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Rethinking Racial Capitalism: Labor, Caste, Dispossession

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Organizer: Nick Millman

Co-Organizer: Najnin Islam

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This seminar examines racial capitalism as a global phenomenon hinged on long, connected histories of dispossession and labor across diverse geographies and time periods. We take inspiration from Cedric Robinson’s pioneering Black Marxism, which emphasizes the tendency for capitalism “not to homogenize but to differentiate– to exaggerate regional, subcultural, and dialectical differences into racial ones.” Investigating how capital draws upon internal differences in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean better attunes us to otherwise obscured dynamics within and across the Global South. This view enables us to conceptualize how pre-colonial hierarchies, relatively autonomous systems of commodity exchange and circulation, and unfree labor regimes both interact with a globalizing capitalist mode of production and generate their own racial ideologies. What histories, archives, literatures, and methods can expand the vocabulary for racial capitalism to account for the specificities of diverse contexts? How do we apprehend the relationship between discourses of race, caste, casta and their articulation with labor and dispossession within the contemporary global capitalist order?



We wish to dialogue between foundational theories of racial capitalism and scholarship that complicates familiar genealogies of capitalism and race. Scholars such as Robinson, W.E.B. DuBois, C.L.R. James, and Eric Williams showed how race and capitalism constitute one another. Recent work across disciplines enlarges this perspective. Lisa Lowe, Shona Jackson, Glen Coulthard, Denise Ferreira da Silva, Paula Chakravartty, and Sumit Guha, among others, rethink political economy as entangled with not only race, but also caste, indigeneity, nationality and gender. This is especially illuminating when juxtaposed against earlier, polarized definitions of race, as an invention of scientific & biological thinking in the Atlantic World, and of caste, as an exceptional religious system in South Asia separate from political economy. In contrast, by exploring overlaps between race and caste, and the prevalence of race-thinking in premodern societies and non-European contexts, newer scholarship demonstrates how these different categories fuel capital accumulation and dispossession on a global scale. We strive to build on these conversations, contributing to da Silva and Chakravartty’s claim that the dispossession of racialized subjects from their land and labor is a central, ongoing feature of global racial capitalism.



Topics may include, but are not limited to: primitive accumulation; (post)colonial archives; Subaltern, Indigenous & Peasant Studies; Connected histories across Atlantic, Indian, and/or Pacific Ocean worlds; Indentureship & chattel slavery; comparative studies of race & caste


Send 300-word abstracts & short bio to Nick Millman, nmillman@sas.upenn.edu, Najnin Islam, nislam@coloradocollege.edu, and Neelofer Qadir, n_qadir@uncg.edu

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