New materialism, political economy and the (re)productive body

Debates in New Materialisms III: New materialism, political economy and the (re)productive body

Keynote speakers: Jeffrey Harrod and Daniela Tepe Belfrage

Location: Middlesex University, London. Hendon Town Hall, Committee Room 2.
Date: 7 April 2017 (Friday).

Plenary sessions: David Bailey, Stephen Bates, Paul Cammack, Matt Davies, Athina Karatzogianni (Skype), Donna Lee, Phoebe Moore, Andrew Robinson (Skype), Elena Vachelli. Publication adviser: Magnus Ryner

Register for this free event.

If you paid for a ticket via the old site, you can be refunded by emailing p.moore -at- mdx.ac.uk.

This will be a Conference for Socialist Economists event with joint hosting from the Critical Political Economy Research Network. The first of these three debates was held at Westminster with David Chandler et al, see its report here. The second event was held at Kingston University on 29th September, organised by Helen Palmer.

‘New Materialism, political economy and the (re)productive body’ will be the third and final event in this series.

The purpose of this third workshop is to revisit the debates in new or neomaterialism in the area of global political economy that started with Jeffrey Harrod’s piece ‘The Global Poor and Global Politics: Neomaterialism and the Sources of Political Action’ in the much read text Poverty and the Production of World Politics edited by Matt Davies and Magnus Ryner.

Since this text, also in the area of global political economy, Paul Cammack, Greig Charnock  and Marcus Taylor wrote on debates in new materialism from a Marxist perspective and Nicola Smith and Donna Lee wrote about debates on corporeal capitalism. Feminist research in new materialism is found in the Rosa Braidotti, Iris van der Tuin, Felicity Colman and others. Overall the shift in foci to the body, production and reproduction, ontology, capitalism, gender, quantification and nature have revived questions of materiality that are being discussed across critical areas of research. We see that a range of ‘turns’ are occurring: the corporeal, affective and ontological turns.

Our Debates in New Materialisms III event will revive questions of the political economy of new materialism given the new world of production and consumption we now live in. What is at stake for international political economy in the corporeal, affective and ontological ’turns’? Why are we seeing these ‘turns’ now? Is it because of intensified pressures after the economic crisis to compete or to survive? Is it because austerity drives people to bare life and exacerbates working and living conditions and politicises us to a new level? Where is gender in the historical materialist renewal and discussions of new materialism? Have new technologies in workplaces intensified both management techniques and production processes in a way that violently abstracts the body from the mind? Are we questioning capitalism in new ways and considering new forms of political action and what does this mean for ‘bodies at work’? What are the practical and philosophical problem of assigning agency in digital networks and new spaces of dissent? Is the return to discussions of immanent, transcendental and materialist approaches a sign that we are querying Cartesian ontologies still pervading research in global political economy that place mind as dominant over the body and matter?

Presentation abstracts:

Daniela Tepe Belfrage ‘The New Materialism: Re-claiming a Debate from a Feminist Perspective’

The debate on the New Materialism in International Relations (IR) has significant implications for feminist analyses. In this article, we re-claim the term through a re-engagement with feminist (historical) materialist thinking, in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007/8 and ongoing austerity measures in the United Kingdom (UK), in which poverty has a ‘gendered face.’ Following Nancy Fraser, we argue that while feminist analysis must pay due regard to the ideational and the discursive, materialist analysis is being side-lined in the current debate. At the same time, the debate on New Materialism in Marxist forums, which claims to elucidate the consequences for the poor and dispossessed left behind or adversely impacted by developments in the 21st century, has also neglected gender. Consequently, this variant of the New Materialism does not provide a complete picture of what neoliberalism and austerity looks like. We contend that any debate on New Materialism debate needs to generate an adequate theory of social relations, production, social reproduction and oppression, in order for its revival to be successful. Accordingly, using current austerity politics in the UK in illustration, we make the case for an expanded understanding of Materialism which casts light on the structuring principles of capitalist socialisation and which affords the social reproductive sphere equal analytical status as necessary to capture capitalist society.

David J. BaileyOld Materialisms, New Materialisms, Same Problems? Does an Ontology of Difference cure Academic Irrelevance?’

The recent debate around old materialisms and new materialisms that has been played out in journals such as Historical Materialism, Millennium, Capital and Class, and in the volumes edited by Coole and Frost and Davis and Ryner, each hint at the problem of irrelevance that afflicts much of our academic endeavour. This irrelevance, the paper argues, reflects a dilemma that sits at the heart of the strategy adopted by radical academics situated within the institutions of the capitalist state. That is, we are faced with the option of being politically ineffective but institutionally secure, or politically relevant but institutionally marginalised and insecure. Both routes lead to a degree of irrelevance of one kind or another, of which we tend to be highly aware. Whereas the old historical materialism of Marxism seemed at times to seek to resolve this dilemma through recourse to the doctrine, “more critical thought needed”; the new materialisms have been accused of responding to the problem through either apolitical observations of ‘forces’ and ‘impulses’, or otherwise a fetishisation of the ‘everyday’. It is not easy, moreover, to see how these problems can be overcome. In an attempt to think how we might steer a course between these two poles of irrelevance, the paper draws on the work of Deleuze and his ontology of difference, which impels us: to map, not trace, both corporeal and philosophical developments and potentials; to be creative; and to amplify disruptive differences that always-already exist. Through a discussion of the contemporary British anti-austerity movement, the paper questions both whether this ontology of difference might be a better way for radical academics to be both in and against the capitalist state, enabling us to be politically effective without marginalisation or insecurity, and therefore cure longstanding problems of academic irrelevance; and whether this represents anything new or different at all in our attempt as radicals to ensure that (human) matter flourishes more.

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