narrative devices and sensations are both historically specific to the time of their production and representative of the general logic of capitalist time-space contortions. A world-systems perspective insists on an inter-state relational approach relatively unexplored within Gothic studies. Using Stoker's Dracula as a case study, the article claims that Dracula encodes inter-imperialist tensions, primarily those between England and Germany and their proxy agents over South African gold mines in the Transvaal. This antagonism provides the background to the Boer War, itself a forerunner to the First World War's battle among imperialists.
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