Friday, March 11, 2011

Video: David Harvey on the Enigma of Capital and the Present Moment

Check out this video of a recent talk by marxist geographer (and author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism) David Harvey. He is talking about some of the ideas from his most recent book, The Enigma of Capital, which he wrote during and in reference to the global crisis of 2008-2009, but which he also connects in his talk to recent developments like the resistance by working people in Wisconsin.

I should add that I always hesitate a little about directing too much attention towards academic marxists, particularly the grand old white men among them, even ones like Harvey whom I think are worth listening to. Such a high proportion of what we need to be thinking through as we try to make social change that is just, liberatory, and to-the-root is stuff that theorists of this stripe -- as I said, even the ones I like, such as Harvey -- never really talk about. Yet it is very easy for the kind of political and intellectual authority that often adheres to such men to reinforce the tendency exhibited by some segments of the left which explicitly identify as anti-capitalist to ask and think and listen far too narrowly. Which isn't to deny that there are important ideas in here -- I wouldn't post it otherwise. I just think we need to see such thinking not as a deafult source of overarching synthesis but as one more jigsaw piece to be fit in with all the rest.

Anyway, on to the talk:



michael- said...

you'd think he'd perfect this talk by now... Question now becomes: will Harvey start to risk his own position to support actual action-networks on the ground?

Todd said...

"stuff that theorists of this stripe -- as I said, even the ones I like, such as Harvey -- never really talk about."

Stuff like what?

Scott said...

Hi Todd...I mean at least a couple of different things by that. Academic marxist theorists like Harvey tend to focus on macro-scale discussions that centre on relations of production. There doesn't tend to be any moments of explicitly foregrounding, say, global relations of white supremacy or relations of reproduction and other aspects of patriarchy. Not that all of these things aren't integrated, but saying that is much different than implying that relations of production are somehow more basic in organizing what we face or that the only analytical moments we need are those focused on production. So, for instance, in Harvey's Brief History of Neoliberalism, which I think is a very useful book, the possible relevance of successful anti-colonial struggle in the previous few decades and changing dynamics of global white supremacy are not really talked about as he lays out the trajectory of neoliberalism, and I don't think it's at all clear that they aren't important sources of energy and momentum in the changes of the neoliberal era. And numerous feminists have taken up questions of relations of reproduction and reproductive labour as integral to understanding social relations more broadly, and he doesn't do this when discussing neoliberalism.

And I think the macro scale is far, far from all that we need to be thinking about. Remember, that sentence fragment you quote was also attached to this: "what we need to be thinking through as we try to make social change." That includes lots of much more immediate and practical stuff. How do we organize ourselves? What organizational forms are useful in what situations? How do we challenge the ways in which our own practices and consciousnesses are shaped by the oppressive social relations in which we have grown up? How do we relate to state relations? To other movements? How do you run a good meeting? How do we hold each other accountable and behave in caring ways with each other in the context of trying to radically change the world? And so on. I think all of those kinds of questions are just as much "what we need to be thinking through" as shifts in practices of accumulation, and they aren't things that Harvey and others like him talk about.