Past Clusters

Crisis in the Cultures of Capitalism 2014-15

Capitalism has emerged as a central theme for research in the humanities. Since the global economic crisis of 2008, it has become clear that scholars are returning to fundamental theoretical questions about the capitalist world-system. The “Crisis in the Cultures of Capitalism” research cluster will provide a forum to promote faculty and graduate student research and sponsor talks and events.

Two major events are planned for the coming academic year. The first is a research seminar in Winter 2014, “The Origins of Civil Society,” co-sponsored by the UCHRI. This seminar will focus on critical research on the origins of the market economy, its historical development, and its intellectual outgrowths. It will combine weekly meetings of faculty and graduate students, oriented around the discussion of relevant texts, with a public lecture series by some of the authors.

The second is a two-day interdisciplinary conference entitled “Capital, Crisis, and Class” in Spring 2014, co-sponsored by the UCHRI and the UCSC Vice Chancellor of Research. The conference will bring together faculty from around California to discuss a variety of related topics ranging from race and nationalism under contemporary capitalism, to the changing nature of labor, to the economic development of China.

While this research cluster is an independent and interdepartmental project, it will also take place in conjunction with the History of Consciousness department\’s “Crisis in the Cultures of Capitalism” research initiative, which is bringing in a number of graduate students and providing complementary curricular content.

Here are some of the questions that this research cluster will address:

How can “capital,” as the underlying social relation of capitalist society, be defined and theorized? The Marxian tradition has set out varying interpretations of this concept; how can we today sift through these different theoretical directions and evaluate the usefulness of this theoretical tradition today?

What theoretical categories are relevant to the explanation of the current economic downturn? Can the 2008 crisis be explained in terms of the traditional categories of the critique of political economy? What future can we predict for the capitalist system beyond this crisis?

Definitions of capitalism usually refer to a historically specific set of relations between social classes. What is the importance of these class relations for the understanding of the overall system? How do they intersect with social movements centered on race and gender? Recent social movements, from Zhengzhou to New York, have put class back on the agenda, after a long decline in classical union-based politics. Can we identify the forms that future mass movements will take?

What theoretical categories respond to the changing nature of work within capitalism? Research on the concepts of “affective labor” and “immaterial labor” has responded not only to the influence of new technologies, but also to the gendered character of the work of reproduction. Do these concepts capture new developments, or do they reframe classical terminology? Furthermore, how does the growth of “logistics” – transportation, communication, and other forms of labor that facilitate manufacturing – change the way that work can be understood?

The complex social relations of capitalist society have often been represented in various forms of cultural production, from novels to films. What do these representations tell us about our current period? Are the methods of aesthetic and cultural analysis established by critical theory – and for that matter, by postmodernism – still relevant today? What futures can we imagine on the basis of past cultural representations of societies beyond capitalism – both utopias and “actually existing socialism”?

The emergence of the category of “civil society” is a pivotal event not only in intellectual history, but also the history of the contemporary market economy. How does the separation of the political and the economic that yielded the modern state influence our thinking about the current state of capitalism? How can an understanding of the origins of market society help us better understand its present economic conjuncture and the political challenges associated with it.

For more information, please contact the PI, Chris Connery ( with any questions or suggestions.

Gopal Balakrishnan (History of Consciousness, Associate Professor)
Hunter Bivens (German Studies, Assistant Professor)
Chris Connery (Literature, Professor)
Lisa Rofel (Anthropology, Professor)
Christopher Chen (Literature, Assistant Professor)
Bob Meister (History of Consciousness, Professor)
Bali Sahota (Literature, Assistant Professor)
Kiran Garcha (History, PhD Student)
Michelle Glowa (Environmental Studies, PhD Student)
Maya Gonzalez (History of Consciousness, PhD Student)
Melissa Brzycki (History, PhD Student)
Robert Cavooris (History of Consciousness, PhD Student)
Chris Chitty (History of Consciousness, PhD Student)
Mario Diaz-Perez (History of Consciousness, PhD Student)
Evan Grupsmith (History, PhD Student)
Asad Haider (History of Consciousness, PhD Student)
Alexis Kargl (Sociology, PhD Student)
Patrick Madden (History of Consciousness, PhD Student)
Jeb Purucker (Literature, PhD Student)
Emily Rose (Literature, PhD Student)
Caroline Kao (Anthropology, PhD Student)
Evan Calder Williams (Literature, PhD Student)
Michael Wilson (Politics, PhD Student)

Photo by Jurvetson.

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