Automatic Subjects

Gendered Labour and Abstract Life

In: Historical Materialism
Kevin Floyd Department of English, Kent State University

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Critical analysis of the biotechnological reproduction of biological life increasingly emphasises the role of value-producing labour in biotechnologically reproductive processes, while also arguing that Marx’s use of the terms ‘labour’ and ‘value’ is inadequate to the critical scrutiny of these processes. Focusing especially on the reformulation of the value-labour relation in recent work in this area by Melinda Cooper and Catherine Waldby, this paper both critiques this reformulation and questions the explanatory efficacy of the category ‘labour’ in this context. Emphasising the contemporary global expansion of capital relative to value-producing labour – specifically, the expansion of fictitious capital and debt on the one hand, and of global surplus populations on the other – it argues that this reformulation misrepresents the mediated capacities of capital as the immediate capacities of labour. This reformulation, moreover, is indicative of broader tendencies in the contemporary theorisation of labour, tendencies exemplified by autonomist Marxism.

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