Working Paper 147

Regimes of Value and Worthlessness: two stories I know, plus a Marxian reflection

Don Kalb

Abteilung ‚Resilienz und Transformation in Eurasien’

Jahr der Veröffentlichung


Working Paper 147

Terence Turner has reminded us that Karl Marx built his critique of political economy not only on the labour theory of value, but also on a value theory of labour under capitalism. In this paper I will employ that important insight and approach ‘the devaluation of labour’ as an anthropological rather than a narrowly economic event. I will look at two life stories from my earlier work, stories from two different locations – one in the Netherlands and one in Poland – that express in very different ways a similar threat of being made ‘worthless’. The paper also seeks to save some key aspects of the structural Marxism of the 1970s, associated with the important Althusserian trope of ‘articulation’, in an effort to propose an updated Marxian anthropology that can help address key experiences in and core properties of capitalist modernity. I do this by rejecting the facile opposition of ‘etic’ versus ‘emic’ ways of knowing; by talking about ‘critical junctions/junctures’ rather than articulation; by suggesting a ‘relational account’ rather than a ‘structuralist’ one; and by using Marxian notions of class, value, accumulation, appropriation, contradiction, and alienation in an ethnographically driven effort at discovery.

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