Racial Capitalism’s Inner Life: Security, Police Power, and the Tactics of Ensoulment

Monday, Mar 28, 2022 | 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

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In Cedric Robinson’s early iteration, “racial capitalism,” placed antiblackness at the heart of capitalist historical dynamics by showing how the black/white color line has motored the process of capital accumulation. Yet racial capitalism has additional applications. It engages the expropriative logic of settler colonial seizures of land and resources, where capitalist racialization provides the alibi for primitive accumulation. Moishe Postone has also theorized antisemitism as a right-wing anticapitalist politics that fetishistically employs the Jew to figure the danger of finance capital’s abstract power. This theory, when redirected to the abstraction of “terror” as a threat to capital, can also help account for Islamophobia. Is it possible to connect these distinctive forms and histories of racialization within an overarching account of racial capitalism?

This talk analyzes the reliance of racial capitalism, a four-century old mode of production comprised of several successive regimes of accumulation (plantocratic, industrial monopoly, Fordist and post-Fordist regimes), upon liberal modes of governance that have all utilized the tactics of what I call “ensoulment.” Liberalism, with its possessive individuals, civil society of exchange, and discourse of liberty, has long provided capitalism with the political means to govern through freedom. But it has simultaneously deployed a logic of security that installs a police power to defend the possessive society’s “sacred space of freedom” against social and political threats. When viewed in this light, racial liberalism can be seen as a project that ensouls populations as so many risk potentials of criminality, infiltration and revolution.

Speaker bio: Lee Medovoi is a Professor in the Department of English at the University of Arizona and the Founding Chair (currently Vice Chair) of U Arizona’s Graduate Program in Social, Cultural and Critical Theory. He is the author of Rebels: Youth and the Cold War Origins of Identity (Duke 2005) and co-editor of Religion, Secularism and Political Belonging with Elizabeth Bentley (Duke, 2021). Lee is currently writing a book on the genealogy of racial power entitled: Ensoulment: The Inner Life of Race from Pastoral Power to Racial Capitalism (forthcoming, Duke University Press). This year he is a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.

Event sponsored by the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies, the Center for Race & Gender, the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, and the Program in Critical Theory.

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