This year, I coordinated a unit, as part of the Honours program in Political Economy at the University of Sydney, titled ‘Reproducing Capitalism’. The unit explored conceptual debates on the socio-ecological reproduction of capitalism and historical and contemporary transformations in this area of political economic life.
Reproducing Capitalism was structured around reading a chapter from Jason W. Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life each week, as well as additional readings offering complementary or divergent Marxist, feminist and other heterodox economic perspectives. In the book, Moore rethinks capitalism as a ‘way of organising nature’. Here ‘nature’ encompasses all of those human and more-than-human relations that are not necessarily or wholly commodified but are integral to the expanded accumulation of capital. Our interest in the reproduction of capitalism in the unit therefore extended from households to coal mines to universities and beyond — spaces that offered rich terrain to debate controversies over value, dialectics, states, finance and class.
In the final week of the unit, students met with Jason via Skype in an ‘author meets (student) critics’ session, where they had the opportunity to ask questions and debate burning issues that had come up over the course of the semester. This followed on from last year’s session with Bertell Ollman. With thanks to Jason, and my fantastic students, here are some of the questions that were discussed:
- Would you consider that the development of synthetic (lab-made) meats and the rise of insect-based foods is another way capitalism is trying to sustain ecological surplus? Do you think this is another reconfiguration of Cheap Nature that can sustain society, or a futile attempt as we reach a ‘final frontier’?
- Given the increasing profitability of investing in sources of renewable energy, as evidenced by the rapid growth of Tesla and similarly revolutionary companies, does the prospect of private enterprise securing efficient means and sources of renewable natural resources not indicate perhaps that the total exhaustion of earth’s ‘Cheap Nature’ as a crisis for capitalism may ultimately be avoided through both publicly and privately funded scientific advancement?
- Should money be considered the 5th cheap of world ecology, or does the idea that appropriation of cheap money can facilitate value creation destabilize the law of value?
- Do you think that an inherent tension emerges from your attempt to combine the laws of physics that seem to govern the flow of appropriated work/energy and the law of value which governs the dynamics of capitalism?
- What feminist and Marxist theories have most influenced the development of work? What status to they have in your concepts?
- If we use the double internality as a starting point for conceptualising environmental crisis today how can we understand climate change through this lens? For example you argue in the book that the metabolic rift has limited analytical capacity because it views society and nature as separate. How can the metabolic shift through the double internality account for climate change with its devastating impacts on both the environment and society?
- At varying points in the book, you self-consciously refer to wide and nonspecific abstractions relating to ‘science, empire, and power’. These sometimes refer to the state (or the nexus of relations circulating the state), and sometimes not. My understanding of the implicit theory of the state at play in your work is one which relies on a theory of regimes and of governance: where the state is constituted through and by not just the explicitly governmental or juridical apparatuses but inclusive of other matrices of power: capitalist firms and various and varying vendors of ideology, to name two kinds. How is it that you justify this implicit theory of the state (if this is indeed an accurate rendition) in the context of your world-ecological approach? And how does this provide theoretical and practical resources for political projects that seek to engage, restructure, or destabilise the state?
- When all intellectual, scientific and technological innovations are understood to be performed in the service of capitalism as world-ecological regime, there does not seem to be space remaining for such developments to be recuperated by non-capitalist agents in service of non-capitalist ends. To this end, your preferred agents of change are food-sovereignty movements, which could be criticised for elevating a particular and romanticised understanding of peasant modes of producing. Conversely, there is relatively little capacity for new and avant-garde technologies and modes of organising to hold revolutionary potential in overcoming the underlying problems of world-ecological crisis, i.e. the regime of capital accumulation. How would you defend yourself against authors such as McKenzie Wark who look to developments in technology and science for the revolutionary potential they hold? Were it not for the development climate science, we would have little understanding of a major aspect of today’s world-ecological crisis, and thereby far less capacity to conceive of it, and respond to it.
- One may also ask whether this apparatus obviates the distinctions between capitalist and noncapitalist processes, as it suggests that even non-‘exploitative’ activities, i.e. housework, is necessary for reproducing labour and thereby the capitalist world-ecology, is there any space for genuinely non-capitalist activities in such a world-systems perspective? Many feminist and post-structuralist authors such as Gibson-Graham, Resnick and Wolff would suggest that this reading is an act of ‘capitalocentric’ discursive violence that conceals already-existing non-capitalist modes of production, that in fact prefigure alternate ways of organising.
- What is your take on the United States withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords?
- What do you see as the political ramifications of your book? What directions of struggle do you think it encourages/warns against?