Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough


Over the next few weeks, I’ll be meandering around, given talks at the following events in the UK and the US. Perhaps I’ll see some of you there…

18 February – London – Birkbeck: 6:30-8:00 p.m.

I’ll be giving a talk to the Capital reading group that meets fortnightly at Birkbeck. They are currently working on chapter 19 of volume 1, so my talk will involve a bit of regression for the group. I’ll be focusing on the opening chapters of Capital, as I have on the blog, trying to present a bit more systematically on how an appreciation of Marx’s presentational strategy can clarify how Marx understands the reproduction of emancipatory possibilities as an integral aspect of the reproduction of capital.

If anyone is interested in attending – or would just like to know more about the reading group – please email samdolbear @ for more information. The exact location of the talk will depend on the numbers expressing an interest in attending, and will be announced closer to the date.

22 February – New York – New School: 6:00-8:00 p.m.

I’ll be giving this talk as part of the NSSR/Lang Speaker Series, organised by the Political Theory Colloquium at the New School. My focus will again be on Marx’s presentational strategy – specifically, his sardonic sense of humour – and on the ways in which many passages in Capital that are often read “straight”, should instead be read as burlesque parodies of political economic theories. Political economy, for Marx, stops short in awe at the complex patterns generated by the reproduction of capital – assuming that intelligibility implies Reason, beneficence, or efficiency. Capital seeks to go beyond this awestruck reaction, providing a robust theory of the practical generation of specific historical patterns, while also demonstrating how the same practices that reproduce capital, also reproduce the potential for its emancipatory transformation.

Location: The New School, Room 529, 80 Fifth Ave., NYC

It’s possible to RSVP via Facebook here:, although it’s also okay to show up on the night without having registered. The event is free.

24-26 February – College Station – Texas A&M University

As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, the Society for Social and Political Philosophy is organising a Roundtable on Marx’s Capital, with an eye to new readings, and new readers, of Marx. The event is open and free to all, and the format encourages in-depth presentations and discussions.

Location: Bolton Hall, Texas A&M Campus

For more information contact: Texas A&M Philosophy Department, (979) 845-5660. The event schedule is available online.

9 responses to “Meanders

  1. WildlyParenthetical February 9, 2011 at 4:45 am

    I hope this is all very fun, and not tooooooo exhausting (it’s quite a schedule!).

  2. Paul Rubner March 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Hi Nicole,

    I hope you come to Sydney in June for the Capital Against Capital and give a paper. I have only recently come across your blog and as I’ve just finished Capital, v.1, I find your interpretation of Capital extremely challenging and would love to hear you argue for it in person!

    Paul R.

  3. roger March 8, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Nicole, I shoulda asked how you liked Texas! I hope you got to my old hometown, Austin, since just staying in College Station will give you a pretty distorted view of Texas as a provincial place, mainly dedicated to hamburgers, fraternities and shopping.
    Hmmm, well, maybe not too distorted. Nevertheless, Austin, San Antonio and Houston are great places to visit.

  4. roger June 2, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    So, how are things, Nicole? I’m missing this blog.

  5. N Pepperell June 2, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Hey roger – sorry for the long silence – I’ve had to leave lots of people hanging here and at the blog email recently, due to new responsibilities at work… I have a pent-up collection of things I’d like to write here – I’m hoping things will be calm enough by July or August to do some of that, but I’ve had these hopes before…

    To answer your earlier question: Texas was brilliant! A bit difficult to get to from here, and I had to miss the final day of the conference in order to get back to Australia in time for the first teaching day of the term, but the conference itself was absolutely fantastic – great people, really good, productive discussion – I really enjoyed it. Cleaver wasn’t able to participate, due to illness I understand, but the discussion was great. I didn’t, though, have time to see much of the area at all – had to bustle in and out…

  6. roger June 5, 2011 at 5:06 am

    Oh, a shame you didn’t have any time for Austin! A great music scene. I can’t say that, since I moved to Paris, I grow all sad and lonely thinking of Austin, but I am fond of the place, still.
    I’m psyched that you are going to be writing on new stuff. I am always writing on new stuff, but I do somehow make it seem like old stuff all too often.

  7. roger June 15, 2011 at 5:21 am

    Nicole, I came across a piece of data today that reminded me of your discussion of Marx’s idea of free labor versus the idea that capitalism was not averse to slavery. It comes from an early political economist, a friend of Addison and Steele’s named Henry Martyn who wrote a rather brilliant and prescient article for the Spectator about division of labor, industrialization and free trade. In Considerations on the Indian Trade, he considers the fact that specializing the worker lessens the number of workers, who are able to receive higher wages, while the unemployed workers benefit from lower prices. He is trying to justify the Indian trade in cloth, and he gives an early instance of the comparative advantage thesis. Among the trades that could profit from specializing the worker are shipbuilding, and he is especially impressed with the cheapness of Negro labour in the plantations.

    “Materials for Building there are cheaper ; that these
    migh build may be wrought by cheaper Labour, the Work might with much ~Skill,
    be perform’d by Negroes. To single Parts of Ships,
    single Negroes might be assign’d, the Manufacture of
    Keels to one, to another Rudders, to another Masts ; to
    severe1 others, several other Parts of Ships. Of which,
    the variety wou’d still be less to puzle and confound
    the Artist’s Skill, if he were not to vary from his Model,
    if the same Builders wou’d still confine themselves to
    the same Scantlings and Dimensions, never to diminish
    nor exceed their Patterns.”

    And he compares the cost of labour of the Negroes to the Dutch:

    The Strength of Negroes is as great; a way is shewn and lbp
    to make their Skill as great; wherefore, they might be
    taught to build as well, and with equal expedition.

    The Wages of Negroes are not so great as of the…
    Dutch Builders; the annual Service of a Negroe might
    be hir’d for half the Price that must be given to one of
    these. Only high Wages, or slow and clumsy Work-
    manship, make Labour dear. Negroes may build aa
    good Ships with equal Expedition, for half the Wages
    that must be given in Holland. And therefore, Ships
    of cheaper Materials built by cheaper Labour in our
    Plantations, must needs be cheaper than equal Ships i n

    I’m not sure what he means by “wages”, but certainly this is an early modern consideration of Plantation labour that treats it as free wage labor.

  8. N Pepperell June 28, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Hey roger – sorry for the delay replying… Was getting ready for, and then attending, one final conference before hunkering down again for the term…

    I want to write a great deal more on the issue of how parts of our world that Marx treats as integral aspects of capitalism, tend to be treated as pre- or non-capitalist aspects (a socially plausible form of thought that Marx also analyses). It’s a real limitation in this sense that the thesis (and the first book) will stop with the early chapters of Capital, since Marx does most of this work in the later chapters… The second book will try to tackle more of the world system elements of the text – as well as discussions of the state, working class social movements, and other topics… I can’t really get to any of this adequately until the first book is out of the way, but then I’m hoping to find the time for something similar to what I did when blogging the beginnings of the thesis: to do the initial very rough draft here online, in a provisional way, to test out the readings of specific passages…

    But sorry – not much of a contentful comment – just thinking out loud…

  9. roger June 30, 2011 at 1:55 am

    Nicole, what other people make theses out of, you call ‘talking out loud”!
    I just wanted to give you a reference, is all.

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