Labor, Ascription, Equality

Ajantha Subramanian, Harvard University
Elizabeth Ferry
, Brandeis University

The robust, long standing debate on racial capitalism has advanced critical understandings of race as a structuring principle of capitalist transformation. This scholarly literature illuminates how crucial the imagination and management of difference have been to capitalist projects of extraction and accumulation. In addition to advancing our understanding of how ascribed, embodied differences shape labor conscription, control, and capital investment, the work on racial capitalism also addresses the ramifications of capitalist differentiation for collective struggles for equality. While racial capitalism as a framework for understanding imperial and post-imperial political economies has been hugely generative, it has largely centered on Atlantic slavery and histories of race in the Americas.

This workshop seeks to connect the dots between racial capitalism in the Atlantic World and other contexts of capitalist differentiation in order to understand the more general interplay between the operation of ascription within capitalist economies and struggles for equality. Central to our collective inquiry will be the conceptual status and empirical operation of categories of difference such as (but not limited to) race and caste. In short, we aim to better understand the centrality of ascription to capitalist accumulation and rights politics.