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DemPrac2017 — THE POLICE: Understanding Capitalism in Unequal Geographies

Cement factory, Luanda, Angola, 2018.

Course Description

ACC Winter School on “Democratic Practices of Unequal Geographies”, year III focusing on Reading Across Political Theory and Southern Urbanism.

PhD Course/Seminar, University of Cape Town

June 19-23, 2017

Lecturers and Conveners:

Dr. Henrik Ernstson, University of Cape Town & KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Dr. Ashley Bohrer, Hamilton College, New York City

Dr. Andrés Henao Castro, University of Massachusetts Boston

The Third Annual ACC Seminar & PhD Course on Democratic Practices focuses on “Understanding Capitalism in Unequal Geographies” ran from 19-23 June 2017 in Cape Town. Find rationale, seminar method and readings further below. 

Schedule and Venue

Monday to Friday, 9–13 with a longer session on Thursday, see below.During the week we will be in three different seminar rooms, but they are in the same building: The EGS Building, Upper Campus, University of Cape Town (EGS, Environmental and Geographical Science Building). To find a good map of Upper Campus, UCT, go here.

Monday 19 June — Studio 1, 9:00-13:00

Tuesday 20 June — Davies Seminar Room, 9:00-13:00

Wednesday 21 June — Davies Seminar Room, 9:00-13:00

Thursday 22 June — Davies Seminar Room from 9:00-13:00; Lunch in the courtyard/tea-room 13:00-14:30; Fuggle Board Room 14:30-17:00pm; We meet up for dinner at a restaurant in town from 18:30.

Friday 23 June —Davies Seminar Room, 9:00-13_00

Contact and questions: E-mail: Kathleen Stokes <kathleen[DOT]stokes[AT]postgrad[DOT]manchester[DOT]ac[DOT]uk>, course assistant or Henrik Ernstson <henrik[DOT]ernstson[AT]uct[DOT]ac[DOT]za>, course organiser.

We will be a mix of PhD students, younger scholars and Master students with different background and specialties. The seminar is free. Unfortunately we cannot offer any travel grants this year.

Aim and Background

The ACC annual seminar series is based on reading political philosophy with and against southern urbanism. The reason for this lies in making an intervention in how we think the emergent city and urbanization of the global south; to seek out and make explicit its emancipatory potential which often gets hidden or silenced, either by overly dogmatic “Northern” frameworks, “developmentalist” techno-managerial approaches; or a sense of defeat that an emancipatory horizon is not any longer possible. In the first seminar in 2015 this meant to recover the birth of democratic politics and re-thinking this in our contemporary moment. In 2016 we focused on “the political and the aesthetical”, thinking politics as a rupture in the distribution of the sensible by those who are not counted in the current order. This year of 2017 we are focusing on capitalism and its wider structuration of cities, bodies and subjectivities. This annual seminar is part of the ACC’s NOTRUC project, Notations on Theories of Radical Urban Change, lead by Henrik Ernstson and Edgar Pieterse.

This year’s seminar will seek to understand how classic Marxist critique and its extension into intersectional analysis can be thought with and against southern/postcolonial urban geographies to make visible contemporary struggles against exploitation. Our key questions are:

  • How does capitalism function in and through its differences across time, space, and social location?
  • How does capitalism interact with and structure gender, race, and sexuality?
  • How does this play out, manifest and structure urban spaces and extended geographies of the south?
  • What spaces, discourses and collectivities can a critique of capitalism help to make visible as locations to struggle against interconnected assemblages and dispositifs of oppression?

Our aim is to create a seminar that can assist participants to re-think their research questions, research projects and their role as contemporary intellectuals. To do so the seminar will unfold through a series of readings of the racialized, gendered, and sexualized implications of particular concepts of capitalism. Each day will focus on one of the following concepts: the commodity, alienation, primitive accumulation, value, and nature. The literature gathers classical Marxist understanding of these concepts and how contemporary thinkers of race, gender, sexuality, and their inter-relations have expanded, revised, and, in the words of Frantz Fanon, ‘stretched’ these concepts in order to speak more directly to lived experience of oppression. With this we seek to articulate how this structures the city, the urban, and the spatiality of unequal geographies.

Seminar Methodology

Using the seminar as a form (i.e., where all participants have closely studied the same texts), we aim to provide the possibility to think through and reformulate our research questions, methodologies and theoretical assumptions and open towards new critical knowledge projects, especially, but not necessarily about southern cities. For an intense week we will meet for 3-4 hours, with free time in the afternoons for further reading and personal reflection. Each day we will let one or two participants shortly introduce the key texts by identifying main points and what is at stake in the texts. This will be followed by complementary comments from the lecturers on where the text stands in wider intellectual debates. Based on this we will open the floor for discussion. We will at times also divide into smaller groups. The lecturers will promote integration between the participants’ ongoing projects and the associated readings. There will be space in the seminars to reflect upon your own research with participants. As before (but this year more than previous years), the seminar will rely on participants’ own reading and engagement with southern cities to engage with the obligatory reading.

Readings 2017

All readings marked with an asterisk * are required readings. All others are recommended, also indicated clearly which these are. Access to reading through the Course Folder.

I. The Commodity-Form [Monday]—(74 pages)

We will explore what Marx means by the commodity-form, and what is commodity fetishism, in order to interrogate what happens when we read that concept through an intersectional perspective that interrogates race, gender, and sexuality in the commodification of labor.

  • *Karl Marx. 1867 [2006]. “Chapter 1: Commodities.” In Capital Vol. I. New York: Penguin, pp. 27-47. 20 pages
  • *Ann Mclintock. 1995. “Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising.” In Imperial Leather: Race and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge, pp. 207-231. 20 pages

Southern urbanism readings

  • *Rosalind Fredericks. 2014. “Vital Infrastructures of Trash in Dakar.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34 (3): 532–48. 14 pages
  • *Gautam Bhan. 2016. In the Publics Interest – Introduction, (note, small pages so half amount counted) 20 pages

II. Social Alienation of Labor [Tuesday]—(125 pages)

Focusing on Marx’ section on “alienated labor,” we will explore the concepts of alienation and reification, and the ways in which those concepts are deployed in other contexts that expand our understandings of social alienation with an attention to difference, affect, and critique.

  • *Karl Marx. 1844 [1978]. “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.” In The Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, pp. 53-65. 12 pages
  • *Angela Davis. 1983. “The Approaching Obsolescence of Housework: A Working-Class Perspective.” In Women, Race, Class. New York: Vintage, pp. 222-244. 22 pages
  • *Kevin Floyd. 2009. “Disciplined Bodies: Lukács, Foucault, and the Reification of Desire.” In The Reification of Desire: Towards a Queer Marxism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 39-78. 39 pages

Southern urbanism readings

  • *Koni Benson and Faeza Meyer. 2015. “Reluctantly Loud: Interventions in the History of Land Occupation.” African Cities Reader III, no. 1: 64–95. 32 pages
  • *Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Silver. 2016. “The Poolitical City: ‘Seeing Sanitation’ and Making the Urban Political in Cape Town.” Antipode. 20 pages
  • Benson, Koni, and Faeza Meyer. 2015. “‘Writing My History Is Keeping Me Alive’ Politics and Practices of Collaborative History Writing.” In , 78–99. RECOMMENDED ONLY.

III. Primitive Accumulation [Wednesday]—(99 pages)

Through a discussion of Marx’ concept of primitive accumulation, we will investigate capitalism’s relationship to that which it frames as its exteriority in both temporal and spatial terms, in order to then interrogate the subject-positionalities that are implicated and potential ways of rethinking that concept today.

  • *Karl Marx. 1867 [2006]. Chapters 26, 27, 28, and 33. In Capital Vol. I. New York: Penguin. 28 pages.
  • *Saskia Sassen, 2010. “A Savage Sorting of Winners and Losers: Contemporary Versions of Primitive Accumulation.” In Globalizations 7 (1-2): 23-50. 23 pages.
  • *Silvia Federici. 2004. “Introduction.” In Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia. 38 pages.

Southern urbanism reading

  • *Fiona C. Ross. 2015. “Raw Life and Respectability.” Current Anthropology 56 (S11): S97–107. 10 pages

IV. Value [Thursday]—(109 pages)

We will focus on Marx’ understanding of value, surplus value, the distinction between use-value and exchange value, and the different ways in which scholars have historicized the problem of value.

  • *Karl Marx. 1867 [2006]. Capital Vol. I. New York: Penguin (selections). Chapters 12 and 16. 16 pages.
  • *Neferti Tadiar. 2003. “In the Face of Whiteness as Value: Fall-Outs of Metropolitican Humanness.” In Qui Parle 13 (2): 143-182. 33 pages.
  • *Iyko Day. 2016. “Introduction: The New Jews: Settler Colonialism and the Personification of Capitalism.” In Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 1-40. 38 pages.
  • Dipesh Chakrabarty. 2000. “The Two Histories of Capital” In Provincializing Europe: Post-colonial Thought and Historical Difference. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, pp. 47-71. RECOMMENDED ONLY.

Reading ‘from the South’ as material for afternoon discussion on the forms of emancipation

  • *Michael Neocosmos. 2012. “Are Those-Who-Do-Not-Count Capable of Reason? Thinking Political Subjectivity in the (Neo-)Colonial World and the Limits of History.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 47 (5): 530–47. 15 pages
  • *Leigh-Ann Naidoo. 2016. “Hallucinations.” In The 15th Annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture, 1–7. Johannesburg: University of Witswatersrand. 7 pages
  • Naidoo, Leigh-Ann. 2016. “Centring the Black Intellectual.” The Mercury, December 9. 3 pages. RECOMMENDED ONLY.
  • Choplin, Armelle, and Riccardo Ciavolella. 2016. “Gramsci and the African Città Futura : Urban Subaltern Politics From the Margins of Nouakchott, Mauritania.” Antipode 0 (0): 1–21. 22 pages. RECOMMENDED ONLY.

NB! Discussions in the afternoon will focus on the overarching theme of Democratic Practices in Unequal Geographies and try to tie together several discussions we have had over the years. No other special readings.

V. Nature [Friday]—(143 pages)

These readings are devoted to an interrogation of nature’s place within capitalism, the relationship between the human, the non-human, and technology, and the intersectional history of those socially constructed categories and their contested understandings.

  • *Karl Marx. 1993. “Fragment on the Machines.” Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. New York: Penguin. (Notebook VI, Notebook VII) p. 690-712. (NB: the reading starts in the middle of the page and there are some blank pages in the middle.) 23 pages.
  • *Jason Moore. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life. New York: Verso. Introduction (pp. 1-32) and Chapter 7 (pp. 169-192). 55 pages.
  • *Carolyn Merchant. 1983. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution. New York: HarperCollins. REQUIRED: Introduction and Chapters 5-7 (pp. xix-xxiv; and pp. 127-191). 65 pages. (RECOMMENDED: Chapters 1 and 2 (pp. 1-68).)
  • Erik Swyngedouw and Henrik Ernstson. n.d. “O Tempora! O Mores! Interrupting the Anthropo-ob(S)cene.” Theory, Culture & Society, Article is in review. 22 pages. RECOMMENDED ONLY
  • Donna Haraway. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth-Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, pp. 149-182. RECOMMENDED ONLY.
  • Jonathan Silver. 2014. “Incremental Infrastructures: Material Improvisation and Social Collaboration across Post-Colonial Accra.” Urban Geography 35 (6): 788–804. RECOMMENDED ONLY

Short on the Lecturers and Organizers

Dr. Henrik Ernstson is a Research Fellow and Principal Investigator from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm; and an Honorary Visiting Scholar at the University of Cape Town, where he has been since 2010. His theoretical and empirical work is focused on the politics and collective organizing around urban ecology, including urban land and wetlands, with his new projects focusing on the access to clean water, sanitation and electricity. His recent studies in Cape Town, South Africa, has been an ethnographic study about ‘who can claim to be in the know’ of urban ecology, and a large social network study that interviewed over 130 civil society organizations to understand different modes of collective action around the highly unequal urban environment of Cape Town. With others, he is developing a situated approach to urban political ecology drawing upon upon critical geography, global South urbanism and postcolonial theory, social mobilization theory and environmental history. Theoretically he has recently tried to think with Jacques Ranciére’s ideas of democracy, politics and the political through everyday settings in Cape Town and the city’s of the global south. For more information, see and his publications at

Dr. Andrés Fabián Henao Castro is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His research deals with the relationships between ancient and contemporary political theory, via the prisms of de-colonial theory and poststructuralism. He is currently working on a book that explores different subject-positions and forms of agency imagined in the theoretical reception of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. He is also a member of the international research network Performance Philosophy, a columnist for the online journal of political analysis Palabras al Margen (Words at the Margins), and a member of Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine at UMB. (Also found in our seminar folder.)

Dr. Ashley J. Bohrer is a feminist, activist, writer, translator, teacher, and philosopher based in Syracuse, New York. She holds the Truax Postdoctoral Fellowship in Public Philosophy and works as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Hamilton College in New York. Her academic work explores the interstices of philosophy, critical race studies, decolonial theory, intersectional feminism, and Marxism. She holds graduate degrees in both Philosophy and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She has studied, taught, or held research positions in the United States, France, China, and Germany. In addition to her academic work, Ashley is a committed organizer who works with, among other organizations, International Women’s Strike US, the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, and Jewish Voice for Peace. Ashley is currently finishing a book project that traces the ways in which the rise of capitalism in the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries was structured intersectionally.

How to get to the venue

Map. You will find a good map here.

By car. Make sure to arrive early on Monday morning to get your “Visitors Parking Permits” which you can acquire at the North Entrance Road to UCT Upper Campus (right-most arrow in the map above). State your name and refer to this course and the name of Maryam Waglay, ACC. The car entry to the EGS building lies at the corner of the Madiba Circle and South Lane, but you need to find parking somewhere else (white bays along Madiba Circle).

By bus. You can The Jamie Shuttle, the UCT bus system. It stops on top of the Madiba Circle and very close to South Lane. You find the EGS Building from there. Search Internet for the bus times.

Walking. Walk up the campus passing the Main Library and towards the Madiba Circle. If you find tennis courts, you have walked too far. Walk down again.

Emergency contact: Marayam Waglay, ACC, MaryamDOTWaglayDOTATuctDOTacDOTza, +27 (21) 6505903.