Racial Capitalism Syllabus - Princeton University - Paul Nadal

ENG 568 / AMS 568 / MOD 568




Racial Capitalism:

A Graduate Seminar in Criticism and Theory



Princeton University. Fall 2023.

McCosh Hall Room 24. Tuesdays 1:30–4:20pm.



Professor Paul Nadal

nadal@princeton.edu / www.paulnadal.com






Course Description


What is the “racial” in racial capitalism? The question is posed by abolitionist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and we’ll take it up by exploring how literature, media, and art supply a critical analytic on capitalism’s racial logics. It’s easy to read texts for descriptions of racial capitalism. The more difficult task resides in reading for the mediation between race and capital that aesthetic forms themselves enact. To do this, we’ll learn from Black, Asian American, Indigenous studies; Marxist aesthetic theory; and feminist, anticolonial, environmental critiques of capitalism. By exploring the dialectic of culture and political economy, this course should help students to define interests within the field of Marxist theory and criticism to pursue further research and study.




Semester Schedule



Sep 5. Wk 1: Introductions



Sep 12. Wk 2: What Is Racial Capitalism?

·      Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: Ch. 1 “Racial Capitalism: The Nonobjective Character of Capitalist Development” (9-28)

·     Christopher Chen and Sarika Chandra, “Remapping the Race/Class Problematic”

·     Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native”

·     K-Sue Park, “Money, Mortgages, and the Conquest of America”

·     Julian Go, “Three Tensions in the Theory of Racial Capitalism”

·     Recommended: Stuart Hall, “Race, Articulation and Societies Structured in Dominance”; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit


Watch: Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Geographies of Racial Capitalism” https://antipodeonline.org/geographies-of-racial-capitalism/



Sep 19. Wk 3: Expanded Production, Declining Profitability

·      Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital, Chapters 27-28, 32.

·      David Harvey, The New Imperialism: Ch. 4 “Accumulation by Dispossession”

·      Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: “Introduction” (5-29); Ch. 3 “The Prison Fix” (87-127).

·      Iyko Day, “Eco-Criticism and Primitive Accumulation”


·     Recommended: William Clare Roberts, “What Was Primitive Accumulation? Reconstructing the Origin of a Critical Concept”; Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, Extraction Ecologies and the Literature of the Long Exhaustion



Sep 26. Wk 4: Marx on Primitive Accumulation. Guest: Nijah Cunningham

·     Nijah Cunningham, “Heliology: On the Metaphor of Decolonization”

·      Marx, Grundrisse, 459-523 (From: “Original accumulation of capital. . . // To: . . . the difference between fixed capital and circulating capital.”)

·      Marx, Capital, Vol. 1: Ch. 26 “The Secret of Primitive Accumulation”; Ch. 27 “The Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land; Ch. 32 “The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation”; Ch. 33 “The Modern Theory of Colonization”

o  » Prof. Cunningham will lead discussion of selections from the Capital excerpts.



Oct 3. Wk 5: The Dialectic of Culture and Economy, Part I: The Mediation of Art

·      Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature: Part II Cultural Theory (75-144).

·      Colleen Lye, “Racial Form”

·      Rizvana Bradley, “On Black Aesthesis”

·      Charles L. Davis II, Building Character: “Introduction: The Racialization of Architectural Character in the Long Nineteenth Century”



Oct 10. Wk 6: The Dialectic of Culture and Economy, Part II: Combined and Uneven Development

·      Samir Amin, “The Origin and Development of Underdevelopment”

·      Harry Harootunian, Marx After Marx: Introduction + Ch. 1 “Marx, Time, History”

·      Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Ch. 2: “Cultural Roots”

» We’ll test Anderson’s analysis by conducting our own close reading of the opening chapter of Noli me tangere (1887) (Harold Augenbraum translation)

·      Roberto Schwarz, “Misplaced Ideas”

·      Sylvia Wynter, “Novel and History, Plot and Plantation”



Oct 24. Wk 7: Seb Franklin, The Digitally Disposed; No presentations. Guest: Seb Franklin

·      Seb Franklin, The Digitally Disposed: “Introduction: Forms of Disposal”; Ch. 1 “Things Communicated: Messages, Persons, Goods”; Ch. 3 “ The Informatics of Dispossession”; Ch. 9 “The Digital Atlantic: Sondra Perry’s Typhoon coming on (2018)”

» Prof. Franklin will lead discussion of Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Ch 25: “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation,” including sections on surplus populations (762-802), especially sections 3 and 4 (781-802).

Event: Seb Franklin, “Value and Slavery, or the Longue Durée of the Analog-Digital Distinction” | Tuesday, October 24, 5:00pm. Room N107 (The School of Architecture). Respondent: Paul Nadal (English) https://mandm.princeton.edu/events/2023/seb-franklin-value-and-slavery-or-longue-dur%C3%A9e-analog-digital-distinction%E2%80%9D-res-paul



Oct 31. Wk 8: Social Reproduction Theory

·      Sylvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: “Wages Against Housework”; “Women, Land Struggles, and Globalization”

·      Annie McClanahan and Jon-David Settell, “Service Work, Sex Work, and the ‘Prostitute Imaginary’”

·      Alden Sajor Marte-Wood and Stephanie Dimatulac Santos, “Circuits of Care: Filipino Content Moderation and American Infostructures of Feeling”

·      Aaron Benanav, “Automation and the Future of Work” (I and II)



Nov 7. Wk 9: Logistics Spaces / New Relations of Labor

·      Deborah Cowen, The Deadly Life of Logistics: Introduction + Ch. 3: “The Labor of Logistics: Just-in-Time Jobs”

·      Wesley Attewell, “The Lifelines of Empire: Logistics as Infrastructural Power in Occupied South Vietnam”

·      Chris Chen, “Containing Asiatic Racial Form in Larissa Lai’s ‘nascent fashion’”

» We’ll test Chen’s analysis by conducting our own close reading of “nascent fashion” and “Rachel,” both from her poetry collection Automaton Biographies


·      Recommended: Charmaine Chua and Spencer Cox, “Battling the Behemoth: Amazon and the Rise of America’s New Working Class”; Alberto Toscano, “Logistics and Opposition”; Edna Bonacich and Jake B. Wilson, “The Logistics Revolution”; Jasper Bernes, “Logistics, Counter-Logistics”; Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Ch. 5 “Lead’s Racial Matters”



Nov 14. Wk 10: Surplus Populations / Border Imperialism

·      Harsha Walia, Border and Rule: Ch. 1 “Historic Entanglements of US Border Formation”

·      Allan E. S. Lumba, “Transpacific Migration, Racial Surplus, and Colonial Settlement”

·      Aaron Benanav and John Clegg, “Misery and Debt”

·      Watch: Border (Laura Waddington, 2002)



Nov 28. Wk 11: Ling Ma, Severance



Dec 5. Wk 12: Neferti Tadiar, Remaindered Life

      Neferti X. M. Tadiar, Remaindered Life: esp. “Preface”; Ch. 1 “The War to Be Human: Value”; Ch. 3 “Becoming-Human in a Time of War: Remainder”; Ch 5. “Of Disposability”





Course Requirements


(I) One conference-style presentation, 12-15 minutes (2,000-2,400 words). Your conference paper must have an original critical argument about the question of racial capitalism as it relates to the historical contexts, concepts, and arguments of the assigned text or group of texts of your choice. On the day of your presentation, a classmate or two will be assigned to serve as official respondents.


(II) Term paper—20 pages double-spaced. You may expand on your conference presentation. Or: a dissertation prospectus or dissertation chapter of similar length. Dissertation materials submitted for this course must demonstrate significant engagement with seminar readings.


Since this is primarily a seminar/discussion class, your active participation is vital. As the texts will be the focal point of class discussions, please bring them to class. Papers that are not handed in by the due date will be accepted but no written comments will be made on late papers.



Evaluation and Grading

m Consistent class participation: 40%

m Presentation: 20%

m Final paper: 40%