The State of Capitalist Globalization

Shah 'Alam, Mughal Emperor (1759–1806), Conveying the Grant of the Diwani to Lord Clive, August 1765 (Benjamin West, 1818)
Shah ‘Alam, Mughal Emperor (1759–1806), Con­vey­ing the Grant of the Diwani to Lord Clive, August 1765 (Ben­jamin West, 1818)

The State Stripped Bare

It seems almost a para­dox, or per­haps just an anachro­nism, to sug­gest that it is pos­si­ble to describe the global sit­u­a­tion from the van­tage point of the state. Flows and scapes, transna­tional cor­po­ra­tions, migra­tory move­ments, finan­cial­iza­tion, sup­ply chains, the “unholy trin­ity” of the World Bank, IMF, and WTO – these are the actors, processes, and enti­ties to which analy­ses of the global most fre­quently refer. Over­whelm­ingly the focus has been on oper­a­tions and dynam­ics that in some way exceed or dis­place state power and bor­ders. So much is this the case that argu­ments about the decline of the state have become pre­dictable and over­fa­mil­iar. Par­tic­u­larly in the early hey­day of glob­al­iza­tion talk in the 1990s, these per­spec­tives were so com­mon that they prompted an oppo­site and reac­tive argu­ment – that the state con­tin­ues to dom­i­nate the global polit­i­cal land­scape, and claims about its decline are both inflated and mis­guided. This argu­ment gained trac­tion in the wake of grow­ing secu­rity con­cerns in the first decade of this cen­tury, par­tic­u­larly among schol­ars and polit­i­cal actors who con­sid­ered dis­cus­sions of glob­al­iza­tion to be more dis­cur­sive and rhetor­i­cal than actual devel­op­ments war­ranted. Thank­fully, we now have more com­plex accounts of how glob­al­iza­tion has changed the state from within, and of the roles played by states (some more than oth­ers) in fos­ter­ing glob­al­iza­tion1. Although we agree with these argu­ments, our point in this essay is dif­fer­ent. Mov­ing beyond dis­cus­sions about the decline or main­te­nance of the state, we crit­i­cally inter­ro­gate the very base­line model of the state that has thus far informed argu­ments about the chang­ing posi­tion of the state in cap­i­tal­ist glob­al­iza­tion.

Our argu­ment evolves both in dia­logue with and reac­tion to the wide debate con­cern­ing the trans­for­ma­tions of the state in the most recent waves of cap­i­tal­ist tran­si­tion, restruc­tur­ing, and dis­rup­tion. The very unity of the state has been at stake in this debate. The promi­nence of argu­ments about gov­er­nance and the gov­ern­men­tal­iza­tion of the state is one reg­is­ter of a wide­spread approach that high­lights the dis­ar­tic­u­la­tion of the state and its func­tions, by call­ing into ques­tion the unity of the insti­tu­tional sys­tem and polit­i­cal body of the state. In con­trast to these approaches, there has emerged an equally preva­lent series of argu­ments that tend to take the unity of the state for granted, but point to pow­er­ful and more or less endur­ing instances of excep­tion that both under­lie and under­mine the clas­si­cal nar­ra­tive of state sov­er­eignty. Although these lines of argu­ment are often opposed and have given rise to reams of polemic and com­pro­mise, we tend to see them as com­plicit. While the first line of argu­ment points to the strip­ping away of pow­ers from the state and the rise of new polit­i­cal, legal, and ter­ri­to­rial assem­blages that blur the bound­ary between eco­nomic and polit­i­cal forms of rule, the sec­ond sheds light on the blind spots of this approach. In our book Bor­der as Method 2 we have forged the con­cept of the sov­er­eign machine of gov­ern­men­tal­ity to grasp both the salience of processes of gov­ern­men­tal­iza­tion and the muta­tions of sov­er­eignty beyond the state. The con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of the state within impe­rial visions of glob­al­iza­tion that high­light decen­tered forms of sov­er­eignty and mixed con­sti­tu­tion has pro­vided an impor­tant advance in dis­cus­sions of the shift­ing rela­tions between the state and cap­i­tal.3 This frame­work con­tin­ues to provide a guide rail for crit­i­cal analy­sis of the present global predica­ment – but there is a need to assess the role of the state within an altered land­scape marked by expe­ri­ences of war, cri­sis, and per­sis­tent tur­bu­lence.

This unsta­ble global sit­u­a­tion can­not be fully appre­hended within the clas­si­cal frame­work of uni­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral inter­na­tional rela­tions. The chang­ing sta­tus of ter­ri­tory and its rela­tion to juridi­cal regimes of ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity has com­pli­cated ques­tions of juris­dic­tion and pushed con­sti­tu­tional arrange­ments well beyond the admin­is­tra­tive and geo­graph­i­cal lim­its of the state. From a per­spec­tive that high­lights the global dynam­ics of cap­i­tal, the effects have been by no means con­sis­tent. Per­sis­tent processes of finan­cial­iza­tion have shifted the scale and tech­niques of reg­u­la­tion in ways that extend beyond any sin­gle national econ­omy. The US-based archi­tec­ture of glob­al­iza­tion has weak­ened its grip on the world’s cir­cuits of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion and mon­e­ti­za­tion, par­tic­u­larly in the wake of the eco­nomic cri­sis of 2007-8. Ambi­tious global plans such as those devel­oped within the frame­work of the WTO have given way to more mod­est regional and oceanic visions for the pro­jec­tion of US eco­nomic power (one thinks for instance of the Trans-Paci­fic Part­ner­ship or the Transat­lantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship). At the same time, new eco­nomic nation­alisms have arisen to coun­ter­point these visions and sug­gest alter­na­tive pat­terns and paths of global ascen­dency. One thinks of the activ­i­ties of China in Africa, Latin Amer­ica, and even Antarc­tica. The pres­ence of the state in these diver­gent pat­terns of global expan­sion is man­i­fest, even if it relates to enti­ties such as the mar­ket or the polit­i­cal party in speci­fic ways. From India to Japan, Brazil to Rus­sia, South Africa to Ger­many, states have made tan­gi­ble invest­ments that shape and enforce vari­able geome­tries of eco­nomic expan­sion and devel­op­ment. In doing so, they have entered into shift­ing arrays of power in which their rela­tions to pop­u­la­tions and strate­gies of gov­er­nance have changed in mul­ti­far­i­ous ways. They have also been com­pelled to come to terms with a regime of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion that is increas­ingly char­ac­ter­ized by the pri­macy of finance and by what we have described else­where as “extrac­tive” oper­a­tions of cap­i­tal.4 The ques­tion is how much, in these reck­on­ings with cap­i­tal, states them­selves have changed.

To come to terms with the new roles and forms of the state it is nec­es­sary to account for the global scale of processes and dynam­ics that dis­rupt estab­lished polit­i­cal as well as eco­nomic geo­gra­phies. The cri­sis of US hege­mony, care­fully ana­lyzed by Gio­vanni Arrighi5, pro­vides an impor­tant inter­pre­tive back­ground for these trans­for­ma­tions. The per­sis­tence of war (with the shat­ter­ing of colo­nial and post­colo­nial bound­aries in the Mid­dle East, the tear­ing apart of the Ukraine, or the strug­gles over vast stretches of land in Africa) is an impor­tant part of this sce­nario, in which the over­whelm­ing mil­i­tary power of the US does not seem to provide any kind of sta­bi­liza­tion. The emerg­ing for­ma­tions and defor­ma­tions of the state in these war-rid­den ter­ri­to­ries deserve a more detailed inves­ti­ga­tion. At the same time, the cur­rent global predica­ment can­not be described in terms of an impend­ing lin­ear hege­monic tran­si­tion. The emerg­ing land­scape of power at the world scale increas­ingly abides a dif­fuse and mul­ti­po­lar, or even “non­po­lar,” pat­tern. Although some of the most cru­cial con­tem­po­rary oper­a­tions of cap­i­tal, (for instance in the fields of finance, logis­tics, and extrac­tion) are char­ac­ter­ized by a high level of homo­gene­ity, the ways in which they “hit the ground” are pro­foundly het­ero­ge­neous. The junc­ture between the global oper­a­tions of cap­i­tal and their speci­fic and grounded instan­ti­a­tions pro­vides an impor­tant point of entry for the analy­sis of the con­tem­po­rary muta­tions of the state. States are cru­cial actors at this junc­ture, but they are far from being able to claim a monopoly in its man­age­ment and over­see­ing. They are rather com­pelled to nego­ti­ate their role with a mul­ti­far­i­ous array of agen­cies and reckon with het­ero­ge­neous legal orders, logis­ti­cal pro­to­cols, finan­cial algo­rithms, and mon­e­tary arrange­ments that exceed the con­trol of any state. These nego­ti­a­tions and reck­on­ings also con­tribute to the long­stand­ing ten­dency toward a preva­lence of the exec­u­tive and admin­is­tra­tive branches of power within the state and a mar­gin­al­iza­tion of its rep­re­sen­ta­tive bod­ies. This is clear even in impor­tant expe­ri­ences such as those of Latin America’s new “pro­gres­sive” gov­ern­ments in the last decade, where the cel­e­brated “return of the state” has been made pos­si­ble by an inten­si­fi­ca­tion of extrac­tive activ­i­ties and by the dynam­ics of the global mar­ket for com­modi­ties.

The con­tem­po­rary state is far from being autonomous, and it is impor­tant to point to the lim­its of its action in order to coun­ter the easy opti­mism sur­round­ing for instance the above-men­tioned dis­course of the “return of the state” in Latin Amer­ica. We are con­vinced that there is also a need to move beyond the focus on the “neg­a­tive” strip­ping away of state func­tions and capac­i­ties that has char­ac­ter­ized many crit­i­cal dis­cus­sions of the state in glob­al­iza­tion. Whether the focus is put on the rolling back of wel­fare, the desta­bi­liza­tion of the state monopoly on vio­lence through the rise of pri­vate secu­rity actors, or the mul­ti­ple and wide­spread tech­niques of pri­va­ti­za­tion that have altered the state’s posi­tion in mat­ters of own­er­ship and eco­nomic activ­ity, the over­whelm­ing ten­dency has been to con­cep­tu­al­ize the state in rela­tion to that which has been sub­tracted from it. Main­stream cri­tiques of neolib­er­al­ism, whether this is under­stood as an eco­nomic doc­trine or a gov­ern­men­tal tech­nique, have only entrenched this ten­dency. What we pro­pose is a more “pos­i­tive” descrip­tion (pos­i­tive in ana­lyt­i­cal terms) of what states are doing nowa­days with­out pre­sum­ing to know already what the state is or might be. In other words, our approach dif­fers from a nor­ma­tive under­stand­ing of the state – both in terms of a qual­i­ta­tive appraisal of its sup­posed capac­ity to deliver order through reg­u­la­tive or legal means and a juridi­cal fram­ing of its activ­i­ties, rela­tion with sub­jects, and indeed very found­ing. Focus­ing rather on what con­tem­po­rary states are doing leads us beyond the bound­aries of tra­di­tional state the­ory, which is shaped by these nor­ma­tive assump­tions. As we show later in this arti­cle, such assump­tions are usu­ally pred­i­cated on a par­tic­u­lar his­tor­i­cal geneal­ogy of the mod­ern state with pre­cise geo­graph­i­cal cor­re­lates. Open­ing alter­na­tive his­tor­i­cal archives, which are not nec­es­sar­ily lim­ited to the rise of a stan­dard state-form, pro­vides a way to shift both con­cep­tu­ally and empir­i­cally grounded approaches to the state across dif­fer­ent scales and frames of ref­er­ence. This is a prob­lem that does not only con­cern tra­di­tional juridi­cal the­o­ries of the state, or the var­ie­gated elab­o­ra­tions of the immensely influ­en­tial Webe­rian ideal type of the mod­ern ter­ri­to­rial state. Dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal genealo­gies and alter­na­tive archives also allow us to frame in new and pro­duc­tive ways debates about the cri­sis of the state that have unfolded since the 1970s.

Multiple Crises, Multiple Beginnings

To speak of a cri­sis of the state is elu­sive, since a long debate sur­round­ing this claim extends at least from the late nine­teenth cen­tury. Inter­na­tional law, increased inter­nal social plu­ral­ism, impe­rial entan­gle­ments, and processes of orga­niz­ing cap­i­tal­ism all con­tributed to this ques­tion­ing of the auton­omy of the state and its capac­ity to exer­cise an absolute sov­er­eign power. Nev­er­the­less, for most of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, the state remained intact and main­tained a dom­i­nant posi­tion as a world polit­i­cal actor, through wars, eco­nomic crises and growth, strug­gles of decol­o­niza­tion, and the expand­ing admin­is­tra­tion of social life. It was only in the late 1960s/early 1970s that amid tumul­tuous social strug­gles and unprece­dented eco­nomic changes this dom­i­nant posi­tion was tested and chal­lenged. Par­tic­u­larly in the North Atlantic coun­tries, a fis­cal cri­sis of the state was matched by a cri­sis of legit­i­ma­tion. This dou­ble cri­sis reg­is­tered the grow­ing dif­fi­culty of the state in fram­ing the repro­duc­tion and social­iza­tion of labor power, which had been a key aspect of its activ­i­ties at least since the eco­nomic shocks of 1929. In his impor­tant chap­ter on the work­ing day in Cap­i­tal, Vol­ume 1, Marx had already pointed to this func­tion of the state. As the state con­fronted increas­ing bar­ri­ers to its reg­u­la­tive func­tion in the 1970s, the social­iza­tion of labor power became inex­tri­ca­bly linked to processes of sub­jec­ti­va­tion and strug­gle that nei­ther cap­i­tal nor the state could con­tain.

Wolf­gang Streeck6 has stressed the impor­tance of the neo-Marx­ist debate on the cri­sis of the state in the 1970s, involv­ing such thinkers as Jür­gen Haber­mas, Claus Offe, and James O’Connor. Streeck high­lights the absence from this dis­cus­sion of a deep con­sid­er­a­tion of the role of the bank­ing sys­tem and finan­cial mar­kets in the speci­fic strate­gies adopted by cap­i­tal as a polit­i­cal actor and form of social power. Such an absence did not char­ac­ter­ize all crit­i­cal strains of argu­ment that emerged in this period. In the tra­di­tion of Ital­ian operaismo, for instance, there was a rapid appre­ci­a­tion of the epoch-mak­ing con­se­quences of the delink­ing of the US dol­lar from gold in 1971. The new wave and scale of finan­cial­iza­tion, which fig­ure promi­nently among these con­se­quences, dra­mat­i­cally changed the very con­di­tions of the repro­duc­tion of labor power. They also strate­gi­cally altered the state’s posi­tion with regard to the medi­a­tion of the con­trast­ing inter­ests of dif­fer­ent “frac­tions” of cap­i­tal and to the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of “total cap­i­tal” (or the gen­eral inter­est and over­all repro­duc­tive logic of cap­i­tal). This lat­ter con­cept, elab­o­rated by Marx in the sec­ond and third vol­umes of Cap­i­tal, is not to be under­stood in rei­fied terms. It rather points to a field of forces and dynam­ics char­ac­ter­ized by insta­bil­ity and elu­sive­ness. Friedrich Engels’ def­i­n­i­tion of the state in Anti-Dühring as the “ideal col­lec­tive cap­i­tal­ist” nicely cap­tures the impor­tant roles played by the state in the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a “total cap­i­tal” whose hori­zon has nev­er­the­less always been the world mar­ket.7 The operaista dis­cus­sion of the state in the 1970s focused on the cri­sis of plan­ning as a strate­gic junc­ture between the state’s activ­i­ties in tar­get­ing the repro­duc­tion and social­iza­tion of labor power (which also means the artic­u­la­tion of capital’s com­mand over these processes) and its labor in the field of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of “total cap­i­tal.”8 While this debate was char­ac­ter­ized by a polit­i­cal empha­sis on strug­gles and the trans­for­ma­tions of class com­po­si­tion under­ly­ing the cri­sis of the state, there was also an acute aware­ness of the reac­tive strate­gies of cap­i­tal, at both the national and inter­na­tional lev­els. The analy­sis of the cri­sis of the “plan­ner-state” (Stato-piano) pointed there­fore to a set of vio­lent dis­lo­ca­tions of the repro­duc­tion of labor power and the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of “total cap­i­tal,” which in many ways antic­i­pated the trends later dis­cussed in debates on neolib­er­al­ism and glob­al­iza­tion.

Although this nar­ra­tive of the cri­sis of the plan­ner-state remains sem­i­nal, there is a need to rec­og­nize that it is not the only dis­rup­tion that marks the polit­i­cal and eco­nomic tur­moil that inau­gu­rates the global era. To fully appre­hend the depth and range of the cri­sis faced by the state since the 1970s, it is nec­es­sary to widen the geo­graph­i­cal scope of analy­sis and con­front the deep processes of het­ero­g­e­niza­tion that remake polit­i­cal spaces in their tense entan­gle­ment with spaces of cap­i­tal. Plan­ning was a gen­eral fea­ture of the state-form that dom­i­nated in the period fol­low­ing World War II, although it assumed dif­fer­ent shapes depend­ing on polit­i­cal con­texts and eco­nomic con­di­tions. In quite schematic and abstract terms, it is pos­si­ble to iden­tify three vari­eties of state that became promi­nent in these decades: the demo­c­ra­tic wel­fare state, the social­ist state, and the devel­op­men­tal state. It is easy to see how these cat­e­go­riza­tions cor­re­spond to the “three worlds” model of polit­i­cal and eco­nomic geog­ra­phy that emerged with the clashes and tur­bu­lence of decol­o­niza­tion. In invok­ing these instan­ti­a­tions of the state, we are aware of the lim­its of typo­log­i­cal analy­sis and seek only to provide guide­li­nes for assess­ing the changes that emerge with the triple cri­sis that affects them all. Dis­cus­sions of the impact of glob­al­iza­tion on the demo­c­ra­tic wel­fare state and the social­ist state are rife. For our pur­poses, it is more inter­est­ing to give atten­tion to the devel­op­men­tal state, by which we refer to a huge vari­ety of polit­i­cal regimes and expe­ri­ences that grew out of state-build­ing processes after the end of colo­nial­ism in Asia and Africa or took new forms in Latin Amer­ica where they con­fronted processes of indus­tri­al­iza­tion, con­tested democ­ra­ti­za­tion, and per­sis­tent con­di­tions of depen­dence. In these con­ti­nen­tal con­texts it is pos­si­ble to observe fric­tions and dis­tor­tions that marked attempts to match the con­di­tions and strug­gles of devel­op­ment to the mod­ern state-form. Such fall­out shaped the cri­sis of the devel­op­men­tal state. What attracts our atten­tion is how this cri­sis fore­shad­ows more gen­eral fea­tures and trends of the state that would come to the fore glob­ally.

The devel­op­men­tal state reg­is­tered a cer­tain glob­al­iza­tion of the state-form that emerged with the con­tain­ment of anti-colo­nial strug­gles and the instal­la­tion of tech­ni­cal mea­sures and stan­dards by which a state’s pro­gress along a devel­op­men­tal path could be tracked. In this way, the devel­op­men­tal state was dri­ven both by strong imper­a­tives of cen­tral­ized plan­ning and state-build­ing, and by more regional or inter­na­tional dis­ci­plines of eco­nomic restruc­tur­ing and polit­i­cal clien­telism. The ques­tion of the repro­duc­tion of labor power and the state’s posi­tion with respect to “total cap­i­tal” looks quite dif­fer­ent in this optic. To put it sim­ply, the attempt to repro­duce labor power accord­ing to the norm of “free” wage labor was severely lim­ited by the pres­ence of infor­mal, coerced, and mobile labor forces, as well as by house­hold con­di­tions and gen­der regimes that could not eas­ily be man­aged by tech­nolo­gies such as the Fordist fam­ily wage. In addi­tion, the script of so-called prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion in devel­op­men­tal states did not eas­ily fol­low the nar­ra­tive of tran­si­tion from agrar­ian to indus­trial work, cre­at­ing myr­iad sur­plus pop­u­la­tions that could not read­ily be cor­ralled into stan­dard regimes of repro­duc­tion. At the same time, the real­ity of “total cap­i­tal” took on impe­rial and neo-colo­nial guises, gen­er­at­ing com­prador classes and weak­en­ing the state’s pow­ers of inter­ven­tion and nego­ti­a­tion. This posi­tion­ing of the state poses chal­lenges for any attempt to under­stand the devel­op­men­tal state with ref­er­ence to the clas­si­cal Webe­rian def­i­n­i­tion of the mod­ern state, with its empha­sis on insti­tu­tional and bureau­cratic orga­ni­za­tion and the state’s suc­cess­ful claim to the “monopoly of legit­i­mate phys­i­cal force” within “a given ter­ri­tory”9 Such dif­fi­cul­ties in match­ing the devel­op­men­tal state to the Webe­rian tem­plate were not the effect of belated moder­nity, or deficits to be recu­per­ated through eco­nomic growth, but arose from var­ie­gated his­tor­i­cal and geo­graph­i­cal cir­cum­stances that would only become more pro­nounced with the tran­si­tions that opened glob­al­iza­tion.

There is no need here to remem­ber in detail how the cri­sis of the devel­op­men­tal state was fuelled by and entan­gled with bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ships, the sup­pres­sion of pop­u­lar polit­i­cal and social power, struc­tural adjust­ment pro­grams, or hot and cold forms of war­fare. Such phys­i­cal, admin­is­tra­tive, and eco­nomic vio­lence should fig­ure promi­nently in any attempt to recon­struct the cri­sis of the devel­op­men­tal state as well as the strug­gles and tran­si­tions that marked the emer­gence of new enmesh­ments of cap­i­tal and power in the 1980s. Our main con­cern here is to sur­vey the var­ie­gated post­de­vel­op­men­tal sce­nar­ios that began to emerge in the wake of the changes, since they are impor­tant ana­lyt­i­cally as well as his­tor­i­cally for any under­stand­ing of the con­tem­po­rary state writ large. These vis­tas of change encom­passed the emer­gence of more flex­i­ble polit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies of rule, het­ero­ge­neous ter­ri­to­rial arrange­ments, and increas­ingly decen­tered ways of medi­at­ing the rela­tion of cap­i­tal to the state. We will reserve a fuller dis­cus­sion of these trans­for­ma­tions for later inter­ven­tions. For now, we want to sug­gest that such post­de­vel­op­men­tal ten­den­cies are best under­stood not as irreg­u­lar­i­ties with respect to a sup­posed norm or “ideal type” of the mod­ern state, but rather as muta­tions that adapt to but also spur the tumul­tuous and asyn­chro­nous tem­po­ral­ity, expan­sion, and inten­si­fi­ca­tion of con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion. In this respect, these ten­den­cies are by no means lim­ited by the geo­graph­i­cal axes of North and South, or cen­ter and periph­ery, which they have largely super­seded and replaced with more com­plex spa­tial dis­tri­b­u­tions of power and wealth. To rec­og­nize this, how­ever, is not to sug­gest that these arrange­ments are with­out his­tor­i­cal prece­dents, which can provide pow­er­ful points of ref­er­ence for an alter­na­tive geneal­ogy of the mod­ern state.

History Matters

The­o­ret­i­cal under­stand­ings of the state have been shaped by a par­tic­u­lar his­tor­i­cal account of state for­ma­tion, which usu­ally departs from early mod­ern Europe. The empha­sis falls on how the con­cen­trated power of the monar­chy pro­vides the basis for the polit­i­cal form of the mod­ern state, with its uni­form and lim­ited notions of ter­ri­tory, sub­ject­hood, and coher­ently linked admin­is­tra­tive bod­ies. In the wake of the rev­o­lu­tions that spread across Europe and the Atlantic world, there emerged a con­sti­tu­tional state that estab­lished a con­ti­nu­ity of legal order and firmly embed­ded the state-form in new arrange­ments of nation and cit­i­zen­ship. Need­less to say, this is an extremely rough sketch of his­tor­i­cal processes that have been the sub­ject of many con­tes­ta­tions and rein­ter­pre­ta­tions. Nonethe­less, the basic premises of this vision have pro­vided the scaf­fold­ing for the con­struc­tion of many dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions of state the­ory – those that build on Marx as much as those that draw on Weber. These premises have also sup­plied an implicit ontol­ogy that has made the ques­tion of what the state is super­flu­ous in many debates, includ­ing attempts to take stock of the most recent changes to the state in glob­al­iza­tion. We would like to ques­tion the extent to which this geneal­ogy can ade­quately facil­i­tate an under­stand­ing of the chang­ing shape and roles of the state in the present global sit­u­a­tion. If one looks at the his­tor­i­cal efforts of Euro­pean empires to estab­lish effec­tive con­trol over vast stretches of land and pop­u­la­tions across the sur­face of the globe, a dif­fer­ent his­tory of sov­er­eignty and power emerges.10 Clearly these impe­rial ven­tures must be ana­lyzed in ways atten­tive to their huge vari­ety, as well as their his­tor­i­cal and geo­graph­i­cal dif­fer­en­ti­a­tions. Nonethe­less, the model of homo­ge­neous ter­ri­to­rial integrity, the con­struc­tion of sys­tem­atic legal order, and the ver­ti­cal dia­gram of state power and sub­ject­hood do not provide ade­quate ana­lyt­i­cal coor­di­nates within which to grasp the extent of these dif­fer­en­ti­a­tions. Far from being inci­den­tal to the his­tory of the mod­ern state, his­tor­i­cal research on these com­plex colo­nial arrange­ments and entan­gle­ments shows how impe­rial expan­sion becomes a cru­cial moment in state build­ing itself. The Euro­pean world of states took shape and evolved within such an impe­rial envi­ron­ment, where the sheer exer­cise of vio­lence was accom­pa­nied by legal and polit­i­cal dis­putes that would even­tu­ally shape the path of global his­tory in ways just as impor­tant, if not more so, than the peace of West­phalia.

In this per­spec­tive the evo­lu­tion of the mod­ern state does not run directly through the coor­di­nates of nation and cit­i­zen­ship, but instead passes through a panoply of com­mer­cial and legal arrange­ments that a new gen­er­a­tion of his­to­ri­ans has begun to inves­ti­gate. The result is a much more frag­mented view of the his­tory of the mod­ern state, which we con­sider to be much richer and more fecund for a crit­i­cal under­stand­ing of the state in the present era. If one con­sid­ers, for instance, the his­tory of char­tered com­pa­nies, it is pos­si­ble to see them as body pol­i­tics in their own terms. These appar­ently com­mer­cial enti­ties com­bined fea­tures of gov­ern­ments, cor­po­ra­tions, juris­dic­tions, and colo­nial prop­erty to exer­cise “a pre­car­i­ous but poten­tially potent form of ‘struc­tural auton­omy’ and thus cor­po­rate sov­er­eignty” enabled by the volatil­ity of their con­sti­tu­tions.11 In his book The Com­pany State, Philip Stern turns Edmund Burke’s famous dis­par­age­ment of the East India Com­pany as “state in the dis­guise of a mer­chant” into a pos­i­tive descrip­tion of its polit­i­cal exis­tence. How­ever, it is not only in the “fac­to­ries” and out­posts estab­lished by char­tered com­pa­nies that we can observe this more frag­mented his­tory of the mod­ern state. The sys­tem of plan­ta­tions, trans­port, and own­er­ship that char­ac­ter­ized the trans-Atlantic slave trade, as well as the move­ment of “coolies” and other kinds of inden­tured labor­ers, required the inven­tion of inno­v­a­tive forms of ter­ri­to­rial power and legal reg­u­la­tion. The estab­lish­ment of pro­tec­torates, con­ces­sions, and treaty ports was part of the main­stream of Euro­pean impe­rial expan­sion and cre­ated scat­tered legal and polit­i­cal spaces. From the late nine­teenth cen­tury, these already com­plex spaces were fur­ther com­pli­cated by mul­ti­far­i­ous defor­ma­tions of sov­er­eignty, giv­ing rise to a wide array of “quasi-sov­er­eign” and “par­tially sov­er­eign” colo­nial poli­ties.12 More­over, the sys­tem of inter­na­tional law, which is clearly impor­tant to the his­tory of the mod­ern state, is unthink­able in sep­a­ra­tion from impe­rial prac­tices in the Amer­i­cas, Asia, and Africa. As Partha Chat­ter­jee explains, these prac­tices “had a pro­found effect in shap­ing the so-called law of nations, and defin­ing the place within it of the mod­ern sov­er­eign nation-state.”13 Impor­tantly, the evo­lu­tion of these sys­tems took place in con­fronta­tion with het­ero­ge­neous forms of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion – such as the trib­ute sys­tem that struc­tured China’s rela­tion with its depen­den­cies, and the patch­work of rule and influ­ence that char­ac­ter­ized Mughal India.

When viewed in the light of these refrac­tions of impe­rial polit­i­cal and legal for­ma­tions, the post­de­vel­op­men­tal sce­nario we dis­cussed ear­lier appears much less “anom­alous” than it does when com­pared with the dom­i­nant state forms of the post-World War II era. It is easy to see the sim­i­lar­i­ties between the dif­fer­en­ti­ated geog­ra­phy of colo­nial rule and sub­ject­hood and con­tem­po­rary strate­gies of zon­ing, grad­u­ated sov­er­eignty, mul­ti­level gov­er­nance, and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of rights. This is the case even though the for­mer was part and parcel of a con­tested process of ter­ri­to­ri­al­iz­ing the world, while the cur­rent trans­for­ma­tions take place within the frame of a ter­ri­to­ri­al­ized world that is forced to adapt to chang­ing con­di­tions of cap­i­tal, and thus tests the lim­its of estab­lished notions of ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity. The range and vari­ety of actu­ally exist­ing states in the present is even more com­pli­cated than the bewil­der­ing array of polit­i­cal and legal forms present in the colo­nial era. As Akhil Gupta writes: “All claims about the state” today “should be coun­tered with the ques­tion, Which state?”14 Gupta is refer­ring here to India and the con­found­ing pro­lif­er­a­tion of dif­fer­ent lev­els of gov­ern­ment, het­ero­ge­neous agen­cies and bureaus, and the var­i­ous poli­cies, pro­grams, and peo­ple that con­sti­tute the state in that con­text. But his ques­tion also has rel­e­vance at the global level, where it is pos­si­ble to observe a daz­zling array of dif­fer­ent kinds of states way beyond the realms usu­ally iden­ti­fied with post­de­vel­op­men­tal dynam­ics.

One need only think of the wide vari­ety of pre­fixes and adjec­tives that pop­u­late dis­cus­sions about the trans­for­ma­tions of the state-form today, giv­ing rise to a range of denom­i­na­tions from gate­keeper state to party state, con­ti­nen­tal state to rogue state, failed state to quasi-state. Far from being applic­a­ble only to the speci­fic real­i­ties they evoke, these cat­e­gories provide ana­lyt­i­cal lenses through which it is pos­si­ble to grasp some of the changes and trends that are reshap­ing the state-form at the global level. For instance, there is some­thing to be gained ana­lyt­i­cally by approach­ing the UK as a gate­keeper state (medi­at­ing the US-cen­tered finan­cial world into Europe) or the mem­ber states of the Euro­pean Union as quasi-states (con­sid­er­ing the mixed con­sti­tu­tion of sov­er­eignty at the Euro­pean scale). More­over, the imbri­ca­tion of sov­er­eignty and com­mer­cial power instan­ti­ated by the his­tor­i­cal char­tered com­pany has assumed new forms and heights in the con­tem­po­rary world. In the frag­mented polit­i­cal and insti­tu­tional land­scape of present glob­al­iza­tion the bor­der between state and cap­i­tal is con­tin­u­ously tested, whether through imper­a­tives of state entre­pre­neuri­al­ism, the direct polit­i­cal power exer­cised by many transna­tional cor­po­ra­tions, or the role of inter­na­tional agen­cies in orches­trat­ing polit­i­cal and eco­nomic devel­op­ment. Remem­ber­ing the quip from Edmund Burke cited ear­lier, we might say today that there are many mer­chants act­ing in the dis­guise of a state.

Reckoning with the State

Above we have offered two dis­tinct but inter­con­nected genealo­gies through which to approach the state in times of glob­al­iza­tion: first, we fol­lowed the tra­jec­to­ries that break down the devel­op­men­tal state, giv­ing rise to legal and polit­i­cal arrange­ments that have become increas­ingly preva­lent at the global scale; sec­ond, we have focused on the longue durée of frag­mented state-forms that develop through the his­tory of mod­ern impe­ri­al­ism and colo­nial­ism. Both of these nar­ra­tives allow us to see some­thing speci­fic about the con­tem­po­rary state but taken together they high­light the com­pli­cated and frac­tured land­scape of present state for­ma­tions and defor­ma­tions. Crit­i­cally ana­lyz­ing the state nowa­days means tak­ing into account this land­scape in its widest scope and impli­ca­tions rather than focus­ing on sin­gle instances, or priv­i­leg­ing a base­line model from which var­i­ous empir­i­cal changes are mea­sured or dis­missed as extra­ne­ous to the state. Our main inter­est is not in the com­par­a­tive analy­sis of dif­fer­ent states, iden­ti­fied accord­ing to the estab­lished geo­gra­phies of the world map, but rather in dis­cern­ing and fol­low­ing res­o­nances between trends and processes that tra­verse the state in het­ero­ge­neous con­texts. In this regard, to come back to a point we men­tioned at the begin­ning of this piece, it is impor­tant to look at how states these days tend to meld or be increas­ingly enmeshed with emerg­ing assem­blages or regimes that tran­scend them. Often these assem­blages and regimes blur the bound­aries between legal norms, tech­ni­cal stan­dards, and polit­i­cal con­sen­sus in ways that facil­i­tate and pro­mote the oper­a­tions of cap­i­tal across diverse geo­graph­i­cal scales. Recent research in geog­ra­phy and urban the­ory has given us a new vocab­u­lary with which to describe and ana­lyze these processes of mix­ing and rescal­ing – from Neil Brenner’s dis­cus­sion of state spaces15 to Keller Easterling’s explo­rations of extrastate­craft.16 The issue of how the state fits into these emerg­ing pat­terns and sce­nar­ios tests our very notions of the state and recasts famil­iar ques­tions about mat­ters such as polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, hege­mony, civil soci­ety, and the role the state can play in con­trast­ing or even tam­ing global cap­i­tal­ist dynam­ics. For us, grap­pling with these impor­tant ques­tions means approach­ing the dif­fi­cult task of exam­in­ing the state’s deep entan­gle­ment with global eco­nomic and polit­i­cal forces with­out revert­ing to tra­di­tional con­trac­tual or nor­ma­tive con­cep­tions that imag­ine they can put the state back in con­trol.

In explor­ing the terms of this entan­gle­ment, it should be clear that our posi­tion is that states still mat­ter. We have already affirmed that we sub­scribe to nei­ther argu­ments that posit the state’s with­er­ing away, nor those that in guarded cel­e­bra­tion argue that glob­al­iza­tion has left its core unchanged. In point­ing to a more frag­mented his­tory of the state, we do not mean to sug­gest that such frag­men­ta­tion is suf­fi­cient to ground a the­o­riza­tion of the state. As much as argu­ments about the gov­ern­men­tal­iza­tion of the state are use­ful in high­light­ing the dif­fuse oper­a­tions of con­tem­po­rary rule over ter­ri­to­ries and pop­u­la­tions, the claim for unity con­tin­ues to be a defin­ing fea­ture of the state and its con­tested legit­i­macy. Indeed, the ten­sion between the dis­ar­tic­u­la­tion of the state’s unity and its con­tin­ued rein­state­ment defines the field in which the state oper­ates today. There are many dif­fer­ent empir­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of this ten­sion, which is evi­dent, for instance, in rhetoric that denies the influ­ence of global forces on the state or on a dif­fer­ent level in the gap between the col­lec­tion and accu­racy of sta­tis­tics and their aggre­ga­tion into data­bases that pro­fess to under­gird coher­ent nar­ra­tives about a state’s growth or des­tiny. We do not believe this ten­sion can be resolved. Although the nation has always promised the pos­si­bil­ity of such a res­o­lu­tion, its abil­ity to deliver this is highly uneven and often depen­dent on vari­ables that dis­play the frac­tures in the state that nation­al­ism can be so effec­tive in cov­er­ing over or fill­ing up. Equally repres­sive state mech­a­nisms, which with var­i­ous degrees of inten­sity and bru­tal­ity can cre­ate the patina of state unity, also show the cracks in the state’s arma­ture. This expos­ing of cracks can occur through his­tor­i­cal exca­va­tion that sheds light on the excess and unre­paired wounds of past state regimes, or the sheer auda­cious­ness of con­tin­ued oppo­si­tion in many parts of the world, whether orga­nized or spon­ta­neous. States con­tinue to be repres­sive, for instance in the face of dis­sent, the test­ing of their bor­ders by mobile pop­u­la­tions, chal­lenges to the work­ings and dis­ci­pline of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, or the unruli­ness of racial­ized minori­ties. Increas­ingly, how­ever, the repres­sive work of states, which is clas­si­cally con­sid­ered part of their core busi­ness, is out­sourced to pri­vate inter­ests or pur­sued through the per­verse logic of the pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship.

Going back to what we wrote above about Marx­ist dis­cus­sions of the state, there is a need to stress that glob­al­iza­tion has fos­tered an increas­ing bifur­ca­tion between the repro­duc­tion of labor power and “total cap­i­tal.” It has become dif­fi­cult for the state, for any state, to provide an effec­tive medi­a­tion between them. In its rela­tion with cap­i­tal the state is com­pelled to reckon with log­ics of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion that largely exceed national denom­i­na­tions and bound­aries. In this sit­u­a­tion, the state emerges as an eco­nomic actor that holds par­tic­u­lar rela­tions with speci­fic frac­tions of cap­i­tal, whether these rela­tions involve the pro­mo­tion of national eco­nomic inter­ests through neo-mer­can­tilist strate­gies, or efforts to attract for­eign invest­ment through fis­cal mech­a­nisms, labor law arrange­ments, or var­i­ous kinds of ter­ri­to­rial con­ces­sions. In mak­ing such moves the state does not nec­es­sar­ily act as the “ideal col­lec­tive cap­i­tal­ist,” to recall the phrase we used from Engels above. Rather, it emerges as one cap­i­tal­ist actor among oth­ers, although it may be in a stronger or weaker posi­tion with respect to the inter­ests and agen­cies with which it inter­acts. “Total cap­i­tal” today is more a bundle of log­ics, ratio­nal­i­ties, and dynam­ics in which diverse cap­i­tal­ist actors col­lab­o­rate and com­pete, giv­ing rise to pow­er­ful alliances that some­times oper­ate at the con­ti­nen­tal or even global scales. States are enmeshed in these mixed con­sti­tu­tional rela­tions that make up the only pos­si­ble approx­i­ma­tion of the real­ity of “total cap­i­tal” in the global age. Even where the state still plays a role in the repro­duc­tion of labor power (for instance through national health, edu­ca­tion schemes, or sys­tems of labor mar­ket reg­u­la­tion and indus­trial arbi­tra­tion), it is under­stood as a “pos­i­tive exter­nal­ity” to cap­i­tal­ist enter­prise. More per­ti­nently, repro­duc­tive func­tions have been reshuf­fled by finan­cial­iza­tion and the entre­pre­neurial ratio­nal­ity that has infil­trated state wel­fare schemes, imbu­ing every­day rou­ti­nes with the dis­ci­pline and tem­po­ral­ity of indebted life.

This dis­place­ment of repro­duc­tive activ­ity from the state in tandem with the state’s repo­si­tion­ing within the mixed con­sti­tu­tion of “total cap­i­tal” calls for a more extended analy­sis, which nec­es­sar­ily must con­front a wide array of instances in which the shift­ing rela­tions of state and cap­i­tal take diverse and some­times novel forms. This means tak­ing stock of the lat­est devel­op­ments and muta­tions in the world of cap­i­tal, plac­ing equal empha­sis on and explor­ing the com­plic­ity of het­ero­ge­neous modes of extrac­tion and the seem­ingly meta­phys­i­cal qual­i­ties of abstrac­tion today. The analy­sis of finance, logis­tics, and extrac­tion we have pur­sued else­where allows us to shed light on a set of prin­ci­ples and log­ics that increas­ingly drive eco­nomic devel­op­ment well beyond these “sec­tors.”17 In these prac­tices and domains we see the inter­twin­ing of harshly mate­rial aspects of extrac­tion and the almost ethe­real pro­to­cols, tech­niques, and algo­rithms that guide capital’s oper­a­tions. We are con­vinced that this inter­twin­ing points to present cap­i­tal­ist con­di­tions and ratio­nal­i­ties that are quite dis­tinct from the clas­si­cal form of indus­trial cap­i­tal­ism and that states nowa­days are com­pelled to come to terms with this emerg­ing and glob­ally exten­sive cap­i­tal­ist for­ma­tion. The ways in which states adjust to these con­di­tions are clearly het­ero­ge­neous, and thus a grounded obser­va­tion of how states actu­ally con­front these cir­cum­stances must be a cru­cial ele­ment of any ana­lyt­i­cal and polit­i­cal appraisal of cur­rent state trans­for­ma­tions. Such grounded obser­va­tion will inevitably encoun­ter issues of fram­ing, loca­tion, artic­u­la­tion of state struc­tures, and the need to nego­ti­ate the gaps and clashes between crit­i­cal analy­sis and see­ing like a state. It will also need to be informed by and con­tribute to the fur­ther elab­o­ra­tion of a the­o­ret­i­cal per­spec­tive that reck­ons with the accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal, prac­tices of daily life, the pol­i­tics of geo­graph­i­cal scale, and the state’s imbri­ca­tion with the rup­tures and antag­o­nisms that criss­cross social coop­er­a­tion.

We do not expect that such an approach to the state will con­jure away a series of clas­si­cal ques­tions that have always haunted polit­i­cal debates – ques­tions about the col­lec­tive will, rep­re­sen­ta­tion, par­tic­i­pa­tion, polit­i­cal plu­ral­ism, and the capac­ity of states to provide grounds for eman­ci­pa­tion. Far from the vision of soci­ety with­out the state, these ques­tions con­tinue to be posed with regard to the state and thus are nego­ti­ated or dis­placed against the back­ground it pro­vides. Nonethe­less, there is a need to take very seri­ously claims about the exhaus­tion of these cat­e­gories before the emer­gence of pow­er­ful branches of state admin­is­tra­tion and gov­er­nance that seem to oper­ate inde­pen­dently of their sup­posed rep­re­sen­ta­tive legit­i­ma­tion and guid­ance. More­over, these branches of power are increas­ingly sus­cep­ti­ble to forms and prac­tices of cor­rup­tion, result­ing, on the one hand, from the direct influ­ence of cor­po­rate actors, and on the other hand from the pen­e­tra­tion of entre­pre­neurial log­ics into the state’s most rou­tine work­ings. This is not to deny that the state’s capa­bil­i­ties can be effec­tively appro­pri­ated, way­laid, or nego­ti­ated to rad­i­cal polit­i­cal ends. But the suc­cess of such maneu­vers is entirely depen­dent on assem­blages of power that exceed and enfold the state. In con­fronting such issues, it is there­fore a polit­i­cal imper­a­tive not to overly trust the state or to act in state ser­vice. It is not a mat­ter of oppos­ing an abstract “state-pho­bia,” to remem­ber a word used by Michel Fou­cault,18 to the state-philia that is wide­spread in not only main­stream dis­courses but also those strands of crit­i­cal the­ory that claim a monopoly on the real­is­tic reck­on­ing with issues of power. Rather, a real­is­tic obser­va­tion of cur­rent trends and trans­for­ma­tions across diverse spaces and scales demon­strates that the state is not pow­er­ful enough to con­front the oper­a­tions of global cap­i­tal and thus to provide an effec­tive frame­work for projects of rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion within and against con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism. While the approach to the study of the state that we have sketched in this arti­cle high­lights the rel­e­vant roles states con­tinue to play in the present, it also stresses the struc­tural lim­its that are imposed on their actions. There is a need for social move­ments and strug­gles to take stock of both sides of this predica­ment, invent­ing ways to con­front the state capa­ble of com­bin­ing a tac­ti­cal under­stand­ing of dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal con­junc­tures with the capac­ity to mate­ri­ally open the hori­zon of a pol­i­tics beyond the state.


  1. See, for exam­ple, Saskia Sassen, Ter­ri­tory, Author­ity, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assem­blages (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press, 2006). 

  2. San­dro Mez­zadra and Brett Neil­son, Bor­der as Method, or, the Mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of Labor (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­sity Press, 2013). 

  3. Michael Hardt and Anto­nio Negri, Empire (Cam­bridge: Har­vard Uni­ver­sity Press, 2000). 

  4. San­dro Mez­zadra and Brett Neil­son, “Extrac­tion, Logis­tics, Finance. Global Cri­sis and the Pol­i­tics of Oper­a­tions,” Rad­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy 178 (2013): 8-18 

  5. Gio­vanni Arrighi, The Long Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury: Money, Power, and the Ori­gins of Our Times (Lon­don: Verso, 1994); Gio­vanni Arrighi, Adam Smith in Bei­jing: Lin­eages of the Twenty-First Cen­tury (Lon­don: Verso, 2007). 

  6. Wolf­gang Streeck, Gekaufte Zeit. Die vertagte Krise des demokratis­chen Kap­i­tal­is­mus (Berlin: Suhrkamp Ver­lag, 2013). 

  7. Friedrich Engels, Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wis­senschaft (Anti-Dühring), in Marx Engels Werke, vol. 20 (Berlin: Dietz Ver­lag, 1975), 260. 

  8. See Anto­nio Negri, Crisi dello Stato piano. Comu­nismo e orga­niz­zazione riv­o­luzionaria. (Milano: Fel­trinelli, 1974); Anto­nio Negri, La forma Stato. Per la crit­ica dell’economia polit­ica della cos­ti­tuzione (Milano: Fel­trinelli, 1977). 

  9. Max Weber, “Pol­i­tics as Voca­tion,” in Max Weber’s Com­plete Writ­ings on Aca­d­e­mic and Polit­i­cal Voca­tions, ed. John Drei­j­manis (New York: Algora Pub­lish­ing, 2008), 160-61. 

  10. Lau­ren Ben­ton, A Search for Sov­er­eignty. Law and Geog­ra­phy in Euro­pean Empires 1400-1900 (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 2010). 

  11. Philip J. Stern, The Com­pany-State. Cor­po­rate Sov­er­eignty & the Early Mod­ern Foun­da­tions of the British Empire in India. (Oxford, New York: Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press, 2011), 14. 

  12. See Lau­ren Ben­ton, 293-94. 

  13. Partha Chat­ter­jee, The Black Hole of Empire. His­tory of a Global Prac­tice of Power (Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity Press, 2012), 187. 

  14. Akhil Gupta, Red Tape. Bureau­cracy, Struc­tural Vio­lence, and Poverty in India (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­sity Press, 2012), 52. 

  15. Neil Bren­ner, State Spaces. Urban Gov­er­nance and the Rescal­ing of State­hood (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press, 2004). 

  16. Keller East­er­ling, Extrastate­craft: The Power of Infra­struc­ture Space (Lon­don: Verso, 2014). 

  17. San­dro Mez­zadra and Brett Neil­son, “Extrac­tion, Logis­tics, Finance. Global Cri­sis and the Pol­i­tics of Oper­a­tions;” San­dro Mez­zadra and Brett Neil­son, “Oper­a­tions of Cap­i­tal,” in South Atlantic Quar­terly 114, no. 1 (forth­com­ing 2015). 

  18. Michel Fou­cault, The Birth of Biopol­i­tics: Lec­tures at the Col­lège de France 1977-78. Trans. Gra­ham Burchell (Hound­mills: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 2008), 76. 

Authors of the article

teaches Political Theory at the University of Bologna, has long been engaged in activist projects, and is an active participant in the "post-workerist" debate (see particularly Euronomade). Among other books, he is, with Brett Neilson, author of Border as Method.

is a researcher at the Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney. He is currently involved in the tricontinental research project Logistical Worlds: Infrastructure, Software, Labor. With Sandro Mezzadra, he is working on a writing project that examines the operative dimensions of capitalism in relation to contemporary politics.