Marx and its discontents: five constructive critiques to marxian thought

Periodo di svolgimento
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Info sul corso
Ore del corso
20
Ore dei docenti responsabili
20
Ore di didattica integrativa
0
CFU 3
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Modalità esame

Relazione di seminario

Prerequisiti

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"

Programma

This course discusses five types of critiques and revisions of Karl Marx’s political philosophy, which are particularly relevant to contemporary social theory: 1) The cultural critique of Marxian economic determinism, the Gramscian notion of hegemony, and their application to the discursive reading of contemporary populism; 2) The feminist critique of the Marxian notion of productive labor and its influence on recent political theories of care and social reproduction; 3) the Autonomist interpretation of the Marxian concept of the general intellect and its significance for the analysis of new forms of accumulation and value extraction in the network society; 4) the postcolonial critique of Marx’s alleged Eurocentrism and the critique coming from Black scholars to Marxian understandings of race; 5) and the political ecology critique of the nature-capitalism nexus in Marx’s writings. Taken all together, these five discursive knots enable students who are interested in working in the Marxist or the post-Marxist tradition to refine their theoretical approach and apply it to a wide range of research projects in sociology and political science. Moreover, students whose work mobilizes critical perspectives on class, gender, race and the environment will find this course useful for reflecting on some of the methodological challenges that the intersection and hybridization of potentially conflicting heuristics may raise.

 

The course will meet once or twice a week for sections of 180 minutes each. Each class will be divided into three sections: 1) an introductory lecture by the instructor (or invited speakers; 2) a student’s presentation on the assigned readings; and 3) a collective discussion and close reading of the assigned texts.

 

Assignments

Students are expected to be active participants in the seminar. Reading requirements are to be fulfilled before the beginning of class. Additionally, during the introductory class of the seminar, each student signs up to present the assigned readings for a class of her/his choice. The presentation should last approximately 15-20 minutes for Master students and 25-30 minutes for PhD students, with the optional support of slides (and/or a short reflection paper). Students are encouraged to connect, where applicable, the presentation to their own research. Each presentation should end with a couple of questions which may facilitate class discussion. All students are expected to prepare comments and participate in the discussion.

 

Assessment

Phd students:

Presentation (all readings)                           50%

In-class attendance and participation            50%

 

Doctoral students are not required to write a paper for this course. Students who miss more than one class may be asked to repeat the course.

Doctoral students who opt to write a term paper for this course must consult the instructor in advance and agree on a topic. Please consider that while papers can be connected to the student’s own research they should also be firmly grounded in the course reading materials. Term papers should be approximately 20-pages long, references excluded, and are due by April 30, 2024.

 

Master students:

Presentation (1 reading)                              25%

In-class attendance and participation            25%

Paper                                                        50%

 

Master students are required to write a 3,000-word paper (references included) to allow the instructor to express a grade on a 30-point scale. The paper can be written in English or Italian and should be firmly grounded in the course reading materials. It must be delivered by April 30, 2024.

 

Schedule of classes and readings

 

January 17 (2-5pm). Marx’s early writings

In this section we discuss two key concepts of Marx’s philosophy: the concept of alienation and the materialist conception of history. This discussion is useful to introduce the ontology that lies at the heart of Marxian social theory.

 

Required readings

K. Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (excerpt). In K. Marx, selected writings edited by D. McLellan, second edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 85-95 (read until Private property and communism).

K. Marx, Theses on Feuerbach. In K. Marx, selected writings, edited by D. McLellan, second edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 171-73.

K. Marx, The German Ideology (excerpt). In K. Marx, selected writings, edited by D. McLellan, second edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 175-198 (read until Egoism and communism).

K. Marx, Preface to A Critique of Political Economy. In K. Marx, selected writings, edited by D. McLellan, second edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 424-27.

 

Recommended readings

K. Marx, On James Mill. In K. Marx, selected writings, edited by D. McLellan, second edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 124-133.

K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto. In K. Marx, selected writings, edited by D. McLellan, second edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 247-272.

 

January 24 (2-5pm). The Marxian Theory of Value

In this section, we approach the tenets of the Marxian theory of value. Key concepts such as use value, exchange value, commodity fetishism, surplus value and socially necessary labor time are analyzed. Because this is a conceptually dense class, David Harvey’s reading of chapter 1 of Capital volume 1 facilitates a close reading of the text. Please watch Harvey’s video after reading the text.

 

Required readings

K. Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1 (translated by B. Fowkes), Penguin, 1976, pp. 127-177.

Reading Marx’s Capital Vol. I with David Harvey. Class 01. Available on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBazR59SZXk.

Recommended

K. Marx, Capital Volume 1 (excerpts). In K. Marx, selected writings, edited by D. McLellan, second edition, Oxford University Press, pp. 481-521.

D. Harvey, Limits to Capital, Verso, 2006, pp. 1-38.

 

January 31 (2-5pm). Italian Operaismo: From the industrial factory to the factory-society

This class focuses on the autonomist readings of the so-called Fragment on machines, a brief passage in the Grundrisse in which Marx reflects upon the role of knowledge as a direct force of production and the impact of automation on labor and free time. Several authors (Terranova, Pasquinelli, Lazzarato) highlight the original contribution of this Marxist strand to current debates on digital labor and value extraction from unpaid social activities.

 

Required readings:

K. Marx, Grundrisse (translated by M. Nicolaus), Penguin, 1973, pp. 699-711.

A. Negri. From Mass Worker to Socialized Worker and Beyond. In A. Negri, The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century, Polity, 1989, pp. 75-87.

M. Hardt and A. Negri, Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State Form, University of Minnesota Press, 1994, pp. 3-11.

T. Terranova, Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy. Social Text 18(2) 2000, pp. 33-58. https://web.mit.edu/schock/www/docs/18.2terranova.pdf.

 

Recommended:

M. Pasquinelli, Italian Operaismo and the Information Machine. Theory, Culture & Society 32(3), 2015, pp. 49-68.

P. Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, Semiotext(e), 2004, pp. 49-71.

M. Lazzarato, Immaterial Labor. In Radical Thought in Italy edited by Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt, University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp. 133-146.

 

February 7 (2-5pm). Marx and Social Reproduction

This class focuses on the Marxian reading of social reproduction and its relationship to surplus value as seen from the perspective of two strands of feminist thought. On the one hand, the feminist tradition that refers to the works of Silvia Federici, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, and Leopoldina Fortunati, among others, argues that domestic work, care work and sex work are value-creating practices insofar as they reproduce the commodity that is most precious to capital, the labor force. On the other hand, social reproduction theorists such as Lise Vogel, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Sarah Farris contend that social reproduction is not directly (or solely) productive of value but must be understood as inherently contradictory set of activities, which are both indispensible and an obstacle to capitalist accumulation.

 

Required readings:

S. Federici, Wages Against Housework (1975). In Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle, PM Press, 2012, pp. 15-22.

L. Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital. Autonomedia, 1995, pp. 33-45.

T. Bhattacharya, S. Farris and S. Ferguson. Social Reproduction Feminisms. In The Sage Handbook of Marxism (edited by B. Skeggs, S. R. Farris, A. Toscano and S. Bromberg), 2022, pp. 45-67.

S. Federici, The Reproduction of Labor Power in the Global Economy and the Unfinished Feminist Revolution (2008). In Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle, PM Press, 2012, pp. 91-111.

 

Recommended:

S. Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Autonomedia, 2004, pp. 7-20, 61-64.

M. Dalla Costa and S. James. The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community, Falling Wall Press, 1972, pp. 21-56.

K. Marx,Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1 (translated by B. Fowkes), Penguin, 1976, pp. 711-724.

K. Marx,Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1 (translated by B. Fowkes), Penguin, 1976, pp. 873-895.

 

February 14 (2-5pm). From Marxism to Post-Marxism

In this section, we examine the main (and perhaps only) critical reading of Marx, which is routinely and consistently labeled as post-Marxist. Developed by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in the mid-1980s, this analytic apparatus breaks away with the Marxist tradition by claiming that many social antagonisms characteristic of contemporary societies “belong to fields of discursivity which are external to Marxism, and cannot be reconceptualized in terms of Marxist categories.” As is known, Laclau and Mouffe develop the central concept of political articulation through a return to the Gramscian notion of hegemony. Not only this implies a non-reductionist understanding of the relationship between base and superstructure but also the definitive abandonment of the notion that economy determines all other social relationships “in the last instance.”

 

Required readings

Raymond Williams, Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory. In Media & Cultural Studies. Keyworks, pp. 130-143.

Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, Verso, 1986, pp. vii-xix, 1-19, 47-91.

 

Recommended

A. Gramsci, The Intellectuals. In Selection from the Prison Notebooks, Lawrence & Wishart, 1971, pp. 131-147.

Louis Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards and Investigation). In Media & Cultural Studies. Keyworks, pp. 79-88.

 

February 21 (2-5pm). Black Marxism and Postcolonial Studies

In this section, we analyze the notion of racial capitalism, a concept developed by Cedric Robinson that challenges Marxian understandings of race, racism and racial difference. Originally published in the early 1980s, Robinson’s groundbreaking work has recently undergone a significant revival on the heels of a transnational movement such as Black Lives Matter. In particular, Robinson questions the Marxian proletariat as the chosen revolutionary subject because of its insufficient differentiation and lack of connection to non-strictly industrial productive histories. We also discuss the uneasy relationship between Marxism and postcolonial studies, and the various endeavors to “stretch”, “provincialize” and decolonize Marxism.

 

Required readings:

C. Robinson. Black Radicalism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, Penguin, 2020 [1983], pp. 178-184 (read from “Marx and Engels, if we recall…”) and pp. 274-286 (read from the bottom of 274).

A. Haider. Black Marxism. In The Sage Handbook of Marxism (edited by B. Skeggs, S. R. Farris, A. Toscano and S. Bromberg), 2022, pp. 1067-83.

J. Mascat, Postcolonial Studies. In The Sage Handbook of Marxism (edited by B. Skeggs, S. R. Farris, A. Toscano and S. Bromberg), 2022, pp. 959-79.

 

Recommended:

M. Davidson. The Primitive. In The Sage Handbook of Marxism (edited by B. Skeggs, S. R. Farris, A. Toscano and S. Bromberg), 2022, pp. 1167-83.

B. Bhandar, Race. In The Sage Handbook of Marxism (edited by B. Skeggs, S. R. Farris, A. Toscano and S. Bromberg), 2022, pp. 232-47.

 

February 28 (2-5pm). Ecomarxism and Political Ecology

The last section of the course is devoted to Marxist political ecology, an interdisciplinary field of study whose purpose is to bridge the analyses of two fundamental antagonisms and contradictions in capitalist development: the capital-labor antagonism, which is rooted in the contradiction between the historical development of the productive forces and the relations of production, and the contradiction between the extractivist logic underpinning capitalist accumulation and the finitude of the natural world. The class is devoted to understanding whether the Marxian dialectical reading of the relationship between labor and nature is adequate to grasp the planetary ecological crisis that characterizes the age of Anthropocene or whether a different type of approach and ontology are needed.

 

The class will host prof. Emanuele Leonardi from the University of Bologna, one of the most authoritative voices in the field.

 

Required readings:

J. O’ Connor, Capitalism, Nature, Socialism: A Theoretical Introduction. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 1 (Fall 1988), pp. 11-38.

L. Pellizzoni, Ontological Politics in a Disposable World, Routledge, 2016, pp. TBD.

Gabriele Leonardi, Autonomist Marxism and World-Ecology: For a Political Theory of the Ecological Crisis., PPPR, https://projectpppr.org/pandemics/autonomist-marxism-and-world-ecology-for-a-political-theory-of-the-ecological-crisis

 

Recommended readings:

TBD

 

Obiettivi formativi

  • The course aims at bringing together a variety of scholarly debates inspired by Marxian thought that are usually held in separate academic disciplines and fields of study.
  • The course allows students who are interested in the Marxist or the post-Marxist tradition of scholarly research to assess the extent to which the work of a towering thinker in modern social thought has been challenged and renewed in contemporary social theory. 
  • The course aims at providing master and PhD students in the fields of social movements studies, comparative politics, sociology of culture and communication, media studies, political economy, and sociology of work and the environment with a deeper theoretical understanding of the relationship between class struggles and feminist, decolonial and environmental mobilization.