From financing labour to labouring finance: subjectivity in financial times

Elisabetta Magnani


The global economic crisis offers a powerful instance of how financial shocks shape the biosphere at the intersection of labour and life. In financial times, capitalism activates two interdependent processes, a process of contamination that somehow blurs the borders between life and financial matters, and a process of abstraction, which increases the emotional distance between object and subject, thus interrupting the potential for change embedded in experiences of fear that accompany environmental crises. These processes involve key tenets of contemporary neo-liberal capitalism, namely financialization and entrepreneurship, and produce new subjectivities.
This is, in my view, central to understand our current organization of ecological concerns and the way biopolitical events, such as the financialization of the economy, organize our collective perception of the possible and alternative ecological configurations to the one we live in. By recognizing the working of a process of contamination and a process of distancing implicit in the financialization of life we are able to acknowledge that "ecological relationships are semiotics" (von UexKull, 1982 [1940]) in the sense that they involve the construction and organization of signs, perceptions, affects, interpretations and meanings. Understanding this new semiotics of power is essential to engaging with actual practices of governance of the sustainability discourses. Operationally, these practices and discourses have deprived ecological knowledge of one of its fundamental ingredient, namely a future (Chakrabarty, 2009), conceived as a historical process of change that involves the subject-object relationship and which constitutes both the knower and the known. The result is an interrupted understanding of the way bio-political events reorganize collective perceptions of possible configurations of the ecological system that are "alter" to the one we live in.

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