Economic Life: From the Economy to the Economical?

Dr. Bastian Ronge
Post-doc, Philosophy, Humboldt University Berlin
Dr. Arthur Bueno
PhD in Sociology, University of Sao Paulo

Without living beings there would hardly be no economy. The crucial question is, however, how to conceptualize the relationship between different ways of comprehending life and different ways of understanding the economy. There seems to be at least two main possibilities, which we would like to discuss and confront with each other in this workshop.

Albeit in very different ways, major social thinkers of the 19th and 20th century – from Hegel to Marx, from Simmel to Habermas, among many others – tend to consider the relationship between life and economy as a foundational and, at the same time, an antagonistic one. While life is taken as a basic foundation of the economy, the latter also appears to oppose the former, in whatever way this is conceived. The development of the modern economy is frequently viewed as resulting in its detachment and hostility in relation to fundamental structures of (social) life, so that the totality of economic relations would consist in, or at least appear to be, an autonomous domain operating on its own terms. Within such framework, the critique of the economy generally focuses on blaming the latter for damaging life in one way or another. This process might be understood in terms of a relationship between communal life and the alienation, exploitation, and fetishisation of its productive forces (Marx), the relativity of life and the relativity of the exchange form (Simmel), traditional life and modern rationalized economy (Weber), lifeworld and system (Habermas), ethical life and market pathologies or misdevelopments (Honneth), the life of the multitude and Empire (Hardt/Negri), form-of-life and economic-theological governmentality (Agamben).

However, such understanding of “the economy” has been recently opposed by several authors, from different standpoints. It would no longer be a matter of viewing economic relations asoccurring within an autonomous, systematic domain. Rather, thinkers as diverse as Michel Callon, Bruno Latour, Maurizio Lazzarato, Theodore Schatzki, Andreas Reckwitz, Timothy Mitchell, and others, have suggested to conceptualize the relationship between life and economy in a more immanent manner, thus indicating a possible replacement of the idea of “the economy” – as a self-contained domain – by the notion of “the economical”. In this perspective, economic relations are not to be regarded as a system standing above life, but as a reality performed and reproduced through makeshift interactions or practices. This would involve different ways of describing economic realities as well as distinctive modes of critique.

In our workshop we would like to confront these two broad theoretical accounts of the relationship between (social) life and the economy or the economical in order to work out the conceptual strengths and weaknesses of each position. In particular, we are interested in the question: How the interpretation of the relationship between life and the economy/the economical anticipates what sorts of social theory and what modalities of critique?

Following up the “Thinking the Economy” workshops which were successfully held at Mancept in 2012, 2013, and 2014, we are inviting PhD students, post-docs and scholars from various academic felds to present and discuss their work on the topic of economic life in an interdisciplinary manner.

Please submit your abstract (300-500 words) to and by April 30th 2015.

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