Global judgements and ideas.

New materialism, political economy and the (re)productive body

Debates in New Materialisms III: New materialism, political economy and the (re)productive body.

Conference for Socialist Economists (CSE) and Critical Political Economy Research Network (CPERN)

Hosted by Dr Phoebe Moore and the Social Policy Research Centre

Keynote speakers: Jeffrey Harrod and Daniela Tepe Belfrage

Location: Middlesex University, London. Hendon Town Hall, Committee Room 2.
Date: 7 April 2017 (Friday).

Plenary sessions: David Bailey, Ruth Cain, Paul Cammack, Athina Karatzogianni, Eleonore Kofman, Phoebe Moore, Andrew Robinson, Alison Winch

Publication adviser: Magnus Ryner


Contact organiser Phoebe Moore for more details p.moore at

Organising assistant: Tommaso Ramella TR329 at

This will be a Conference for Socialist Economists event with joint hosting from the Critical Political Economy Research Network. The first of these three debates was held at Westminster with David Chandler et al, see its report here. The second event was held at Kingston University on 29th September, organised by Helen Palmer.

‘New Materialism, political economy and the (re)productive body’ will be the third and final event in this series.

The purpose of this third workshop is to revisit the debates in new or neomaterialism in the area of global political economy that started with Jeffrey Harrod’s piece ‘The Global Poor and Global Politics: Neomaterialism and the Sources of Political Action’ in the much read text Poverty and the Production of World Politics edited by Matt Davies and Magnus Ryner.

Since this text, also in the area of global political economy, Paul Cammack, Greig Charnock  and Marcus Taylor wrote on debates in new materialism from a Marxist perspective and Nicola Smith and Donna Lee wrote about debates on corporeal capitalism. Feminist research in new materialism is found in the work of Rosi Braidotti, Iris van der Tuin, Felicity Colman and others. Overall the shift in foci to the body, production and reproduction, ontology, capitalism, gender, quantification and nature have revived questions of materiality that are being discussed across critical areas of research. We see that a range of ‘turns’ are occurring: the corporeal, affective and ontological turns.

Our Debates in New Materialisms III event will revive questions of the political economy of new materialism given the new world of production and consumption we now live in. What is at stake for international political economy in the corporeal, affective and ontological ’turns’? Why are we seeing these ‘turns’ now? Is it because of intensified pressures after the economic crisis to compete or to survive? Is it because austerity drives people to bare life and exacerbates working and living conditions and politicises us to a new level? Where is gender in the historical materialist renewal and discussions of new materialism? Have new technologies in workplaces intensified both management techniques and production processes in a way that violently abstracts the body from the mind? Are we questioning capitalism in new ways and considering new forms of political action and what does this mean for ‘bodies at work’? What are the practical and philosophical problem of assigning agency in digital networks and new spaces of dissent? Is the return to discussions of immanent, transcendental and materialist approaches a sign that we are querying Cartesian ontologies still pervading research in global political economy that place mind as dominant over the body and matter?

Presentation abstracts:

Daniela Tepe Belfrage ‘The New Materialism: Re-claiming a Debate from a Feminist Perspective’

The debate on the New Materialism in International Relations (IR) has significant implications for feminist analyses. In this article, we re-claim the term through a re-engagement with feminist (historical) materialist thinking, in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007/8 and ongoing austerity measures in the United Kingdom (UK), in which poverty has a ‘gendered face.’ Following Nancy Fraser, we argue that while feminist analysis must pay due regard to the ideational and the discursive, materialist analysis is being side-lined in the current debate. At the same time, the debate on New Materialism in Marxist forums, which claims to elucidate the consequences for the poor and dispossessed left behind or adversely impacted by developments in the 21st century, has also neglected gender. Consequently, this variant of the New Materialism does not provide a complete picture of what neoliberalism and austerity looks like. We contend that any debate on New Materialism debate needs to generate an adequate theory of social relations, production, social reproduction and oppression, in order for its revival to be successful. Accordingly, using current austerity politics in the UK in illustration, we make the case for an expanded understanding of Materialism which casts light on the structuring principles of capitalist socialisation and which affords the social reproductive sphere equal analytical status as necessary to capture capitalist society.

Jeffrey Harrod ‘New Materialism: Conservative, Progressive and Practical Approaches’

This paper presents a special and perhaps not well-known form of materialism –the patterns of power in production – which I argue is a materialist approach but which differs substantially from many of the new materialisms.  The paper is divide into three parts 1) the intellectual, material and personal trajectory which resulted in the presentation of the approach and especially how it can be distinguished from other materialism especially rational choice and some formulations of Marxist materialism.  2) A presentation of the approach as a “neo-materialism” based on the motivation of dominant power for surplus generation found in all forms of human labour and production but unequally bolstered by supporting (and therefore non-material)  myths. Essentially the world labour force is divided by power criteria into forms or segments based on production and involves dominant core material motivations. The power-materialist approach to self-employment, casualization and household work is contrasted with conventional approaches as an illustration of the approach.[1]  3) How the approach has and can be used as a basis for explanation and change.  Some concluding remarks concerning the difficulty of any contemporary attempt – of which this approach was one – to change the parameters, embedded practices and procedures in nomenclature, categorisation and quantification in the social sciences.

[1] R.Cox, (1987) Production, Power, and World Order: Social Forces in the Making of History (Part 1) and J. Harrod (1987) Power,Production and the Unprotected Worker (New York, Columbia).   J. Harrod (2006) “The Global Poor and Global Politics Neo-materialism and the sources of political action” in M. Ryner and M. Davies(eds) Poverty and the production of World Politics:  Unprotected Workers in the Global Political Economy (Palgrave Macmillan p38-61)

Phoebe Moore ‘The (international) political economy of the quantified worker: new materialism and an invisible boss’

The paper outlines the history of work design and managerial ideologies which attempt to capture the labour process, from industrial betterment through to the contemporary period of the agility management system. But more specifically, I outline the political economy of the quantified self through looking at the cultural and affective turns that inform new materialism, as it has emerged in feminist poststructuralism and Marxist circles. I identify how/where my own discipline, International Political Economy (IPE) can benefit from a labour process informed new materialism which allows me to identify the new work design model I identify. In the article ‘The Quantified Self: What counts in the neoliberal workplace’ which I wrote with Andrew Robinson and published in 2016 in New Media and Society, we note that the rationale for the implementation of machines i.e. wearable technologies allowing tracking in workplaces, is based in an ontological commitment to a Cartesian dualism where the body and mind are portrayed as distinct entities, with little communication between the two. Feminist social reproduction theory is important for the argument that self-tracking reproduces capitalist subjectivities, if we accept that capitalism requires individualism, competitive behaviours and self-development for optimum productivity. Jarrett (2016) reveals how unpaid digital and domestic work, in usually unrecognized relations of production and very often conducted by women, serve to reproduce the dominance of capitalism, which is our contemporary global political economic model. Self-tracking is a form of digital labour on the one hand, because data that people’s bodies produce is profitable for corporations (Till, 2014; Moore and Piwek, 2016) but on the other, because processes of tracking whether self- or other-induced, subsume all areas of everyday life, mental and manual, emotional and affective. Self-tracking technology is typically designed to sit alongside the mind, as a reinforcer or a supporter of seeming already existing truths about the state of the mind. The mind is expected to take the lead for anything that happens to, or with the body. This is why the ‘big data’ generated and accumulated by sensory technology is heralded as the primary innovation in self and other-tracking technologies. The prioritisation of the interpretation of data detracts from the subjective experience of work and life outside of capitalist forms. Building on the work of Daniela Tepe-Belfrage in Capital & Class and others, I argue that a new materialist intervention is needed in IPE that puts the reproductive labour in self-tracking at the forefront of debates.

David J. BaileyOld Materialisms, New Materialisms, Same Problems? Does an Ontology of Difference cure Academic Irrelevance?’

The recent debate around old materialisms and new materialisms that has been played out in journals such as Historical Materialism, Millennium, Capital and Class, and in the volumes edited by Coole and Frost and Davis and Ryner, each hint at the problem of irrelevance that afflicts much of our academic endeavour. This irrelevance, the paper argues, reflects a dilemma that sits at the heart of the strategy adopted by radical academics situated within the institutions of the capitalist state. That is, we are faced with the option of being politically ineffective but institutionally secure, or politically relevant but institutionally marginalised and insecure. Both routes lead to a degree of irrelevance of one kind or another, of which we tend to be highly aware. Whereas the old historical materialism of Marxism seemed at times to seek to resolve this dilemma through recourse to the doctrine, “more critical thought needed”; the new materialisms have been accused of responding to the problem through either apolitical observations of ‘forces’ and ‘impulses’, or otherwise a fetishisation of the ‘everyday’. It is not easy, moreover, to see how these problems can be overcome. In an attempt to think how we might steer a course between these two poles of irrelevance, the paper draws on the work of Deleuze and his ontology of difference, which impels us: to map, not trace, both corporeal and philosophical developments and potentials; to be creative; and to amplify disruptive differences that always-already exist. Through a discussion of the contemporary British anti-austerity movement, the paper questions both whether this ontology of difference might be a better way for radical academics to be both in and against the capitalist state, enabling us to be politically effective without marginalisation or insecurity, and therefore cure longstanding problems of academic irrelevance; and whether this represents anything new or different at all in our attempt as radicals to ensure that (human) matter flourishes more.

Paul Cammack ‘A new materialist perspective on the physical and social relations of production and reproduction’

I see ‘new materialism’ as the application of classical Marxist analysis to the specific circumstances of the contemporary world, whose conspicuous feature, anticipated but not experienced by Marx, is the completion of the world market, or its assumption of genuinely global scope. As such, it is original not in its theoretical content, but only in the specific circumstances to which it is applied. As I argue that classical Marxism has all the resources needed to understand and critique every aspect of the social world, it is reasonable to ask me to show that it can offer an understanding and critique of gender relations within the capitalist mode of production. I do so in this paper, drawing not only on classical Marxist texts, but also on the work of key contributors to the ‘second wave’ of Marxist feminist writing, especially Juliet Mitchell, Veronica Beechey, Michele Barratt, Lise Vogel, Martha Gimenez and Antonella Picchio, all of whom in different ways began their analysis by examination of the the capitalist mode of production and the production and reproduction of labour power within it, differentiated between the ‘family’ and the ‘household’, and recognized that the forms of each changed in response to the changing character of capitalist accumulation in particular social formations. I critique the more recent literature on ‘social reproduction’, on the grounds that it falls into the empiricist trap of focusing on visible forms of oppression without analysing adequately the deeper structural determinants that shape them.

Ruth Cain, ‘Degeneration’ for the twenty first century: epigenetics and the ‘obesity time bomb’

The corporeal turn has emphasised the importance of body shape, size and fitness to neoliberal understandings of the responsible, self-regulating citizen. The fat person is presented as aesthetically ‘disgusting’, her body loaded with negative class and behavioural connotations: inefficiency, laziness, self-indulgence. The gender of the fat body matters, with fat women ridiculed, patronised and sexualised to a greater extent than fat men, who regularly hold positions of power., Recent medical research presents mothers’ obesity as a danger to the child from the point of conception. In public health policy terms this danger becomes a social threat, the ‘obesity time-bomb’. Recent discoveries have enhanced the scope of maternal responsibility for childhood obesity (as well as low intelligence, mental illness, emotional instability and a variety of other negative ‘outcomes’) by demonstrating that external factors (such as trauma, substance abuse and poor diet) can alter DNA at the epigenetic level. Thus we witness a mutation of the genetic determinism which informed twentieth-century eugenics: the human becomes plastic, DNA an editable text. With the state withdrawing from social obligations, epigenetic damage is individualised as a materialisation of maternal irresponsibility. I suggest that genetic anxiety, translating  fears of women and feminisation into images of a deteriorating human ‘stock’, recalls the late-Victorian rhetoric of degeneration- a cultural/biological malaise. Maternal/feminine corporeality is mistrusted, the untrustworthy mediator of a dangerous and tempting environment. Simultaneously, political will to ameliorate obesogenic structural factors dissipates in the face of relentless economic and cultural imperatives to maximise growth through consumption. Obesity thus becomes representative of broader socioeconomic decline and the ‘cancelled’ future.


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This entry was posted on July 22, 2016 by .
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