Butler Goes to Work: A Political Economy of the Subject
This paper works to theorize Judith Butler’s conception of subjectivity and subject formation in its historical relation to and role in political economy and the capitalist mode of production. I begin with industrial capitalism, where I read Marx through Butler, arguing that the norms by which the subject comes to be constituted as an autonomous and sovereign individual are fundamentally connected with industrial capitalist production. Next, I sketch the transition from industrial to immaterial capitalism focusing on Marx’s concept of the ‘general intellect’ and the interactions between workers and machines, turning again to Butler to help understand this transition. After articulating what I mean by immaterial production I demonstrate how, as capitalism passes into the immaterial era, the norms that render the subject as an individual become challenged. I theorize a contingency between Butler’s conception of the subject as radically dependent, relational, and opaque and the capitalist mode of production in the immaterial era. In addition to advancing theoretical engagements between Butler’s work, materialism, and Marxism, I believe that this examination is helpful for understanding both contemporary subject formation and contemporary capitalist social and economic relations.
Derek R. Ford
Cultural Foundations of Education, Syracuse University
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