Excess and the Outsides of Capitalism – A Conversation with Vinay Gidwani, Cindi Katz and Neferti Tadiar

Organised by Jessica Dempsey and Geraldine Pratt, UBC [email protected], [email protected]

***A downloadable version of the following conversation is available here***

For decades now feminists from all over the world have rethought capitalism beyond the limitations of orthodox and heterodox economics, paying attention in particular to the role of unpriced material and unwaged work in the functioning – and dysfunction – of capitalism. This rich archive of analyses positions feminists to respond to some of the most pressing global challenges of our time, including a crisis of social reproduction; mounting ecological crises like climate change and biodiversity loss; and increasing global inequality. Reflecting the contemporary relevance of earlier work, a new generation of feminist scholars is returning to feminist theorising from the 1970s and 1980s. From July 30th to August 1st 2017 we brought multiple generations of feminists – some grounded in political ecology and others in labour (and some in both) – into two days of informal, experimental, interdisciplinary conversation in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia.

While these discussions were structured across a number of different themes, one orienting set of questions focused on the insides and outsides of capitalism. That is: how should we think about the relationship between capitalism and its “others”? Is there a true “outside” to capitalism – a space beyond the reach of capitalism, which we can turn toward and expand in order to resist capitalism? The answer has significant political implications. If, as Gidwani and Wainwright (2014: 47) argue, “everything is bathed in capital’s particular illumination or lies in a relationship of structural causality to it”, then where shall we find transformative alternatives to it, whether these are an “after-capitalism”, “against capitalism” or “within capitalism”? We asked three of the workshop participants: Vinay Gidwani, Cindi Katz and Neferti Tadiar, to take up these questions in a conversation facilitated by Anne Bonds, Juliane Collard and Jess Dempsey. The result is presented below as an edited transcript of the session.

All present expressed hesitancies with the framing. As Neferti Tadiar notes, we too run the risk of coding the world in ways that make it more amenable to the forces of production in capitalism and, as workshop participant Kendra Strauss suggests, the categories inside/outside can dangerously “restabilize capitalism as a coherent ‘Thing’”. This is no small quibble as the category of outside has been and continues to be productive for capitalist hegemony. Generations of feminists have pointed to the powerful effects of delineating the household or the reproductive sphere as non-capitalist. And as Vinay Gidwani points out below, delineation of the “non-West” as non-capitalist or outside replays Eurocentric origin stories.

Yet there is something to the notion of the outside that can be conceptually and politically productive, and this is examined in different ways in the transcribed conversation that follows. We add to this an observation about the conversational format itself, which could be thought of as a genre somewhat outside the expected academic text. The sociality of the occasion seemed to provoke the three main conversationalists to bring to the fore the outsides of their intellectual labour, disrupting the norms of what is typically inside and outside of published intellectual work. They extend our thinking about the politics of citational practices by noting that who we are in conversation with also builds comparative sites into our theorising. In sharing their rich intellectual genealogies they make clear a core feminist point: that is, we are nourished through others’ work.

There were productive tensions within the conversation, and one of the most striking pivoted around whether to frame what might be excessive to capitalism through space or time. “Outside” is clearly a spatial metaphor. Neferti Tadiar, self-identifying as a literature and humanities scholar, reoriented our thinking about what might be excessive to or remaindered from capitalism as missed temporal moments, with political possibility imaginable through recognition of multiple simultaneous temporalities. She finds hope in the musical concept of rubato, as a kind of stolen time. She ventured that temporality offers a less static way of imagining the dynamic embrace of inside and outside. Whether this reframing replays notions of space as container, which have been the focus of so much critique by geographers, is an open question worthy of further consideration.

Nerferti’s exchange with Kate Derickson helpfully disentangled two distinctive ways of thinking with time: as non-synchronicity and simultaneous temporalities that might create openings, and as eventfulness (Berlant 2011). But as Cindi Katz suggests here, feeling “doomy” in the present is not unrelated to heterotemporality. Experiencing our present time as an absolute limit globally, as a time of absolute (rather than relative) surplus populations and an unsurvivable future, is also bound up with new experiences of time and space. The eventfulness of the present in all of its doominess – the possibility of experiencing capitalism’s deepest inside, that of absolute destruction (to follow Cindi Katz) – underlines the significance of the sessions’ orienting questions and the urgency of thinking beyond capitalism.

The conversation also provides a snapshot into ways of doing feminist political economy. Central is a refusal to choose scales, and an insistence that the intimate and global are inseparable, and the micro and macro fold into each other. There is a commitment to the tempos and patterns of everyday life, yes, but also a refusal to see these as somehow only as the everyday. The conversation did not shy away from theorizing “big” global political economy (destabilizing the unfortunate association of feminist method with attention to the particular, or conceiving feminist analysis as a kind of “add on”: the last week of the syllabus). As Neferti states, gender and sexuality structure international political economy and state policy, and recent works by feminists like Lisa Lowe and Leanne Simpson lay such a point bare in showing how sexuality shapes colonial-capitalist practices all the way down.

And so to the conversation.

Jessica Dempsey and Geraldine Pratt
University of British Columbia
May 2019

*         *         *

Vinay Gidwani (University of Minnesota): Let me begin by saying that the start of my entry into feminist scholarship has been through agrarian studies, which has been a substrate for and informed everything since. The feminist scholarship that informed me includes the work of Jane Guyer, Gill Hart, Judith Carney, Maria Mies but also people in this room. The agrarian question has always been about theorizing the outside of capitalist social relations, specifically trying to unpack how capitalist social relations have sought to transform agrarian social relations that constitute in many ways the “frontier”, the extra-capitalist territory (Gidwani 2004). Much of this theorizing has focused on the different registers in which the agrarian thwarts the desires of Capital to subsume non-capitalist relations into its ambit. So, the agrarian question right away has strong resonances with feminist theorizing that also tries to see these other realms of production – within the household, for instance – that are simultaneously vital to the reproduction of capitalism and pose (or seem to pose) a kind of jeopardy to capitalist social relations, partly because they betoken different forms of sociality and different forms of value that are not always beholden to capitalist value. And so on. It’s in this way that I first came to feminist scholarship. And then the other seam of writing that has informed my thinking is labor studies. There again the agrarian question and feminist scholarship has come together for me in thinking about what I, in collaboration with Anant Maringanti and latterly Priti Ramamurthy, been calling “infrastructural work”, which is to say work that carries the double sense of “infra-”, that is, both besides the sightlines (and often de-valorized) but also work that is at the same time absolutely essential to providing the kind of infrastructure for life as we know it – particularly, for capitalist social relations to produce and reproduce (Gidwani and Maringanti 2016; Ramamurthy and Gidwani 2018). There are many other influences, but I would say those are the instances of feminist Marxist work and agrarian studies that I keep returning to.

Cindi Katz (The Graduate Center, CUNY): I’ve been interested in social reproduction since tenth grade. I didn’t call it that, but it was then that I did a study of collective childcare. Soon after, I visited a friend in college who was part of a women’s liberation collective, and I returned to high school with dozens of pamphlets, many of which focused on questions of social reproduction and women’s work. Following on these radical pamphlets and interventions, my influences around social reproduction were Marxist feminists, most notably Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa: that pivotal pink book that changed my life and thinking (Dalla Costa and James 1972). And although I didn’t call it “agrarian studies”, my earlier work was on development, theories of development and underdevelopment. Bridget O’Laughlin and Jane Guyer and the feminist agrarian studies people were influential to me as well. And I realize in listening to Vinay that this work had such easy resonance for me because of the ways it dovetailed with feminist theories of and against capitalism.

I was in graduate school with Julie Graham and Kathie Gibson, before their authorial fusion as J.K. Gibson-Graham. We were in this Marxist-Feminist group. We were Marxist Feminists. And other people in the group were just Marxists. We had this ongoing conversation about what’s missing in value theory, what’s missing in political economic theory, what’s missing when you just talk about labor and value and don’t talk about social reproduction. And we divided into three reading groups: one was focused on value theory, one on oppressed groups, and one I can’t remember. But all the women showed up in “oppressed groups” and all the guys were in “value theory”. And it spoke volumes! But at least we had each other, and that was fabulous.

My work is also about culture and play. So Benjamin has been influential to me about the mimetic faculty, and how to imagine something that is reproduced or repeated but not as the same.[1] I want to add that I feel influenced by both Neferti and Vinay. It’s really going to sound sappy but your work on excess and waste is so important to me in thinking differently about how to transform exploitive and oppressive social relations of production and reproduction.

Neferti Tadiar (Barnard College): I don’t want to turn this into a lovefest but… It’s really important to me: whose work feeds my work and also gives comparative sites to think with. Your thinking of your different sites is extremely important: play, waste, these are all important categories for me.

I’m trained as a literature person, not in political economy. So I would say much of the influence was, for me, postcolonial feminism. So you know the usual names. Gayatri Spivak was extremely important to me in thinking about subalternity, as was the Subaltern School as a group. This was extremely important for me for thinking what an outside looks like. Dipesh Chakrabarty particularly, with the understanding of the time of the gods and the time of labor, and for trying to understand moments within the subsumption of Capital that weren’t fully exhausted by the processes of capitalist –either real or formal – subsumption.

Marxist feminists? Women: The Last Colony: that is a really important work for me (Mies et al. 1988). Maria Mies and Claudio von Werlhof. And also Veronica Bennholdt-Thompson whose thinking about violence was pivotal for me. And Rosa Luxemburg. I have to say, thinking about non-capitalist strata and imperialism seems to be an abiding question for me – not in a static structural way, but in a dynamic kind of way. Not as territories but as missed temporal moments in a continuous subsumption of what we do. To me, once it is transformed into a temporal understanding, the dynamism of this Outside and the paradox of its being inside and outside all the time becomes clearer. It generates a whole rubric for looking for where those spaces might be, and also for looking at the intertwining of the insides and outsides everywhere.

The other influence is Black Feminism. Black Feminists on the question of reproduction, on the question of race, on the question of the flesh, on the question of the establishment of a very specific kind of gender economy that wasn’t necessary available or was itself a very imperial logic that was part of capitalist expansion. This removes the gender question or shifts the gender question in very important ways. And that goes with the postcolonial feminists as well. Both require us to consider how “gender” can itself be the effect and instrument of slavery and colonialism as ways of organizing social life beyond their assumed historical moments. It asks us to interrogate our own understanding of “gender” and to probe the social and geopolitical bases for our such critical epistemological categories (which might very well serve to occlude or reinforce racist and imperial ends).

As a person in literature and a person in the humanities, philosophically, Benjamin has been very important, and also Deleuze and Guattari: desiring production. My first book was called Fantasy-Production (Tadiar 2004). I don’t talk about Deleuze and Guattari in the entire book, but “fantasy production” is an ode to desiring-production in Anti-Oedipus. What I got from that was the question of coding, the question of figurative forces. Again as a humanities person, I don’t see things as positive realities. There are all these figurative forces at work. Spivak illuminated this to me as well: her understanding that agents were always coding as capitalism was de-coding. And so the way to think about outsides, for me, is also to think about our own literacy and the codes that people use; and to see the figurative codes of capitalism themselves as forces of production. So codes have always been important to me. Gender and sexuality to me are codes, dominant codes that structure international political economy, that structure state policy in things that don’t even mention women. To bracket “gender” and “sexuality” – to see them as codes in the same way we see money as code and value as code – then this increases the array of places where you see other codes. In many ways, much of my work has been looking for the coding of these activities that then get subsumed by capitalism and nationalist processes but still manage to exceed the coding. The coding itself can be a form of subsumption. This puts the responsibility on us not to recode everything in ways that become understandable to capitalist logic.

Vinay: The question of inside and outside is a question that I have had to confront especially in my earlier work on agrarian transformations. Part of the way in which I was thinking about this was to look at the kinds of logics that are heterogeneous to Capital but upon which Capital is parasitic in trying to achieve its project of subsumption. I was also thinking carefully about historical moments of articulation and dis-articulation and the ways in which these trajectories exhibit moments where certain logics that are heterogeneous to the logic of capital articulate with it in ways that are sometimes synergistic and at other times – as part of their articulation – come to thwart in unexpected ways the trajectories of capital. I thought, for instance, about the articulation of caste and class logics. And how class formation was affected by certain kinds of caste norms, where women were figured into certain types of social relations as part and parcel of promoting class differentiation in Western India, where I was studying agrarian transformation.

But I also looked at how these same logics of class and patriarchy came to pose a kind of force that thwarted the normative logic of accumulation that we associate with Capital. And here I was partly informed by the old “modes of production” debates that were conducted in the pages of Economy and Society and elsewhere back in the 1970s.[2] But also in India there were all kinds of debates from the late 1960s until the mid-1970s about the transition, or lack thereof, from feudalism to capitalism. Several of the scholars who participated in the modes of production debate were influenced by a thicker, more open-ended reading of Althusser, and in particular Althusser’s thinking about articulation as involving Capital structuring in dominance other elements as part of an articulated structure that we would call a “social formation”. This articulation is a relationship of contingent necessity, but the flipside is the necessity of contingency: there are always contingencies that create unexpected openings. This was explored by several scholars in interesting ways: Harold Wolpe in the context of South Africa; Jairus Banaji, who has done seminal work in agrarian studies, in the context of India. One of the interesting and prescient ways that Banaji was thinking about this was to say: many of the elements that we consider as essential ingredients of “capitalism” (for instance, money, property, wage labor, property, and so on) precede capitalism. That’s the key point in trying to think about what it is that makes these debates Eurocentric in nature. The founding of capitalism is thought to originate (in that sort of schematic way) in Western Europe, when in fact you can see instances in social relations that have some resemblance to capitalist social relations in many different space-times. This is I think also the point that Gibson-Graham are trying to make. In some ways we feel trapped partly because we feel there is such a totality that there is no way to step outside. There is no wiggle room. Everything gets interpellated or gets subsumed into the logic of Capital.

Without being naïve about it, I felt there always is wiggle room. The work that I’ve been doing with Priti Ramamurthy: we’re looking at the life-making practices of migrants who work in India’s informal economies, trying to understand how even in dire circumstances there’s always an effort to fabricate a life that is meaningful for habitation in space and time. This is also present in work that Cindi has done or in Neferti’s whole idea of “remaindered lives”. And there are other ways that this may be taken up. The corollary of this is the non-human. I’ve always been interested in the nature question, which has been part and parcel of agrarian studies scholarship. Nature, like the peasant, in some ways represents something that is heterogeneous to the logic of capital. And so capital tries to subsume nature through biotechnology, through the Green Revolution, through all kinds of technological-organizational maneuvers to bring it to its own Being. And yet, at the same time, there’s a way in which these logics of the non-human continue to thwart the desires of Capital. And in my work on waste economies in urban India, the question inevitably emerges of how to think of waste simultaneously as something that is recuperated into circuits of value by waste-pickers, who are trying to make a livelihood, and as something that cannot be fully interned and poses jeopardy to a certain kind of regime of urban capitalism as we know it.

Cindi: My work is also concerned with waste: the figure of the child as waste and with it the broader anxiety around wasted resources, wasted time, wasted people, and then waste management, which is their recuperation as a profit center for capitalism. In this sense, waste management for capitalism encompasses the management of anxiety and insecurity about the future, which for me hits on social reproduction and the political ecological future, the geopolitical future, the political economic future, for which we have many reasons to feel anxious or insecure. It’s hard to address these great questions on their own grounds and in their own registers because of their immensity and how hard they are to face let alone manage, and so people’s response is to manage something. I have been interested in how people manage childhood and children and everyday life as a way to get through these anxious insecure impasses, which then removes their insecurities from the political economic sphere (or as a social question). Other people “manage” through other strategies: they manage space, they manage their bodies. For me, it’s about managing childhood, as opposed to some sort of political or social mobilization to address the sorts of insecurities I’m pointing to here. So I’m really interested in questions about the future; about how survival becomes retractable into something that I call “childhood spectacle”, that produces the child as an accumulation strategy, as a commodity, as ornament, and as waste.

I didn’t say this before: I also have been influenced by the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies as well as Althusser’s concept of the mode of production, which was different from the base/superstructure model. The question for me is about the cultural forms and practices of capitalism. I have always been interested in how people do everyday life. That kind of thinking connects with children’s lives and everyday lives of social reproduction. And I hate to say this, but I mean it: I don’t think anything is outside of capitalism, though subsumption is always a struggle. I think things precede capitalism and persist. It’s dialectical to think that there’s all kinds of reservoirs within these hideous relations of production and social reproduction that have the power to transform it.

The area that feels recuperative right now is around the working day and transforming what the working day is in the 21st century in a differentiated global economy. The working day is not a homogenous thing. It’s not the same in rural India or urban India or anywhere else.
This connects to the panic about the future: the idea that there is not enough work or perhaps more accurately, employment. There is also a liberatory possibility in this; we don’t all need to work to death. Even while we have people with multiple jobs working to death sometimes barely to scrape by while other people can’t find jobs, we still hold to this old capitalist notion of the working day of eight hours, the 40-hour week, factory time. Marx’s idea that “disposable time” is a reservoir for doing something differently, for having time to play, to be creative, to fish, to imagine a world in which death is not the driving force – pace Freud. That there is a way to live in and across class, across nation: to live differently. I know this sounds utopian. But I think it’s hard to see when we’re
caught up in the frame that capitalism offers. And capitalism actually 
offers a way to imagine labor and life differently if we can refract
 the lens in which we see ourselves positioned and where we see others: children, non-humans, people in other parts of the world from wherever we are situated.

Neferti: This question of disposable time – but also the waste of time that Cindi takes up – is also of great interest to me. The kind of times that are disciplined in order to be productive; the outside being the waste. I agree that’s not exactly the outside, because waste is the byproduct of capital. But at the same time, I want to hold on to the idea that what capital also does is to produce outsides. At certain moments of development, it can designate certain practices and spheres of activity inefficient or harmful to the greater social good (itself!), and therefore better eliminated. And it can and does impel forms of reaction, defense, alteration, and negation of its conditions, which might develop into new, external forms that capital now must confront or find new ways to subsume. It’s the production of capitalism, so it’s not really an outside. But then it becomes less of an intrinsic quality of the thing than a positional one: “what outsides are produced by capitalism and in what way?” and “what is the status of that and what can it do?”

This question of capitalism’s duree has started to make me think about the long duree. I’ve been reading much longer histories of what’s going on. It’s starting to make me wonder about who subsumed whom? And when? Once you start getting into deep time, then it does make you wonder: “well, is there more to refract here about what’s going on?” And I’m not yet prepared to answer those questions because that’s the future thinking back, but it does come from the “modes of production” debate. The modes of production debate when asked in a long duree starts to open new questions.

So two things: one, I think there is a dynamic structural role to the use of these outside spaces. And secondly, the duration in which we tell our stories and in what units may change.

I cannot see things anymore in terms of subjects. I mean “subjects” to me are just a brief moment of, you know, the “capitalists” as the bearer of capital. So there are these subjects who go around in these ephemeral moments as command points, but they are not the units, the movers of the things I think about. And that has to do with revising the resolution of what we are able to see, once we move away from more humanist, humanistic vocabulary and a humanistic lens that goes for me thinking with the non-human.

***Discussion opened to workshop participants***

Kate Derickson (University of Minnesota): Questions of time and temporality have come up repeatedly. Is there something about this moment in the context of climate change or the Anthropocene, is there something about the contemporary conjuncture that invites us to think about time in new and different ways?

Marion Werner (University at Buffalo, SUNY): And added to this: I’ve been thinking about what the hetero-temporal means when put together with the hetero-spatial. Can we pick up on the question of time and whether the mistemporal – the hetero-temporal – is part of this question of outsides?

Neferti: Let me just say really quickly: time is a very old question. Theorists like Ernst Bloch posed important questions of non-synchronicity. Then everything got spatial with postmodernism. There are two things going on, at least for me. First, I grew up in a town in Northern Philippines, in an agricultural place and therefore the time I have experienced in my own life has been extremely accelerated. You just go to the “Third World” and the non-synchronicity and the temporal simultaneity of things is there at every moment. So I don’t think it’s a fad. I think there always has been an abiding feeling like: “It fits but doesn’t quite fit!” All the questions of periodization: my whole being militates against the notion of the “now”. What does that mean: the now? Is your “now” the same as my “now”? And I don’t want that to be a subjective question. That’s a real modes-of-production question, like this is conjuncture! The thing about the Third World is that you’re always forced to modify the big forms that people are giving you. This is where we are: “But wait! Not quite. Maybe.” You’re always tweaking, tweaking, tweaking.

But then, in thinking with the current moment – having said all that! – thinking with the current moment, I think there’s an absolute limit that we are hitting globally. I was in the Philippines this summer. One can very well be a relativist about the kinds of hardship that people have. But precisely having grown up in the Philippines, having had my childhood there, there is a subjective feeling in me that we are really reaching an absolute increase in hardship. I mean not relative. I mean an absolute – I don’t know how to put it – an absolute moment where we are hitting the limits of capitalist exploitation. And so that’s why I think time is also really important. Not time by itself obviously. Space and time.

Cindi: Part of the experience of the absolute limits – the separation of wealth and poverty and the unlimited limits of wealth accumulation and the absolute limits of poverty – is formed by the way time-space works now. They are palpable in a broader frame because people are connected across different kinds of spaces, even in remote villages. For me, who worked in a rural village in Sudan where there was no electricity and certainly no phones, where I went someplace four hours away to try and make a phone call once and failed. It’s unimaginable to me that people have cell phones in those kinds of places and know things that are happening in different time-spaces. I think there’s something to what both of you are saying. The horizon of global climate change produces a sense of the future that’s quite “doomy” and incomprehensible in the scope of consequences. But, at the same time, there’s an immediacy of time that makes people know their poverty in relation to something else. People experience poverty in the deepest ways, but now they experience poverty in the deepest ways and know that it’s not just one wealthy person in the village but mad wealth all over the world. So there’s something about that simultaneity and this horizon that feels like we may not get over it; that really has transformed time and space.

Jess Dempsey: You both sound a little bit like eco-Marxists making a case that these are limits outside capitalism: like death, the planet burning up.

Cindi: I think that’s the deepest inside: that’s capitalism and its limit is destruction. That’s where we have to work. The destroying of the means of production, the land, resources, labor power, the labor force. The scale at which it is happening is raising the deepest questions of survivable futures. I don’t think that’s outside capitalism.

Vinay: Well, it erodes capitalist relations of life. It erodes its own relations of possibility, going back to James O’Connor and others. But such erosions can also become the possibility for a new kind of frontier for capitalist markets and opportunities. In the case of some of the work that I’ve done on waste, for instance, waste comes as a byproduct of a certain mode of consumerism that is anchored to urban capitalism. At the same time, it becomes a kind of common resource that allows certain kinds of livelihoods to thrive. But also it becomes a new kind of profit opportunity for capitalist entrepreneurs who are now trying to privatize waste management in cities. So there are questions to be asked about an outside. One is the question of: “Is there an outside that is outside capitalism?” And the other is: “What are the outsides that are inside capitalism?”

Many of you are familiar probably with the work of Kalyan Sanyal. His principal argument is: “Look. There is no outside. Let’s just do away with these sorts of narratives. And simply think in terms of the noncapitalist outside that is produced as a consequence of capitalist production.” And he then poses questions about: “What kind of issues do non-capitalist outsides raise in terms of politics?” “Does it actually betoken new possibilities?” “Does it require a departure from conventional politics?” This is partly because non-capitalist outsides are identified with a vast subset of informal economies, which are no longer able to be absorbed into the accumulation economy of capital. For him this is not any more a “reserve army” for capital. These are an absolute surplus population, as opposed to a relative surplus population. But then again, as Priti Ramamurthy and I have discussed, there are certain kinds of blindspots in Sanyal’s own thinking. He has nothing to say about gender. He has nothing to say about caste. You can keep drilling for outsides of the outside.

Neferti: There are outsides that are produced by Capital, as inspired product, and there are outsides posited by Capital, one of which is the future. And so they borrow on the future. This is I think one of the limits internal to Capital. You know Capital has to set limits and it overcomes them because that’s the way it works. And so the limit is internal to Capital and to see the limit only as an outside that is not also posited by Capital is to miss something. Which again is another reason for the time issue because the desperation of capitalist accumulation right now – and it is very desperate – is built on colonizing futures. It’s built on the variability and contingencies of time. Like waste, a new industry is building on the things that were supposed to be controlled and no longer are. This then becomes a new sphere of the market. In terms of what’s not posited by Capital – what’s not produced as byproduct of Capital – those to me would be considered as outsides. Whether or not there are such things as outsides, I think that’s something to think about. But you can’t think about the outsides without thinking of the limits that Capital itself posits and where it goes for its next round of accumulation.

I think the planet though will survive. I think the question is whether capitalism will survive. And that’s worth asking. In terms of political limits, that to me is the question: “When and how do we reach political limits and how politics can come out of that?”

Miranda Joseph (University of Minnesota): I question whether the inside or outside debate is valuable at this point and I am wondering about it in relation to other sets of terms. Is the outside just a metaphor for contradiction or antagonism? Would there be political language for talking about what we’re hoping for. For me, inside/outside is a binary that immediately self-deconstructs. The attempt to create an outside is a project of purification, which is something that is immediately violent and problematic. So I don’t like that setup. It seems to be a stand-in for a moment when, where, somehow there could be an opposition galvanized or an alternative imagined or something like that.

Kendra Strauss (Simon Fraser University): The framing of inside/outside – and this is not original to me: it’s Gibson-Graham – does the work of restabilizing capitalism as a coherent “Thing”. The project of capitalism is always about its own coherence and the myth of its coherence. Because it’s mythical (in a sense), this is what produces the moments of resistance that we are talking about and the contradictions that are generative of that resistance. So the question of inside and outside is not helpful, because in political struggles, specifying inside and outside tends to be a process of purification. It is exactly what excludes and denigrates particular kinds of politics over others. I don’t have any solution to that, but I think if there is something that we should be attentive to or use Gibson-Graham for, it’s to constantly hold in tension the question of how capitalism’s coherence is reasserted and when it is undermined.

Jess: Whether you frame it as a binary or not, I think in all your work you’re trying to trouble or unsettle or get at these places or moments where something otherwise might have emerged. So I think it’s aligned with an organizing moment when a whole group of people realize that they hold the power in their hands to make change. I think about production and reproduction and the work that feminists have done to refuse that separation. This idea of inside and outside mirrors it but tries to push towards the kind of political searching that people have, looking for something that is not entirely determined by Capital.

Neferti: I think that accurately captures the process of all our work. But in response to Miranda, part of the reason that I come to the concept of remaindered life is precisely to get away from contradiction. Contradiction was not a good category; it’s like a machine for folding back into the thing. And so “remaindered life”, to me, is not an inside outside. Remaindered life is not the Outside. There’s always a moment of splitting and there’s always a moment of remaindering, which is not the same as contradiction. And that’s where I’m seeking the micro/macro interface [raised earlier by one questioner]. Because this is a point one can only see in a very micro way – the things that are remaindered – the forms of remaindered life. But that’s actually important. It’s the interface of the Macro. It’s to get to that moment when you see that it’s interfaced with larger structures that it becomes a political question. But it’s not because it’s a moment of contradiction. It’s not that I don’t think the dialectic works but the dialectic is also kind of myth of our own: the myth of capitalism. It’s not as if that doesn’t work, that’s not what’s going on. It’s one of these material myths. It’s kind of like real abstraction. It’s like a real force.

Jaleh Mansoor (University of British Columbia): But don’t you mean by the words “inside” and “outside” each time you’re redefining “nature” in what it may or may not be as a problem in metabolics? How, if you didn’t have those kind of provisional binaries, how would you redefine terms that have been ossified and reified for far too long- like “nature”?

Sara Nelson (University of British Columbia): It seems what you have all offered is this understanding of the “outside” as not external to capitalism but always implicated in it. And I think that’s where the difference between thinking the outside as a kind of relation of Capital with alterity, and the otherwises on which it depends and that it produces, is different than positing the outside as a basis for politics that we can be secure in and that gives us some kind of moral ground. That anxiety about “Are we being co-opted?” is what I find troubling in some political organizing. So if we are thinking the outside in a particular way, that would seem to imply a certain way of understanding the conditions for politics.

Neferti: I just want to add very quickly on that point about the process of purification and thinking cooptation. I find that to be a very American Puritanical relationship actually. I don’t think it’s necessarily intrinsic to Marxist questions.

Cindi: Somehow in this discussion the metaphor that came to me was that capitalism is like this Möbius strip. There’s this outside and the inside but the deep inside of what social reproduction is has the power to explode the outside, if it is to remake life in different ways. Again, I know I’m sounding utopian, but I do think if we don’t think it’s possible, capitalism in extremis is going to destroy the world. Or human life. The planet will be here. But that deep inside – and we haven’t talked about love or care – of what is a different kind of social relation that capitalism poaches upon to get free labor, to get a labor force, to get social formations that somehow participate in their own devastation. But if we look at that as an arena of response that is not… I love the idea of the global and the intimate – that the intimate is always already global and there are intimacies everywhere that can be connected somehow (Pratt and Rosner 2012). I think there are ways to make those connections to undo some of the social relations, to really say: “We’re not participating in this – this form.” And I know there are formidable forces arrayed against the successes of that project, but that’s one place where the power to transform things resides – in the practices of everyday life. It’s in that kind of making of social life and culture, and social beings who might understand themselves in relation to social relations of production and world-making differently. The site of play is where to me the Benjaminian idea of the mimetic faculty is so compelling. That you can think in play – and not just in children’s play. It’s a world-making project. That’s what play is. “I’m going to be a fire engine.” And for one minute, I’m being a fire engine. Or “I’m going to be a fairy” or “I’m going to be a tree”. In that playful imaginative realm, we have a glimmer that we make our lives. We don’t have to keep making them in this shitty way. And that is a kind of reservoir in all of us who were children once, which I think is most of you [laughter]. Some of us are still children or childlike in the best sense. That imaginative space-time in us is palpable in politics. I sometimes think we go about political organizing all wrong because we don’t find the kind of world we want to make. You know, you just kind of think who you want to kill! Rather than, how can we make? We have to reimagine ourselves as beings who have world-making agency.

John Paul Catungal (University of British Columbia): Sounds like a lot of queer people of color theory to me, actually. There’s the idea of thinking about the possibilities of performing something else and otherwise into being. This is partly what drag does, right? And so some of the work I’m thinking with on futurity – say José Esteban Muñoz and others – these are the kinds of radical political projects that certainly Muñoz has given me the vocabulary to think with. And it resonates quite a lot with your idea of play and the futurities that I think are possible if we think with that kind of idea of the future as horizon that already exists, in some ways.

Jess: One of the things that we thought people could think and talk about is these kind of visualizations.

Neferti: I have one but it’s not visual. It’s musical and I’ve used it before. It’s the concept of rubato, which is stolen time. This dilation of time when you’re playing music and instruction is rubato. And I find these ways that people dilate time important. But the dilation of time in rubato is again it’s not as if you changed the rhythm. It’s not as if you changing the tempo of anything, but that you steal time inside. And that becomes a space to me of possibility. Part of this comes with thinking about Chopin! It’s not that Chopin has a monopoly on this. If you look at non-Western music, the manipulability of time and the modulation of all the notes that don’t stick to tonality – the tonal system: that’s extremely important. So there are other cognates for thinking about this musically, not visually.

Priti Ramamurthy (University of Washington): Michelle Habell-Pallán and a group of students at the University of Washington – Martha Gonzalez, Iris Viveros Avendaño – have been using fandango as a way to embody space and time differently. The idea of fandango is that on a wooden platform everybody who joins in starts with a basic beat. But then there are variations of the beat. So you have to be part of a collectivity as well as keep time and space in mind as both changing and communally produced. And that’s again a way of thinking about the embodied production of a time and space that’s different from the ones we are usually caught up in.

Kendra: If we go back to production and reproduction, we still have the problem that reproduction is “outside”, and that love and care flow automatically from the relationships engendered by the sphere of social reproduction, when in fact a major contribution of feminists is to highlight the power dynamics inherent in reproductive activities. What’s interesting about play is that it problematizes the distinction between labor and non-labor, because playful activity is present in the way people labor as well as the way people reproduce themselves. For me that’s helpful, because the production-reproduction dialectic often still takes the sphere of production as its referent. We need something that allows us to do more – to problematize how those things are categorized as well as how they are co-constituted.

Vinay: But also the way in which we relate to other species: cats, dogs, parrots, and so on. There’s an element of play that comes into those relationships that’s often absent in our more kind of regulated relationships with humans.


[1] For Walter Benjamin, the mimetic faculty comes into play in seeing resemblances and creating similarities between things, but more than that, it is the flash of insight in the process that sparks a moment of invention; a realization that everything – even the original – is made up and might be made different (see Benjamin 1978; Taussig 1993).

[2] The earliest statement in this debate was by Harold Wolpe (1972), followed by articles in subsequent volumes by Barry Hindess, Paul Hirst, Claude Meillasoux, Etienne Balibar, Jairus Banaji, and others.


Benjamin W (1978) On the mimetic faculty (trans E Jephcott). In P Demetz (ed) Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (pp333-336) New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Berlant L (2011) Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press

Dalla Costa M and James S (1972) The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community. Bristol: Falling Wall

Gidwani V (2004) The Limits to Capital: Questions of provenance and politics. Antipode 36(3):527-542

Gidwani V and Maringanti A (2016) The waste-value dialectic: Lumpen urbanization in contemporary India. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 36(1):112-133

Gidwani V and Wainwright J (2014) On capital, not-capital, and development. Economic and Political Weekly 49(34):40-47

Mies M, Bennholdt-Thompson V and von Werlhof C (1988) Women: The Last Colony. London: Zed

Pratt G and Rosner V (eds) (2012) The Global and the Intimate: Feminism in Our Time. New York: Columbia University Press

Ramamurthy P and Gidwani V (2018) Toward a queer phenomenology of social reproduction. In M Werner, J Peck, R Lave and B Christophers (eds) Doreen Massey: Critical Dialogues (pp325-340). Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Agenda

Tadiar N X M (2004) Fantasy-Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New World Order. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press

Taussig M (1993) Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York: Routledge

Wolpe H (1972) Capitalism and cheap labour-power in South Africa: From segregation to apartheid. Economy and Society 1(4):425-456