Category Archives: Articles

Reinventing Revolutionary Subjects in Venezuela by Sara C. Motta

This article challenges orthodox Marxist conceptualisations of the revolutionary subject by building on the nearly four decade tradition of autonomist Marxist feminism . It argues that by expanding our conceptualisation of capitalist relations to include the sphere of social reproduction, the creation of a gendered division of labour and the construction of alienated subjectivities, we open a window on the multiple subjects that are at the heart of contemporary anti-capitalist struggles and render visible an increasing feminisation of resistance in Latin America.

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Climate Change and Gender Analysis: Struggles with Neoconservative Backlash in Australian Politics by Uschi Bay and Deborah Western

Why is Gender Relevant to Climate Change?

Thousands of scientists voluntarily contribute to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by reviewing and assessing the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide related to understanding climate change. The IPCC was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The IPCC is an intergovernmental scientific organisation with input from 195 countries and bases its reports on the most recent scientific evidence on climate change and its potential impact. The IPCC has reported that the scientific consensus worldwide is that the earth’s climate is being impacted by human activities that increase greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC is not alone in coming to this assessment that planet earth is warming and that climate change is likely to have an increasing impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

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bell hooks, Critical Regionalism, and the Politics of Ecological Returns by Christina Van Houten

This essay addresses the ways in which bell hooks’ thinking turns to a politics of critical regionalism, by tracing a line that discursively connects materialist feminism, antiracist activism, and ecological Marxism. In particular, I argue that hooks’ critical regionalism develops in the 1990s, beginning in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1990) as her challenge to the exclusionary politics of difference dominant in postmodernist theory and extending to her argument for a spatialized feminist subjectivity in her memoir Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood (1996). We can understand critical regionalism as a cultural movement that, critical of postmodern aesthetics, argues for the persistence of geographical history in contemporary thought. We can read hooks as participating in this cultural logic precisely because she argues for a radical decentering of subjectivity away from patriarchy, racism, and classism and the formation of alternative coalitions on the basis of common local and regional social relations.  This means that hooks turns to critical regionalism and its theories and politics of spatial culture as a way to think through issues of race and gender oppression in the United States and the globalized world.

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Abortion and Choice in the Neoliberal Aftermath by Kate Gleeson

Choice is a key concept in feminist theory that has been coopted by neoliberalism. [1] ‘A woman’s right to choose’ was one of the most effective slogans of second wave feminism, but since the 1990s, choice has been deployed to undermine feminist gains by way of the neoliberal advance of individualism and anti-welfarism. Recently, the relationships between post feminism and neoliberalism, which together promote the ideal of choice for young women in the arenas of work and consumerism, have come to be scrutinised. Most notable in this field is the work of Angela McRobbie and her study of The Aftermath of Feminism (2010), to which the title of my article owes its inspiration. McRobbie identifies one of the hallmarks of post feminism as the “new sexual contract”, which promotes a degree of sexual freedom for young women so long as they fulfil the roles of economic citizenship by working and consuming (2010, 85). In this context ‘choice’ is deployed as a lure for young women to subscribe to the anti feminist conditions of neoliberalism, so that they will decline to organise politically as feminists to disrupt liberal democratic regimes and economies. The choice to be ‘responsibly’ sexual in particular, is valorised by both young women and the dominant discourses of neoliberalism and post feminism.

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Conspicuous Consumption of the Leisure Class: Veblen’s Critique and Adorno’s Rejoinder in the Twenty First Century

 

Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class stands as a testament to both insightful social commentary and an unquestioning dogmatism of its contents in everyday academic discourse which verges on the commonsensical. Written at a time when the excesses of so-called late capitalism or postmodernity could scarcely be imagined by even the most gifted of social critics, Veblen’s belligerent and bombastic volume shatters the idyllic ambiance of the era with a scathing critique reaching back through the historical development of leisure and barbaric culture, as well as, unintentionally perhaps, into the future of consumer society. So powerful were his statements that one can even find mainstream media outlets parroting the famous concept of conspicuous consumption as they simultaneously peddle advertising slots to companies moving products through the ideological reflections of what consumption of these products might blissfully entail (a beautiful woman suddenly being interested in a geeky young chap just for using a body spray, for example). The empirical relevance of the concept in contemporary society is puzzlingly remarkable considering the original volume, as Veblen wrote it, is bereft of any empirical or theoretical citations, justified by the author by invoking the commonsensicality of the historical and empirical data, but also the onto-epistemological foundations on which Veblen’s thought rests.

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The Hipster Labor of Conspicuous Leisure

Thorstein Veblen’s greatest conceptual achievement was conspicuous consumption, a term that has passed into general common sense. But on my reading, his discussion of conspicuous leisure resonated more with the contemporary moment. These terms are, of course, interrelated: for Veblen, conspicuous consumption serves to indicate one’s conspicuous leisure time, and therefore the absence of any need to produce. Both amount to displays of waste:

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Leisure, the Sacred Gesture, and Human Dignity: Thorstein Veblen and Josef Pieper’s Understandings of Leisure

 

Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class sets out very specific definitions of words that we think we understand, use on a regular basis, and for which believe we know the definitions. However, Veblen challenges these assumptions, providing us with a new set of terms such, as “conspicuous consumption” and “vicarious leisure” as well as new definitions for familiar words and phrases that we thought we understood.  One of these terms, and the definition that he gives for it, in many ways determines the entire text: “leisure.” The Oxford English Dictionary provides us with a definition of this word that would have been in place when Veblen was writing at the turn of the last century. The dictionary defines the word this way: “The state of having time at one’s own disposal; time which one can spend as one pleases; free or unoccupied time.” However, Veblen demonstrates how our society, in particular our capitalist, pecuniary society, has altered our understanding of this word as it has warped our understanding of what is often considered its opposite: work.

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Poor Plenum: Veblen and The Economics of Philosophy

 

Thorstein Veblen’s genealogy of leisure, echoing a method perfected by both Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, works to continually pull back into the domain of “vulgar” conditions and impulses–a general economy of bodies, forces and classes–all things high-flown, decent, and untouchable (vi, 1994). The ambit of Veblen’s theory is such that it allows him to economically determine or “vulgarize” a whole series of seemingly disparate hegemonic practices now suddenly clustered and nameable along the axis separating leisure from labour. War, marriage, priestly service, governance, manners, sport are all absorbed into the debasing mill of emulation, the putative nobility or highness of each revealed as one long extended variation on power, avarice, and “exploit”(12). The state, the rich, the church, to say nothing of inherited bourgeois mores and conventions, all discover their beginnings in a shared history of repressed status and envy. Like all creatively designed systems, this is a project as ingenious as it is limiting and clumsy. That which stands to be lost in terms of sociological nuance returns in the form of a certain satiric elegance and universality, a critical breadth and incisiveness that we have not seen since the likes of Buñuel’s The Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie, but which once characterized fully the rich power and sloppiness of the entire surrealist moment. It has not since been as easy as we might think to defrock pope, banker, bureaucrat and general all at once.

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Thorstein Veblen and the ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism

 

Thorstein Veblen’s analysis of America’s capitalist society in The Theory of the Leisure Class contains one chapter toward the end of his argument on religion, or, as he articulates it, “devout observances” (191).  The substance of Veblen’s critique of religion fits well within his larger treatment of the leisure class—indeed, the forces at work in religion seem to mirror much of what he finds wrong with capitalist societies.  But, Veblen also brackets his critique of religion to distinguish it from a more general, spiritual dimension, referenced elsewhere throughout his work.  In what follows, I discuss Veblen’s critique of religion and consider ways in which Veblen’s analysis and vision for capitalism contains a spiritual dimension.

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MICHAEL BERUBE RESPONDS: The Left at Bay

I want to thank Gabriel Brahm and Politics and Culture not only for putting together this remarkable series of responses to The Left at War, but for reading my book in the first place.  This is no pro forma gesture of gratitude on my part: my book has gotten a couple of engaging reviews in the US, and three or four thoughtful reviews abroad (including, apparently, a two-page spread in Norway’s third-largest daily), but by the time these reviews arrived, I had acclimated myself to the thought that The Left at War was going to go down as an unpleasant and largely irrelevant piece of work.  So the experience of reading these review essays was slightly surreal.

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