Automatic Subjects

Gendered Labour and Abstract Life

In: Historical Materialism

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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  • 3

    See, e.g., Cohen 2002; Scheper-Hughes 2002, 2005; Sunder Rajan 2006, 2012; Sunder Rajan (ed.) 2012; Vora 2008; Anagnost 2011; Cooper and Waldby 2014; Dumit 2012.

  • 4

    Cohen 2002, p. 13. On the role of debt as a motivator to sell or rent one’s biological material or capacity, see Scheper-Hughes 2002; Vora 2015.

  • 5

    Vora 2015, pp. 1–2.

  • 6

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 7.

  • 7

    Scheper-Hughes 2002.

  • 8

    Pande 2014, p. 7.

  • 9

    Vora 2015, p. 13.

  • 10

    Sunder Rajan 2012.

  • 11

    Anagnost 2011, p. 214.

  • 12

    Cooper 2008, p. 3.

  • 13

    Cooper and Waldby 2014.

  • 15

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 7.

  • 16

    Marx 1973, p. 100. The term population is most closely associated with the Foucauldian account of biopolitics.

  • 17

    Martin 2011.

  • 18

    Waldby and Mitchell 2006.

  • 19

    Pande 2014, p. 1.

  • 20

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 80.

  • 21

    Vora 2015, p. 9.

  • 22

    Vora 2012, pp. 694–5.

  • 23

    Vora 2012, p. 695. See also Dickenson 2007, pp. 58–9.

  • 24

    Cooper and Waldby 2010, pp. 5, 13.

  • 25

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, pp. 63, 72.

  • 26

    Waldby 2012, pp. 284–5.

  • 27

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 68.

  • 28

    Vora 2012, p. 683.

  • 29

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 105.

  • 30

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 18.

  • 31

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 32.

  • 32

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 228.

  • 33

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, pp. 85, 84; emphasis in original.

  • 34

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, pp. 84, 87.

  • 35

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 83.

  • 36

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 111. Sunder Rajan 2006 provides a detailed elaboration of contemporary biotechnology’s thorough conditioning by finance capital.

  • 37

    Cooper and Waldby 2010, p. 12.

  • 38

    Zeller 2008, p. 93.

  • 39

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, pp. 108, 107.

  • 40

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 114.

  • 41

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, pp. 113, 111.

  • 42

    Thacker 2005, pp. 104, 127.

  • 44

    Vora 2015, p. 31.

  • 45

    Adkins 2008, 2009.

  • 46

    Cooper and Waldby 2014, p. 6. See Lazzarato 2004; Fumagalli 2011.

  • 47

    Negri 1991, pp. 162–3.

  • 48

    Virno 1996, p. 270.

  • 49

    Witheford 1994, p. 95.

  • 50

    Hardt and Negri 2000, p. 385.

  • 51

    Postone 1993, p. 161.

  • 52

    Read 2003, pp. 76–7.

  • 53

    Read 2003, pp. 80, 136, 81.

  • 54

    Negri 2008, p. 13.

  • 56

    Endnotes 2010, p. 23.

  • 61

    Foster, McChesney and Jonna 2011, pp. 20–1.

  • 62

    Endnotes 2010, p. 32.

  • 63

    Marx 1973, p. 706.

  • 64

    Sassen 2000, pp. 518–19.

  • 65

    Chang 2000, p. 4.

  • 66

    Rosewarne 2012, p. 96.

  • 67

    Chang 2000, pp. 130–1; see also Sassen 2000, pp. 519–23.

  • 68

    See Dickenson 2007, p. 60.

  • 69

    Vora 2015, p. 3.

  • 70

    Foster, McChesney and Jonna 2011, pp. 25–6.

  • 71

    Standing 1999, p. 585.

  • 72

    Endnotes 2013, pp. 61–2. See also Vogel 2013; Scholz 2014.

  • 73

    Endnotes 2013, p. 76.

  • 74

    Standing 1999, p. 600.

  • 75

    Marx 1975, p. 327.

  • 76

    Sunder Rajan 2006; Cooper and Waldby 2014, pp. 159–94. For an enlightening journalistic account, see Shah 2006.

  • 77

    Scheper-Hughes 2005, pp. 145, 150. See also Cohen 2002; Scheper-Hughes 2002.

  • 78

    Anagnost 2011, p. 225.

  • 79

    Anagnost 2011, p. 226.

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