Externalization: The Hidden Side of Capitalism's Success

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Stephan LESSENICH, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Department of Sociology, Germany
The thread which had once held Critical Theory and Political Economy together has been loosened, if not largely undone, in neo- and post-Marxist theorizing since the 1970s. What has dominated the scene in the last two decades has been the detection of a “new spirit of capitalism” inspiring and fueling the current stage of capitalist development. Questions of the material and physical reproduction of so-called post-Fordist or post-industrial capitalism, however, are being debated only in specialized circles at the margins of Critical Theory. Karl Marx’ 200th birth anniversary seems to be the adequate occasion to go “back to basics” – from the reconstruction of ideological superstructures to the analysis of the material basis of contemporary capitalist dynamics. Critical feminist theorizing on Marx’ analysis of the process of capital accumulation proves to be an excellent starting point for such a “materialist” re-orientation, as this strand of theory aimed at taking Marx seriously when he was postulating not to take the “bourgeois” narrative of equivalent exchange at face value. It is this strand of theorizing that from early on pointed to physical reproduction and reproductive labor as the functional, yet hidden precondition for the accumulation of capital and the social distribution of wealth in capitalist societies. By matching this theoretical position with conceptual developments in International Political Economy and Ecological Economics, we can gain a more substantial – and substantive – understanding of the reproduction of contemporary capitalism: It is the “externalization” of reproductive functions into the realm of the invisible and unacknowledged “Other” of capitalism which has shown to be central to modern capitalist development. Most importantly, only by taking into account this “dark side” of the capitalist success story, the reproductive mechanisms of capitalism as a definitely global entity and enterprise can be elucidated.