The Janus-face of capitalist labor: gender, race, and work in early modernity
Author(s)Bohrer, Ashley J.
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AbstractThe dissertation thus attempts to chart the interrelationship between three processes during the early modern period: the enwaging of the nascent proletariat, the domesticating of white women, and the enslavement of peoples of color. These three tendencies, taken together, represent the invention of new forms of labor relations that constituted capitalism in its emergent centuries. As such, these three processes can be taken together as mutually constituted phenomena, interpenetrating and dependent on one another, historically, politically, and conceptually. But they are also three irreducibly different processes, each of which emerged to manage a certain theoretical and economic crisis in the transition to capitalism. As such, each tendency emerges through a very specific matrix of concepts and discourses. Freedom, femininity, and race are the correlates of enwaging, domestication, and enslavement. The boundaries of each of these domains abut one another, functioning as constitutive limits and domains of exclusion for the others. As such, it is my contention that freedom, femininity, and race come to define the very meaning of labor under capitalism. Capitalism is not simply an economic system, but entails a political ideology inextricably connected to discourses of freedom, race, and gender. The ideological character of capitalism, its necessary social mythology, is thus not only what Marxist critics have noted for a century and half—that the freedom it offers is actually exploitation. The ideological character of capitalism is also that this deformed freedom, the freedom of the bourgeoisie to accumulate capital, is dependent on unwaged relations of production. Capitalist sociality thus depends on a double disavowal: the freedom of waged work is actually servitude by another name and the condition for the possibility of the wage is work which can never be waged.