Its varied usage inspires reflection on the depictions of these life-forces that in turn contribute to forms of social inequality. Moreover, it specifically refers to a history of contradictions between male authority and female kinship ties that signals the mix of capture and generativity that characterizes all social power.
Finally, by adopting this term, we play with the irony that a patriarchal unit provides the root for the word gender even as we found our approach to capitalism on a more liberating but hidden ancestry of feminist analyses of gender, kinship, and race, as well as other forms of epistemological insights garnered from the margins. Gens is a capacious, flexible term that references our interest in the generative powers of capitalism and the inequalities these powers create.
In this sense, we are particularly focused on the generative aspect of the term that is centrally concerned with the means and mechanisms—the very processes of generation—through which systems and socialities are made. The economic is repeatedly and relentlessly imagined as a singular logic that is derived from a pre-made domain and expresses itself in historical and cultural realities. Instead of taking capitalism a priori, as an already determining structure, logic, and trajectory, we ask how its social relations are generated out of divergent life projects.
We are not invested in a singular origin point from which an overarching logic of capitalism is scaled up or extended down , nor do we assume that everyone holds or operates in accordance with the same core economic principles. Instead, we are concerned with the unstable, contingent networks of capitalism that surround us. These are more fragile and more intimate than accounts of inevitable core contradictions or determining economic logics would have us presume. They are generated from heterogeneity and difference, and from our varied pursuits of being and becoming particular kinds of people, families, or communities see also Narotsky and Besnier Our approach aims to join with other important interventions that anthropology has made as a discipline to such debates.
Pioneering work has revealed both the power of economistic practices and the diversity of the social relations of capitalism Dunn ; Elyachar ; Miller ; Mitchell , While we draw from this rich analytical tradition to highlight diverse pursuits of value and the constitutive power of boundary-making, our approach does not begin with markets and explicit economic practices. It focuses instead on the diverse and wide-ranging practices of life and production that cross-cut social domains.
It is crucial at this stage to underscore our recognition of the influence and power of capital. We also acknowledge the importance of systemic and structural analyses. Yet, we emphasize that structure itself is not pre-formed, but heterogeneously made through processes of aligning multiple projects, converting them toward diverse ends that include but are not limited to the accumulation and distribution of capital.
Acknowledging the power and structural formations of capital does not in any way necessitate that we grant either capital or capitalism a singular, coherent, and totalizing logic. The gens approach, then, is a concerted strategy to reveal the constructedness—the messiness and hard work involved in making, translating, suturing, converting, and linking diverse capitalist projects—that enable capitalism to appear totalizing and coherent.
Representations of capitalism that do not underscore these labors run the risk of conflating the interests and the actions of capital, thus inadvertently and teleologically reproducing the invisible hand. Furthermore, our questions about instability and generativity return us to the contingent production of inequality and structural violence.
To notice heterogeneity is not to deny the depth or breadth of these injuries, but to explain and thereby, ultimately, to challenge them. A central finding of feminist anthropology has been this positive fact: Class does not exist outside of its generation in gender, race, sexuality, and kinship Bear ; Fernandez-Kelly ; Ho ; Ong ; Rofel ; Rubin ; Yanagisako , ; Zavella If we want to understand structural relations within capitalism, we need to begin with how they are made through broader processes of human and non-human relations.
Feminist scholars have traced how Marxist approaches—however otherwise productive—used gendered, sexualized, and racialized figures in the making of even its earliest critical analyses Scott ; Ferguson ; Tsing Moreover, the feminist critique of nature has showed how the fertile generativity of the world has been repeatedly used to represent and construct distinctions of class, race, kinship, and nation Yanagisako and Delaney ; Franklin and McKinnon ; Stoler We draw on this work in many ways, in particular we use it to explore how, not just forms of unequal personhood, but even the raw materials and machines of capitalism are configured in historical encounters Tsing forthcoming.
The question of accumulation is central to our discussion. We are interested in how inequality emerges from heterogeneous processes through which people, labor, sentiments, plants, animals, and life-ways are converted into resources for various projects of production.
Migrants in Translation: Caring and the Logics of Difference in Contemporary Italy
We recognize that these conversions—although tremendously powerful—are not always complete, consistent, or coherent. Some of these conversions are enacted through formalizations such as money, contracts, audit, yield curves, and financial models. Other conversions occur through intimate social relations such as marriage, parenthood, friendship, gifts, and inheritance.
Yet the life-worlds, as well as the processes and outcomes of these conversions, can remain divergent. The recent study by Thomas Piketty on wealth inequality documents the crucial role that inheritance from parents to children has played historically in the divergence of wealth. His findings provide overwhelming evidence of the centrality of kinship to capital accumulation and class relations.
In recent years, a good deal of scholarship on capitalism has focused on market devices and economic modeling. While important, this work often takes for granted what counts as, or what is, included in the economic. It thereby narrows analyses of the generative processes of production, distribution, and consumption, and removes from consideration the ways in which these processes variably entail broader human and non-human relations. Rather than focusing on how economic models generate the real or how the real exceeds them two undoubtedly productive, if limited, critical moves , we approach these formalizations as conversion processes between diverse life projects.
This mediation is important because it shapes accumulation and class relations without determining them. We argue that diverse life practices, relations, experiences, and contexts—shaped by kinship, charisma, sentiment, status, race, gender, class, nation, etc. We also argue that formal models emerge from diverse lifeworlds and are not simply manifestations of singular core logics.
The key power of these models in contemporary capitalism comes from their ability to erase particularity and sever objects, people, and resources from their contexts Tsing forthcoming; Bear Because conversion devices have this capacity to decontextualize, they make diverse social and economic projects seem coherent despite and through the heterogeneous, disaggregated practices from which they are constituted.
A central aim of our collective is to examine how these mediations make capitalism appear to be a consistent force. Our focus is not just on formal procedures of documentation, mathematical modeling, and contracts, but on the sentiments and performances of personhood, collectivity, and sociality that always accompany formal and informal processes.
We also look beyond market exchanges and monetary forms to explore these conversions to take into account the full range of mediations: for example, between state debt and social debt, humanitarian projects and entrepreneurship, and non-human forms and commodities or resources. On the one hand, finance—as a constellation of priorities, practices, and ideologies that engage with, are based on, and seek to convert already existing and highly varied assets into more liquid forms of capital—is age-old.
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Financialization, it is important to distinguish, refers to the scaling up and growing influence of finance, and specifically the increased linking, translation, and interactions between a financial mode of apprehending the world and other social domains Ho forthcoming. While our generating capitalism approach tackles head-on the massive socio-economic shifts that have made institutions, natural resources, governmental entities, education, retirements, etc. Moreover, this scaling up i. How does investigating the devolution and outsourcing of risk to these heterogeneous lifeworlds help us to understand processes of financialization differently?
Does a re-assessment of the assumption of risk in finance and its historical configuration enable us to rethink purported capitalist logics and the dominant narrative of financialization? Undoubtedly, yes and yes.
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Indeed, various financial products and forms of advice can both rely on and enable conversions within households that mediate the market and the family Han ; James These narratives of capitalist transformation are rooted in the well-documented decline of the secondary sector industrial production and the concomitant increase in the tertiary sector service industries that have occurred since the s in dominant capitalist countries. Because no material or durable goods are produced in service industries ranging from health care and education to finance and transportation, work in this sector has been classified by some scholars as immaterial labor.
To be sure, discussions of immaterial and affective labor acknowledge earlier feminist critiques indicating the narrowness of Marxist conceptions of labor, and reiterate the argument that the unpaid domestic work of women is as socially productive as industrial labor. At the same time, however, by constructing a binary in which immaterial labor is imbued with affect while industrial labor is devoid of it, this approach erroneously attributes inherently different creative energies and communicative powers to these forms of labor. Treating this ideological distinction as an objective difference misses the most central and enduring core argument of feminist scholars—namely, that it is through the making of such categorical distinctions among human actions and actors that inequality is generated Yanagisako Other authors suggested that all social experience was now suspended in a shallow present characterized by an evacuation of the near and far future Guyer But ethnographic analyses of outsourced, globally linked and financed workplaces reveal a different reality.
Although compressed and accelerated space-time appears to be a force external to society in new technologies and managerial strategies, its implementation in workplaces brought it into relationship with complex social practices of time-space Upadhya ; Zaloom There is no singular or uniform social timespace in contemporary capitalism.
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Instead there are complex timescapes in which we attempt through the labor in and of time to coordinate human and non-human activities Thrift and May ; Bear Yet in spite of opening up a diversity of timescapes to analysis in these ways, there is still a lacuna in our understanding of how such timescapes intersect in practice. In particular, we have yet to trace how the polychronies of finance capital, technological instruments, predictive devices, representations of time, social disciplines, non-human resources, and social reproduction are mediated within workplaces and communities.
This gap is problematic because without an analysis of the contradictions and negotiations of these polychronies we cannot explore two key elements of contemporary economic life: the increasing uncertainty of the process of capital accumulation; and the centrality of the rhythms of credit and deficit to productivity Bear ; Graeber ; Roitman Instead, we will be able to explore the heterogeneous forms of pacing, duration, waiting, pause, obsolescence, and delay that also characterize its generative rhythms.
Bear, Laura. New York: Columbia University Press. S1: 3— Castells, Manuel.
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