For Postcapitalist Studies: Inheriting Futures of Space and Economy

Tuomo Alhojärvi

The worldwide social and ecological unravelling of the 21st century presents an unprecedented challenge for thinking and practising liveable economies. As life support systems are annihilated in view of the sustainable accumulation of capital, social and economic alternatives are rapidly emerging to shelter possibilities for life amidst the ruins. Postcapitalism has gained increasing attention as an invitation to amplify existing alternatives to systemic scale. The transformations required are the focus of social movements, political projects and academic research that demand the theorisation and organisation of alternatives to capitalist realism today. What has often received less attention is how such emancipatory alternatives are burdened with problematic legacies living on within, in the epistemic heritage enabling and organising societal transformation. The ‘post-’ prefix, and the break from capitalism that it announces, has largely been treated as a given. This study resists such temptations of the affirmative in order to ask how restrictive and counterproductive burdens are carried along in emancipatory thought and practice, and how their continuous negotiation might have to redefine postcapitalism itself. Taking the ‘post-’ seriously demands critical and theoretical skills capable of examining the complexity of our inherited troubles.

This thesis offers a theoretical contribution to this juncture by bringing together the feminist economic geography of JK Gibson-Graham and the deconstructive philosophical practice of Jacques Derrida. Gibson-Graham’s framework of diverse economies has become a major contribution to thinking and practising postcapitalist politics. It offers a popular affirmative and experimental approach to collective life, one that discards the givenness of economic truths and power in favour of a heterogeneous landscape of interdependent agency. Here, however, the attention is on Gibson-Graham’s early, theoretical examination and critique of capitalocentrism: the omission, forgetting and subjugation of existing more-than-capitalist economies. This notion underlines the necessity to unlearn capitalist homogeneity in order for a plural, prismatic economy of coexistence to come to view: the worst forms of exploitation coexisting with the best of emancipations, both demanding situated negotiation and collective action. Capitalocentrism functions as a conceptual ground of the diverse economies framework, yet its theoretical, empirical and political complexity has largely been left unexamined. While the concept of capitalocentrism works to motivate its alternatives, its use simultaneously exhibits an unproblematised belief in overcoming the problem of postcapitalist burdens.

To think capitalocentrism as a continuous, unownable task, rather than a solid stepping stone for emancipation, it is theorised here as an inheritance with the help of Derrida’s deconstruction. Derrida’s ‘rigorously parasitic’ approach towards constitutive givens and his negotiation of troubling legacies offer a distinct approach to received problematics. Here, his writings on heritage, archives and violence are examined as situated practices of reinterpretative work with/in various legacies. This allows a distinct conceptual and methodological approach to inheritances that pivots on a vigilance of (self-)critique and a practice of close, complicit reading. The inheritedness of our textual materiality, with its historical promises and perils all too closely intertwined, becomes the issue. It allows a persistent negotiation of and oscillation between determinate, situated problematics and the incalculable and unlocatable. As an inheritance, capitalocentrism becomes a heterogeneous and unownable legacy that both enables and haunts the thinking of postcapitalist space and economy.

Developing such a conceptual and methodological approach to postcapitalist problems, this thesis studies capitalocentric inheritances in four main chapters. First, the concept of capitalocentrism and its critical role in Gibson-Graham’s framework is treated in light of deconstruction’s promises. Second, Derrida’s economies of violence are studied to conceptualise capitalocentrism as a problem of history. Third, popular and academic debates concerning postcapitalism are explored as negotiations of capitalocentric inheritances. Fourth, the capitalocentrism of language itself becomes the issue as a problematic negotiated in sites and theories of translation. Altogether, this study proposes an attention to postcapitalist economic geographies that supplements emancipatory approaches with a critical-deconstructive attention to their limitations. Amidst immediate demands for social and economic transformation, it underlines what mediates those demands: the troubled language, the complicit sensorium that we inherit. By offering fresh grounds for rethinking the inherited futures of space and economy, it submits a challenge to claims that purport to govern and overcome the postcapitalist problem of constitutive burdens. As an inheritance, capitalocentrism necessitates drastic renegotiations of postcapitalist givens. This task is here called, tentatively, postcapitalist studies.

Keywords capitalocentrism, deconstruction, diverse economies, inheritance, Jacques Derrida, JK Gibson-Graham, postcapitalist studies

Suggested citation

Alhojärvi, T. 2021 For Postcapitalist Studies: Inheriting Futures of Space and Economy. Nordia Geographical Publications 50(2), 1–230. https://doi.org/10.30671/nordia.103117