Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Capitalism / Socialism / Democracy

CAPITALISM / SOCIALISM / DEMOCRACY is an initiative that invites scholars to present work on democracy as it relates to capitalist, socialist, or other economic ideologies. It seeks to address the intellectual and political question of whether any discussion of democracy lacks reality if not connected to fundamental issues of economic organization. While some recognize commerce and markets as essential contributors, for good or ill, to the health of democratic societies, others ask whether we there are ways to remake our material lives that maintain, or even enhance, democratic participation.


The Next Shift: The Rise of the Health Care Workforce

GABRIEL WINANT discusses his new book, The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America. Although still primarily associated with the booming steel industry of the mid-twentieth century, Pittsburgh today has more hospitals than steel mills. Tracing the decline of steel through to the emergence of a thriving—but unpredictable and low paid—care economy, Winant’s history offers insight into not only the changing labor makeup of Pittsburgh but also the broader economic shifts throughout the country. Winant joins M. EDITH SKLAROFF to explore the changing face of the working class, the role of precarity throughout the history of labor, and the increasing importance of centering health care and other essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Work Won't Love You Back: How Capitalism Exploits Labors of Love

In her new book, Work Won't Love You Back, SARAH JAFFE explores the way we relate to work under the conditions of capitalism. From the unpaid intern to the professional athlete, Jaffe reveals the alienating ideology of "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." By unmaking the lie that work is defined and guided by passion, we can imagine more emancipatory futures where our lives are no longer dominated by waged labor and where we have the ability to explore our interests and loves outside an exploitative economic system. As part of the Andrea Mitchell Center's CAPITALISM/SOCIALISM/DEMOCRACY series, Jaffe joins M. EDITH SKLAROFF for a discussion of the "labor of love" myth and its role in perpetuating current economic and social relations.

The End of the 1951 Refugee Convention? Dilemmas of Sovereignty, Territoriality, and Human Rights

Seyla Benhabib (Yale University)
Read Prof. Benhabib's papere here.
Presented by the Mitchell Center and the Penn Political Theory Workshop

THE 1951 REFUGEE CONVENTION AND ITS 1967 PROTOCOL are the main legal documents governing the movement of refugee and asylum seekers across international borders. As the number of displaced persons seeking refuge has reached unprecedented numbers, states have resorted to measures to circumvent their obligations under the Convention. These range from bilateral agreements condemning refugees to their vessels at sea to the excision of certain territories from national jurisdiction. While socio-economic developments and the rise of the worldwide web have led to deterritorialization of vast domains of the economy and the media which enable them to escape from state control, territorial presence, whether on terra firma or on vessels at sea which are functional surrogates for territorial sovereignty, continues to be the basis for the entitlement to human and citizens’ rights. We are facing a dual movement of deterritorialization and territorialization at once, both of which threaten the end of the 1951 Convention. SEYLA BENHABIB presents an exercise in non-ideal theory which, nonetheless, has implications for a seminal question in ideal democratic theory as to how to define and justify the boundaries of the demos. If the demos refers to the constitutional subject of a self-determining entity in whose name sovereignty is exercised, regimes of sovereignty, including those which govern themovement of peoples across borders, define the prerogatives as well as obligations of such sovereign entities under international law. The period ushered in by the 1951 Convention was such a sovereignty regime which today may be nearing its end.

The Case for Climate Reparations: A Philosophical Conversation


AS PART OF THE MITCHELL CENTER'S CAPITALISM/SOCIALISM/DEMOCRACY SERIES, join OLÚFẸ́MI O. TÁÍWÒ and BEBA CIBRALIC for an in-depth discussion of their work on climate reparations with M. EDITH SKLAROFF. A partnered investigation between ProPublica and the New York Times has revealed the writing on the wall. We are at the beginnings of a “Great Climate Migration” that will transform the world. There are two ways forward: climate colonialism and apartheid or climate reparations. Climate apartheid describes the fact that we can expect a new kind of social division to arise within countries and communities: between those who can pay to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and those who cannot. Climate colonialism simply considers this same phenomenon on an international scale.

Reparations is a way forward through the climate crisis that doesn’t double down on these dismal precedents. A reparatory approach to climate migration would involve an overhaul of climate policy in both nation-states and multinational institutions. It would be broadly redistributive of wealth and power, both within and across countries. That redistribution would be historically informed: we would reject both the ‘rescue’ framing of state elites’ naked pursuit of self interest in refugee policy and the “voluntary repatriation” centered model that allows them to act on it with international authorization. Ultimately, we endorse the argument, developed and defended by legal scholar E. Tendayi Achiume, that corrective, distributive justice demands recognition of the entitlement of “Third World persons” to “a form of First World citizenship”.

However extreme this renegotiation of state sovereignty and citizenship may strike some readers, it’s nowhere near as extreme as the logical conclusion of the status quo’s violent alternative: mass famine, region-scale armed conflict. Compared to the horrors of climate apartheid and colonialism, having more neighbors is a small price to pay.

Theft is Property! Dispossession and Critical Theory (Robert Nichols)

ROBERT NICHOLS RECONSTRUCTS THE CONCEPT OF DISPOSSESSION as a means of examining how shifting configurations of law, property, race, and rights have functioned as modes of governance, both historically and in the present. Through close analysis of arguments by Indigenous scholars and activists from the nineteenth century to the present, Nichols argues that dispossession has come to name a unique recursive process whereby systematic theft is the mechanism by which property relations are generated. In so doing, this work also brings long-standing debates in anarchist, Black radical, feminist, Marxist, and postcolonial thought into direct conversation with the frequently overlooked intellectual contributions of Indigenous peoples.

ROBERT NICHOLS is Associate Professor of Political Theory at the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. His research in contemporary European philosophy and the history of political thought focuses on critical theory, imperialism & colonialism in the 19th century, and thinkers like Marx and Foucault. Professor Nichols also specializes in research on the contemporary politics of settler colonialism and indigeneity in the Anglo-American world.

Discussant: M. EDITH SKLAROFF (Penn Political Science)

Race, Class and Socialism (Asad Haider)

IN HIS 2018 BOOK, Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump (Verso), ASAD HAIDER argues that contemporary identity politics, rather than bolstering the grassroots struggle against racism, help to neutralize movements against racial oppression by abstracting people’s “identity” from their material relationship with society and the state. In his Capitalism/Socialism/Democracy talk, he brings class back in, anchoring the relationship between race and class to a materialist analysis of capitalism, on one side, and a theory of emancipatory politics on the other. From this vantage point, and drawing on traditions that include the Combahee River Collective (pictured above), he explores critiques of racial ideology and new conceptions of universal emancipation.

ASAD HAIDER is visiting assistant professor of philosophy at the New School of Social Research and a founding editor of Viewpoint Magazine. Read excerpts from Prof. Haider's book, Mistaken Identity, here.

The Political History of a Bad Idea: "Innovation" (John Patrick Leary)

Read Professor Leary's paper here.

AS PART OF HIS LARGER PROJECT TRACING THE ROOTS of the new language of capitalism, JOHN PATRICK LEARY tackles one of its central buzzwords: “innovation.” He charts its evolution, at the outset of the twentieth century, from a denigration of revolutionary heresy to a synonym for the latest, newest consumer product. But it was after World War II that its meaning changed most profoundly: from “an innovation” as a new thing to “innovation” as a kind of spirit, attitude, mode of being, technique. In this phase, it solved a problem that those opposed to the New Deal had grappled with: a term to embody what used to be called “progress,” but without the statist, bureaucratic baggage that word had accumulated over the first half of the century.  Thus did innovation come to stand for a sense of material, economic, and moral improvement in a society over time often, in the United States, thought to be ordained by providence and secured through the market. It has also emerged as a term for an anti-bureaucratic, individual autonomy—the enemy of the efficiency machine that is the modern corporation, and also the major virtue of a society shaped by the modern corporation.

JOHN PATRICK LEARY is a Visiting Associate Professor of English Literature at Swarthmore College and the language columnist for the New Republic. A scholar of U.S. and Latin American literature and culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, his first book and current projects address a common broad question: how are our local and national identities shaped by and through popular economic and political narratives? His book, A Cultural History of Underdevelopment: Latin America in the U.S. Imagination (University of Virginia Press, 2016) explores how Americans have imagined the geography of wealth and poverty in the hemisphere from the mid-19th century to the end of the Cold War. His latest book, Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism (Haymarket Books, 2018), is an evolving work of historical etymology and cultural criticism in which Leary traces the history of economic concepts in the mass media, uncovering the history and common use of popular terms like “accountability,” “entrepreneur,” and "innovation."