Racial Capitalism and Social Reproduction: Reflections from South Africa

November 8, 2022 - 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Prof. Hylton White

Discussions of racial capitalism in South Africa have often drawn on analyses of gender and reproduction as well as race. This applies especially to analyses of the unwaged householding labor of Black women. Such labor sustains the reproduction of Black life in dispossessed circumstances. Yet theorists of exploitation have shown how it subsidizes the reproduction of labour-power at lower costs to capital. Building on these contributions, we will revisit them with attention to the fetish-forms of capitalist society, and their bearing on issues of race, gender, exploitation, and reproduction. If Fanon is correct that in antiblackness the Black person "symbolizes the biological," how do dynamics of reproduction, both personal and social, shape racial capitalism? We will approach this through the abstract nature of labor-power in capitalist society, then the relations among that abstraction, gendered processes of reproduction, and fetishistic forms of antiblack racism. Contrary to Ferguson, treatments of Black lives as socially surplus are specifically an effect of racial-capitalist development.

About the Speaker: Hylton White is a social anthropologist with interests in critical theory, the anthropology of value, and the ethnography and history of social relations in southeast Africa. Hylton has conducted ethnographic research for more than twenty years in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, focusing on the ways that people in rural communities make and think about social ties, especially in the context of their households and families. This has led him to publish work on issues such as kinship, the life course, architecture, ritual, customary law, and political authority. He is currently completing a book that examines how Zulu South Africans have navigated the complex ethics of keeping up proper relationships with ancestors in a post-apartheid context of far-reaching sociocultural change and profound economic insecurity. Hylton studied sociocultural anthropology at the University of Cape Town (BA Honours 1992) and at the University of Chicago (PhD 2001), then taught at the University of Chicago and at the New School for Social Research before joining the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 2010. At Wits he currently teaches courses in general anthropology and sociocultural theory, but has also taught on ritual, kinship, and economic anthropology. Hylton has served three terms as the Secretary of the Council for Anthropology Southern Africa, from 2011 to 2016. He has served in the editorial boards of Anthropology Southern Africa, Cultural Anthropology, American Anthropologist, and Critical Historical Inquiry. He is currently editor at HAU Books.

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  • Concilium on Southern Africa