This course sets out to historicize the conditions under which a specific kind of capitalism emerges at the beginning of the twenty-first century—a regime organized through speculation and new forms of exploitation beyond the industrial workplace, in prison and military industrial complexes, where debt accrues to the black poor, the jobless, and a growing global precariat. This new moment in the history of capital accumulation is approached in several ways: one, through attention to the critical significance of 1492; two, the rise of Atlantic slavery; and three, the emergence of “racial capitalism” as a system reliant on “transparently violent means (war, land-grabbing, dispossession, neo/colonialism).” The course goes on to show the ways that 1492 and Atlantic slavery remain critical to understanding the present. As the archaeology of contemporary capitalism emerges in the first few weeks of seminar, we will begin to think about some of its cultural logics too: how race and racism operate in tandem with capital; the utility of empires and peripheries; the centrality of gender for private property. How do the legacies of Atlantic slavery inform processes of deindustrialization, mass incarceration, and militarization? What is the relationship of racial capitalism and anti-black racism? And finally, in what ways does the Movement for Black Lives encompass a response to racial capitalism and the afterlives of slavery?
This course will align with the Globalization, Ethics, Welfare and Human Rights specialization track and specifically the relationship between racial capitalism and anti-black racism as instantiations of the problem of ethics, welfare, and human rights in their relationship to the global expansion of capital.
Students will gain a rigorous understanding of the historical relationship of race, racism, and capitalism.
Class Participation 30%
Reading Responses 20%
Class Participation (for 30% of your overall grade)
In addition to weekly engagement during the conversation around the readings and themes of the class period, each student is asked to guide class discussion once (possibly twice) during the semester by preparing a more extended presentation on the readings for that week.
Assigned readings, available on Moodle, should be read in the order they are listed in the syllabus. In some weeks there is a fair amount of reading so look ahead and begin reading well in advance of the week’s class sessions!
Reading Responses (Posted to Moodle) (for 20% of your overall grade)
By midnight Monday of each week, please post on Moodle 2-3 questions in response to the week’s readings. Describe what in the readings you found most compelling. And relay why those questions are important for the class to consider.
Essays (for 50% of your overall grade)
A first shorter essay (pp. 7) worth 20% of your overall grade is due Friday, April 7 at 5 pm via email. We will discuss length, breadth, content, and strategy for this shorter assignment in the first few weeks of the semester.
A second longer essay (pp. 10-12) worth 30% of your overall grade should be a synthetic essay on a topic of your choice (to be developed in consultation with the instructor). This second essay is due Friday, May 26 at 5 pm via email.
Assessment: is based on your ability to submit quality work in a timely manner; on your attendance and engagement in seminar; and on your written assignments.
Week 1: February 28 & March 2
Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina [Introduction, Ch. 1-2].
Week 2: March 7 & March 9
Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking [Ch. 2-3].
Week 3: March 14 & March 16
Marx, Karl. 1990. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I. London: Penguin Books Ltd., [Part Eight: Ch. 27-32]
Harvey, David. 2003. The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press Chicago: University of Chicago Press [Ch. 4].
Recommended: “Reading Marx’s Capital: Volume I with David Harvey” see http://davidharvey.org/reading-capital#capital-v1-2019.
Week 4: March 21 & March 23
Gender and (Primitive) Accumulation
Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia [Preface, Introduction, “The Accumulation of Labor and the Degradation of Women,” and “The Great Witch-Hunt in Europe”].
Week 5: March 28 & March 30
Race and (Primitive) Accumulation
Robinson, Cedric J. 2000. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press  [Foreword, Preface I & II, Ch. 1, 5, & 7].
Singh, Nikhil Pal. 2017. “On Race, Violence, and ‘So-Called Primitive Accumulation’.” In Futures of Black Radicalism, Gaye Theresa Johnson and Lex Lubin eds. New York: Verso (ePub).
Week 6: April 4 & April 6
The Problem of the Human
Sharpe, Christina. 2014. “Black Studies: In the Wake.” The Black Scholar 4(2): 59-69.
Da Silva, Denise Ferreira. 2015. “Before Man: Sylvia Wynter’s Rewriting of the Modern Episteme.” In Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, Katherine McKittrick ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 90-105.
________. 2017. “Unpayable Debt: Reading Scenes of Value against the Arrow of Time.” In The Documenta 14 Reader, Quinn Latimer and Adam Szymczyk eds. Munich: Prestel Verlag, pp. 81-113.
________. 2016. “Serpent Rain” see https://vimeo.com/434452980 (password: rain). Also see https://www.vdrome.org/neuman-da-silva.
Spring Break April 10-14
Week 7: April 18 & April 20
Césaire, Aimé. 2000. Discourse on Colonialism. New York: Monthly Review Press  [Introduction, Essay & Interview].
Public Holiday April 25
Week 8: April 27
Fanon, Frantz. 2008. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press .
Wilderson III, Frank B. 2020. “Afropessimism and Futures of ... A Conversation with Frank Wilderson.” The Black Scholar 50(3): 29–41.
Recommended: Wilderson III, Frank B. Afropessimism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Limited.
Week 9: May 2 & May 4
Sexton, Jared. 2007. “Racial Profiling and the Societies of Control.” In Warfare in the American Homeland, Joy James ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 197-218.
Thompson, Heather Ann. 2010. “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History.” The Journal of American History 97(3): 703-734.
Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. 2017. “Abolition Geography and the Problem of Innocence.” Futures of Black Radicalism, Gaye Theresa Johnson and Lex Lubin eds. New York: Verso (ePub).
“13th,” documentary (Netflix)
Week 10: May 9 & May 11
Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. 2022. Change Everything: Racial Capitalism and the Case for Abolition, Naomi Murakawa ed. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books [selections].
Week 11: May 16 & May 18
The Movement for Black Lives (US)
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. 2014. “The Case for Reparations.” The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/).
Ransby, Barbara. 2018. Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century. Oakland, CA: University of California Press [Introduction, Ch. 1-3].
“Whose Streets?” Sabaah Folayan dir. (https://www.documentarymania.com/video/Whose%20Streets/)
Week 12: May 23 & May 25
Final Paper Review
Last updated: 17 January, 2023