by Nancy Fraser and Rahel Jaeggi
Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory takes a fresh look at the big questions surrounding the peculiar social form known as “capitalism,” upending many of our commonly held assumptions about what capitalism is and how to subject it to critique. Authors Nancy Fraser and Rahel Jaeggi show how, throughout its history, various regimes of capitalism have relied on a series of institutional separations between economy and polity, production and social reproduction, and human and non-human nature, periodically readjusting the boundaries between these domains in response to crises and upheavals. They consider how these “boundary struggles” offer a key to understanding capitalism’s contradictions and the multiple forms of conflict to which it gives rise.
What emerges is a renewed crisis critique of capitalism which puts our present conjuncture into broader perspective, along with sharp diagnoses of the recent resurgence of right-wing populism and what would be required of a viable Left alternative. This major new book by two leading critical theorists will be of great interest to anyone concerned with the nature and future of capitalism and with the key questions of progressive politics today.
Table of Contents
- Conceptualizing Capitalism
- Historicizing Capitalism
- Criticizing Capitalism
- Contesting Capitalism
Nancy Fraser on Socialism
James A. Chamberlain on Contemporary Political Theory wrote:
"The book is divided into four sections: conceptualizing capitalism, historicizing capitalism, criticizing capitalism, and contesting capitalism, all of which are presented in dialogue form, which is a good format not only for a book that claims to become clearer about how to approach 'capitalism' and how to reintegrate it within the horizon of contemporary critical theory, but also for the reader, who may more easily follow the main ideas of the two authors. Not only is theory presented in a more lively fashion, but the dialogue form also points to the idea of philosophizing as a non-solitary and social activity. [...] Overall, the authors discuss a large range of topics that are of importance for contemporary critical thought and the return to political economy. The far-reaching discussions include 1) core considerations of how to think about capitalism as a whole, 2) discussions related to gender, class, and race, 3) problematizing the scope of a critical approach to society, and 4), though less extensive, reflections on the transformation and change that is needed. [...] The main methodological struggle that the book tackles is clearly the problem of how to think sufficiently about social totality, the concept of which has plagued the entire Marxist tradition. [...] Not surprisingly, they propose an escape from the liberal framework via a transformation to a more participatory democratic socialism. As Jaeggi underlines, in contrast to the liberal critique of capitalism, critical theory must hold fast to the concept of social struggle and social transformation (123). [...] how the transition to 'democratic planning, participatory budgeting, or market socialism, combining ‘political’ and ‘economic’ forms of coordination' (173) is possible under current conditions, is unclear. [...] Overall, the reader of the book is left with more questions than answers."
"Nancy Fraser and Rahel Jaeggi lay out a bold agenda for a theoretical approach that, in their view, has become almost indistinguishable from liberalism (pp. 5–6). There are three main aspects of earlier iterations of critical theory that the authors reprise in this work. First, both thinkers engage in unabashed grand theorizing of capitalist society, whether the latter is understood as an ‘institutionalized social order’ (Fraser) or as a ‘form of life’ (Jaeggi). The picture of capitalism that emerges eschews its reduction to a purely economic system, and instead encompasses its social, political, and natural background conditions and entanglements. Second, as Benhabib (2018) has recently argued, a critical theory of society that builds on the legacy of the Frankfurt School needs to focus on crisis. Fraser and Jaeggi offer justsuch an analysis, beginning from the observation of a ‘pervasive sense that we are caught in the throes of a very deep crisis – a severe systemic crisis’ (p. 2), but also analyzing the more ‘objective’ crisis tendencies and contradictions of capitalism. Finally, deploying a phrase from Marx that is repeated throughout the book, the authors argue that critical theory aims to provide ‘self-clarification of the struggles and wishes of the age’ (p. 11). In light of the ‘widespread agreement that capitalism is (again) a problem’ (p. 2), and of the rise of right- and left-wing populist movements and parties around the world which signals the crumbling of neoliberalism’s legitimacy (p. 222), critical theory at its best can help social actors develop a clearer understanding of the conjuncture, including its latent emancipatory possibilities. [...] The scope of the project undertaken in this book inevitably leaves questions unanswered, although its conversational format and the fact that Fraser and Jaeggi do not agree on every detail means that a number of objections are raised and answered."
Interview with Nancy Fraser
About Nancy Fraser and Rahel Jaeggi
Nancy Fraser is Henry A. & Louise Loeb Professor of Political & Social Science at the New School for Social Research
Rahel Jaeggi is Professor of Practical Philosophy at the Humboldt University of Berlin