Post-Capitalist Futures: A Report on Imagination

Join us for the latest in our Research Seminar series when we will welcome Nick Lawrence, Associate Professor in the Department of English & Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick.

In the midst of ongoing and systemic crisis, world-ecological and world-economic, we are witnessing not one but two golden ages: a golden age of crisis theory, together with a flowering of dystopian realisms.

While this may confirm the point that critical theory and literary practice tend to develop in tandem with the moving contradictions of capital itself, in this talk Nick Lawrence aims to investigate further the link between the drive to theorize epochal crisis and the drive to write it.

For some thinkers on the left, the years since 2008 have seen a reinvigoration of debates over key categories such as value, labour, class and social reproduction, bringing in their wake an upsurge of formerly dormant utopian imaginings involving workless futures and full automation; for others, the serial irresolution of world-systemic weakness has prompted a tonal shift from what Wolfgang Streeck calls “wishful demonstrations of the possible to a realistic accounting of the real”.

But before presenting its diagnoses, the new sobriety in theory has had to grapple with the full scale of current challenges to realism – the cardiac frailty of the global economy, the scale of endemic underemployment coupled with coercive labour conditions in both core and peripheries, map-altering levels of mass migration, ramped up applications of racialised state violence, ongoing environmental calamity and the generalized atrophy of any sense of futurity beyond continuation of the status quo.

For many writers, this has occasioned less a return to older models of realist representation and more an embrace of the generic protocols of utopia’s twin shadow. Fredric Jameson’s much quoted aphorism – it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism – may no longer be true, but only because both of these prospects are so easily conflated into a single looming terminus. Getting real in crisis conditions such as these – a world where Royal Dutch Shell assumes in its corporate planning a global temperature rise of 4 to 6 degrees Celsius, for example – means, for writers and other artists, pressing against the limits of even the dirtiest realisms.

Reviewing recent theorizations of post-capitalist scenarios alongside earlier examples, and recent dystopian projections alongside the utopian/dystopian productions of a previous era, the talk aims to gauge the ‘resources of hope’ (Raymond Williams) available to writers, thinkers and activists at an historical moment of exceptional volatility and threat.

This event is particularly aimed at postgraduate students and staff.

The venue is seminar room 2.09 in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.

It is organised by the Centre for Critical Materialist Studies in collaboration with the Pasts, Cosmopolitanism, and Nation-Building in Contemporary World Literature project (led by Professor Stuart Taberner).