English 250

Research Seminar: Critique of Capitalism, or Reading Marx Now

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Spring 2020 Lye, Colleen
W 3-6 note new location: 115 Kroeber

Book List

Banaji, Jairus: Theory as History; Boggs, James: The American Revolution; Cooper, Melinda: Family Values; Dubois, W.E.B.: Black Reconstruction; Federici, Sylvia: Caliban and the Witch; Marx, Karl: Capital Vol i; Postone, Moishe: Time, Labor and Social Domination;

Recommended: Heinrich, Michael: An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Capital

Other Readings and Media

In addition to the books listed there will also be readings made available on bCourses by Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, Nancy Fraser, Roswitha Scholz, Kevin Floyd, the Endnotes Collective, Lise Vogel, Stuart Hall, Robin D.G. Kelley, Angela Davis, Noel Ignatiev and Theodore Allen, Kevin Anderson, Gavin Walker, Kozo Uno, Au Loong Yu, and others.


Since the 2008 financial crisis, there has been a marked revival of interest in Marx and his thought, one that compares to the late 60s and early 70s return to Marx. How is the present day return to Marx a different one from that of global 1968? Today’s rereading of Capital by theorists and critics retrieves the political-economic and dialectical-historical Marx. But for so long now has Marxist cultural criticism defended itself by insisting on the relative autonomy of culture from economy—leaving us with an antinomy between liberation and transformation, art and society—that the payoff of the attention to value production is by no means self-evident. If it is telling that we should be seeing a renewed interest in Marxism among constituencies seeking feminist, antiracist, anticolonial and environmental critiques of capitalism, it’s because a value-theoretical Marxism allows us to ask fundamental questions as to how capital reproduces itself both through and beyond the wage relation—thus, how capital both makes and unmakes classes across modes of production, creates surplus and disposable populations that are racialized and gendered, and requires both unexploited and waste spaces, in its quest to produce value. The first six weeks of this course will be spent reading Capital Vol 1. Then we will acquaint ourselves with some key readings in value form theory (e.g. Michael Heinrich, Moishe Postone, the essays in the collection edited by Neil Larsen et. al., Marxism and the Critique of Value), as a way of transitioning to three points of contemporary focus: social reproduction feminism, racial capitalism, and primitive accumulation and formal subsumption/combined and uneven development as they pertain to theories of imperialism and colonialism. This course is open to beginning and advanced readers of Marx alike. If you’ve wanted a chance to read Capital in a group setting, this is your opportunity, though note that we will be moving fairly quickly through it in order to accommodate its more recent reverberations. (If you would like to spend most of the semester slow-reading Capital, you may want to consider taking my English 177 instead or as a complement). The last three sets of readings (on gender/sexuality, race, imperialism/colonialism) will select for a mix of 20th century thinkers who have demonstrated staying power or more recent thinkers who are opening up new pathways of approach to longstanding concerns.

Note: Please be sure to buy the Penguin edition of Marx’s Capital. 

This course is cross-listed as Critical Theory 240.

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