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12. August 2016, Melanie Altanian | 0 Comments

Visible and invisible borderlands – art history’s unresolved epistemic frontiers

Monica Juneja

My talk takes its cue from Etienne Balibar’s designation of a border as something that goes beyond being a mere boundary between two states, rather performs a “world-configuring function”. In what ways does the notion of a border become a “condition of possibility” for the proliferation of boundaries as modes of producing authoritative knowledge? One important domain of such knowledge has been art history that, participating in and even constitutive of processes of nation building, was conceived of as a path to understand and account for the particularities of “national cultures”. My talk engages with these epistemic foundations and early histories of the discipline at a profoundly global conjuncture as it negotiated a dialectic of crossing and redefining boundaries. From the strivings of early “world art histories” (Weltkunstgeschichte) to encompass a new and ever-increasing diversity of objects that had made their way from regions of the world to Europe and confronted museums, curators, publics and not least a discipline fixated on Classical Antiquity with fresh challenges, I look at the way concepts of modernist art history get appropriated, re-configured and also reaffirmed as the discipline migrates beyond Europe to colonies and young post-colonial nations. I argue that this exercise assumes an urgency in contemporary times as art history strives once again to become “global”, carried by the euphoria of dissolving borders and a shared art world generated by contemporary art and the “excess visibility” (Jean Fisher) it accords to cultural difference. To what extent does the “intimate proximity” (Okwui Enwezor) induced by the global contemporary eschew an engagement with art history’s unresolved epistemic frontiers and what would be the logical consequences of a transcultural art history that worked to replace inherited notions of culture and the art historical apparatus that rests on them with more dynamic models of identities constituted through transborder relationships?

8. August 2016, Melanie Altanian | 0 Comments

Global Borders

Sandro Mezzadra

Many studies have mapped in recent years the proliferation and the increasing relevance of borders in the contemporary world. Far from taking this sheer fact as an argument against “globalization” the lecture will show that borders are currently crucial devices in the articulation of really existing global processes. The point will be made that the border itself provides a privileged angle on the production of global space and time, as well as on the nature of contemporary capitalism and the production of subjectivity that characterizes it. The lecture will start by highlighting the constitutive role played by borders in the origin and development of a world system dominated by state and capital. I will then analyze from the point of view of the shifting shape and functions of the very institute of the border the multiple transitions characterizing the present. I will elaborate upon some key concepts forged in critical border studies to make sense of these transitions – ranging from “differential inclusion” to “internal borders”, from “border regime” to “border struggles”. Against the background provided by these concepts the lecture will end with a discussion of the current developments of the crisis of the European border regime since the “summer of migration” in 2015.

8. August 2016, Melanie Altanian | 0 Comments

The Tides of Babylon: The Apocalypse of Territoriality in Melville and D’Annunzio

Bernhard Siegert

Babylon is the name of the triangle between the founding (and the stabilizing) of a collective, the symbolic (as law), and the elementary space of the sea. In the Revelation of John Babylon is called the “the great harlot who sits on many waters”, who will be annihilated by the coming of the New Jerusalem. At the beginning of modernity – in Herman Melville’s Confidence Man – as well as around 1900 – in Gabriele D’Annunzio’s La Nave (but also in authors like Kafka et al.) – the Apocalypse is revisited in different ways, which represent alternative models of reflection of what Carl Schmitt diagnosed in 1950 as crisis of the European Nomos.

The thesis from which I depart is, that the construction of meaning is dependent on the historical conditions of possibility to operationalize the distinction between land, sea, and air (and the “ether”), to translate that distinction in anthropological, religious, and political knowledge, to transgress it, to negate it, and to re-enact it within technical media. In so-called “modernity” the constructedness and contingency of meaning becomes a part of culture; referentiality appears as mediated by technology; the coupling between signifiers and signifieds is no longer guaranteed by the Great Other but is related to a technical process of articulation and hence to some original formless, which discovers its own cosmological prototype by revoking the distinction between land and sea.

Both, Melville and D’Annunzio, depart from a crisis of the land-sea-distinction when conceiving of the frontier society or the political community – a crisis which gives rise to an immense movement of deterritorialization. Melville’s last novel interprets the frontier between the territory of the US and the terra nullius as the limits of an ontologically secured territoriality, which once guaranteed the stability of sign relations and identities; whereas D’Annunzio’s literature pursues the program of an imperial re-territorialization in the name of a renovated Mare Nostrum.

The reflection of the culture-technical backgrounds of these apocalyptic models, which are so deeply rooted in Western culture, appears to be exigent in our present times as we are told that Europe’s external borders have stopped to exist, and old legal- and geo-political concepts loom in the background of the current discussion on the Decline of the West: mare nostrum, res omnium, terra nullius and the New Nomos of the Sea.

8. August 2016, Melanie Altanian | 0 Comments

Who are “we”? A global text in 1600

Mary Fuller

I will be speaking about Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1600) –an enormous and diverse collection of travel writing and related documents published at the end of Elizabeth I’s reign. The contents of the collection document movement into regions and contact with populations that were new to participants, authors, and contemporary audiences: Africa, the Arctic, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific. They evidence the translation of practice into discourse, and theory into practice. Finally, the editor’s delineation of spatial regions as discrete paratextual categories offers evidence of the ways spaces and populations were being conceptualized, in a work that has long been regarded as among the founding documents of an English national identity grounded in an imperial relation to the rest of the world. My work explores how literary methods can most productively be applied to materials emerging from in historical experience and from non-narrative practices of writing as recording: how can we best read this collection, as textual analysts? I’m especially interested at present in the ways collective identities are shaped, reshaped, and articulated in and across the documents that make up the book, from the micro-level of individual ships’ companies to the macro-level of nation and confession; this topic will be the focus of my talk.

13. June 2016, Melanie Altanian | 0 Comments

File-Jun-10-12-54-15-PM-3Mary Fuller is Head of Literature at MIT. Her research focuses on the records of early modern English voyages, exploration, and colonization, with a secondary interest in the history of books and of reading; more generally, she is interested in how complex experiences are shaped into narrative and enter into historical memory. She has published two monographs on early modern exploration and its documents – Voyages in Print (Cambridge, 1995) and Remembering the Early Modern Voyage (Palgrave, 2008) – as well as numerous articles and chapters on Caribbean poetry, climate theory, exploration narratives and video games, early modern circumnavigations, and Renaissance narratives of travel to Russia, West Africa, Guiana, Newfoundland, and Istanbul. In 2011, she directed an NEH summer seminar on interdisciplinary approaches to the study of early modern travel. She is currently a volume editor for the Oxford edition of Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, and serves as U.S. representative to the Hakluyt Society. She was Associate Chair of the Faculty for MIT in 2011-13. Website

Regarding the topic of the Summer School 2016, her areas of expertise include history of early modern voyages, exploration and colonization, cultural encounters, cartographies


MJuneja-Bild2-3Monica Juneja holds the Chair of Global Art History at the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”, University of Heidelberg. She has been Professor at the University of Delhi, held visiting professorial positions at the Universities of Hannover, Vienna, the Emory University, Atlanta and the University of Zurich. She was recently Resident Scholar at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Previous awards include fellowships of the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Volkswagen Foundation. Her research and writing focus on transculturality and visual representation, disciplinary practices in the art history of Western Europe and South Asia, gender and political iconography, architectural history of South Asia, Christianisation and religious identities in early modern South Asia. Her numerous publications include Religion und Grenzen in Indien und Deutschland: Auf dem Weg zu einer transnationalen Historiographie (2009, ed. with M. Pernau); Global Art History and the „Burden of Representation“ in Global Studies. Mapping Contemporary Art and Culture (2011, eds. H. Belting et al.); Archaeologizing Heritage? Transcultural Entanglements between Local Social Practices and Global Virtual Realities (2012, ed. with Michael Falser); Kulturerbe Denkmalpflege transkulturell: Grenzgänge zwischen Theorie und Praxis (2013, ed. with Michael Falser). Her book in preparation is entitled Can Art History be made Global? A Discipline in Transition, based on the Heinrich Wölfflin Lectures which Monica Juneja delivered at the University of Zurich (Feb-May 2014). Monica Juneja edits the Series Visual and Media Histories (Routledge), is theme editor of the Encyclopedia of Asian Design (Berg), on the editorial board of Visual History of Islamic Cultures (De Gruyter), Ding, Materialität, Geschichte (Böhlau), History of Humanities (University of Chicago Press) and co-editor of Transcultural Studies. She has recently co-curated the exhibition Mensch.Natur.Katastrophe. Atlantis bis heute, Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim 2014-15. Presently she is working in an advisory capacity in the program Museum global? with the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen, Düsseldorf. Website

Regarding the topic of the Summer School 2016, her areas of expertise include global art history, transcultural visuality, cultural translation, transcending boundaries


sandro_mezzadraSandro Mezzadra teaches political theory at the University of Bologna and is adjunct fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Western Sydney. He is currently visiting research fellow at the Humboldt Universität Berlin (BIM – Berliner Institut für empirische Migrations- und Integrationsforschung; October 1, 2015 – July 31, 2016). He has been visiting professor and research fellow in several places, including Humboldt Universität Berlin, Duke University, Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme (Paris), University of Ljubljana, FLACSO Ecuador, and UNSAM (Buenos Aires). In the last decade his work has particularly centered on the relations between globalization, migration and citizenship as well as on postcolonial theory and criticism. He is an active participant in the ‘post-workerist’ debates and one of the founders of the website Euronomade ( Among his books: Diritto di fuga. Migrazioni, cittadinanza, globalizzazione (“The right to escape: Migration, citizenship, globalization”, ombre corte, 2006), La condizione postcoloniale. Storia e politica nel presente globale (“The postcolonial condition: History and politics in the global present”, ombre corte, 2008) and Nei cantieri marxiani. Il soggetto e la sua produzione (“In the Marxian Workshops. The Subject and its Production”, Manifestolibri, 2014). With Brett Neilson he is the author of “Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor” (Duke University Press, 2013). Website 1 Website 2

Regarding the topic of the Summer School 2016, his areas of expertise include colonial and postcolonial studies, frontiers of citizenship, border struggles, inclusion and exclusion, global governance, transit labour


???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Bernhard Siegert is Professor for Theory and History of Cultural Techniques at the Media Faculty at the Bauhaus University Weimar. He gained his Dr. phil. in 1991 from Ruhr-Universität Bochum (German Literature, History, Linguistics), and his Habilitation from Humboldt-University in 2001 (venia legendi for Kulturwissenschaft and Media Studies). Since 2008 he is one of the two directors of the International Research Center for Cultural Techniques and Media Philosophy at Weimar. Since 2013 he is the spokesman of the DFG Research Group “Media and Mimesis” at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. He has been Senior Fellow at the IFK in Vienna, Visiting Professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara (2008 and 2011), LeBoff Visiting Scholar at the Department for Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University (2015), and in 2016 he won the International Visiting Scholar Award of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. His current research focuses on the cultural history and theory of the ship and the ocean, hybrid and quasi-objects, the genesis of representation, and operative ontologies. His recent books are: Passage des Digitalen. Zeichenpraktiken der neuzeitlichen Wissenschaften 1500 – 1900 (Berlin: Brinkmann & Bose, 2003); Passagiere und Papiere. Schreibakte auf der Schwelle zwischen Spanien und Amerika (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2006), Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real, trans. by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015). He is also the co-editor of the journal Zeitschrift für Medien- und Kulturforschung and of the year-book Archiv für Mediengeschichte. Website

Regarding the topic of the Summer School 2016, his areas of expertise include media philosophy, comparative visual and cultural theory, medial and cultural triages (grids, filters, doors, passages)

16. May 2016, Melanie Altanian | 0 Comments

When: 4 – 9 September 2016
Where: Seminarhotel Alfa Soleil, Kandersteg near Berne, Switzerland
Languages: English (main), German
ECTS: 6 | Costs: 500 Swiss francs (travel and accommodation [double room] covered by organizer)

Application deadline: 20 May 2016

Official Call

Read more

16. May 2016, Melanie Altanian | 0 Comments


The notion of the border as a clear cut geopolitical division of national territories has been challenged for quite some time in multiple disciplines, including history, art history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, and cultural theory engaged in the field of postcolonial studies. Even though state borders prove effective in terms of inclusion and exclusion, they can never be reduced to one single meaning.

The transposition of persons, commodities, materialities, and imaginaries involved in border regimes both reflects and affects the transpositioning nature of borders. Such a dynamic and fluid notion of the border shifts our focus beyond geopolitical landscapes with its fences of death, barbed wire, walls, mountains or swamps, towards a more complex notion of border regimes. This implies all sorts of triages of socio-cultural inclusion and exclusion (such as those found within financial markets, art markets, schools, and health check centers), but also the connecting, collaborative, and creative aspects of “contact zones” (Pratt), “-scapes” (Appadurai), “trading zones” (Galison) or interstitial “third spaces” (Bhabha, Soja). Although never free from confrontations, the border can be seen as “not that at which something stops but […] from which something begins its presencing” (Heidegger). Moreover, it generally complicates dichotomies between natural/real/factual and conceptual/imaginary/fictional borders, those inside our heads and those outside. Borders are always to be understood as highly complex configurations of difference and identity, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion, diachrony and synchrony, imagination and its real effects. The analysis of border regimes, therefore, requires a plurality of methodological approaches as well as an inter- and transdisciplinary dialogue.

The Summer School invites doctoral and postdoctoral scholars from all disciplines of the Humanities and Social Sciences to contribute to a critical interdisciplinary discussion on borders and analogous concepts. It addresses the following questions:

  • What are the idiosyncrasies, constitutive elements and specific discursive, socio-cultural or political conditions of borderlands, borderscapes, contact zones, liminal spaces, margins etc.? Which institutions, agents or actants are involved?
  • What are the impacts of knowledge transfer, the circulation and flows of persons, objects, images, and information on the transpositioning of borders, whether physical or imaginary?
  • In which ways can ‘border thinking’ or ‘border knowledge’ (Mignolo) inform us about our own disciplinary positions when analysing border regimes? What are the consequences of the claim that we tend to invoke/produce the borders we describe (Mezzadra/Neilson)?

Invited keynote speakers and possible foci of their lectures

Mary C. Fuller
(Head of the Literature Section, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT)
Early modern European and North American literature and culture, history of early modern voyages, exploration and colonization, cultural encounters, cartographies

Monica Juneja
(HCTS Professor “Global Art History”, Universität Heidelberg)
Global art history, transcultural visuality, cultural translation, transcending boundaries

Sandro Mezzadra
(Associate Professor, Department of Political and Social Sciences, Università di Bologna)
Political philosophy, colonial and postcolonial studies, frontiers of citizenship, border struggles, inclusion and exclusion, global governance, transit labour

Bernhard Siegert
(Gerd-Brucerius-Professor für Geschichte und Theorie der Kulturtechniken, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar)
Media philosophy, comparative visual and cultural theory, medial and cultural triages (grids, filters, doors, passages)

4. February 2015, Michael Toggweiler | 0 Comments

It is late for these remarks; this is to say: I am late – only one day before the beginning of the winter school 2015 am I posting a note on Jean Baudrillard. And it will be a kind of adventure because I am going to write about an author whom I have not studied properly, but who, it seems to me, should not be silenced in a winter school dedicated to capital.

It was in the seventies of the last century already that Baudrillard published L’échange symbolique et la mort. In it, Baudrillard diagnosed a historical change: This consisted, according to him, in an advent of a new era, of a new era of capitalism or maybe better: of a new era post capitalism.

Namely if capitalism could be described by a dialectics of use-value and exchange-value, the new era is characterised by the reign of the exchange-value alone. Therefore, capital is not any more a key term for understanding the contemporary; instead, the term of the code becomes a key to the contemporary. Meanwhile, objects as exchange-values become signs referring to other signs. The signs form a system of their own, independent of use-value. With the system of signs, everything becomes interchangeable. Terms like politics or ideology become outdated. What is necessary, then, is finding a new vocabulary for the changes that have happened and are happening. I stop here.

I am sure that my view of what Baudrillard has said or is supposed to have said (his critics denounce his style as hermetic, impenetrable and dark) is very limited, and I might even be entirely wrong in my rendering of some of Baudrillard’s thoughts. Nevertheless, I would consider it necessary to take into account Baudrillard‘s contributions in our discussions that regard both the utility and the scope of the term of capital.

Personnally I am persuaded that Baudrillard has indeed seen, felt, or experienced „something“ – and this almost 40 years ago. But I doubt that his analysis is very helpful, and I am even more skeptical about the lessons he has drawn from his analysis. By lessons, I mean his insistence on indifference or his teaching of seduction or his strategy of fatality.

For those who are entirely unfamiliar with Baudrillard, I would suggest to them to read the wikipedia-entry:


1. February 2015, jpearson | 0 Comments

My current research project on television advertisements for financial services started as an aside in an article in progress on Frank Herbert’s SF classic Dune.  In it I argue that Dune’s protagonist Paul Atreides is a prototype for the exemplary postindustrial subject that would emerge as a dominant neoliberal ideal twenty-odd years later, what Wendy Brown has called the “entrepreneurial actor” and Martin labels the risk-capable investor (Martin, 20).

In Paul a sardonic, instrumentalized affective flexibility combines with a computational capacity for speculative extrapolation to uncouple him not just from self and history, but from space and time as well.  As he can “move within himself,” so he can project his awareness into the roiling timescape, seeing “many places at once” (13).  In doing so, he is responding to the structural demands of a globalized and networked capitalism.  As the time frame for acting on one’s knowledge of market fluctuations shrinks ever closer to zero, the perspective needed to apprehend them extends deeper into the connections of the present, the entailments of the past, and the possibilities of the future.  Just as Benjamin’s work in the Arcades Project can be read as showing how the burgeoning complexity of the Modern industrial marketplace exceed the grasp of any fixed position of Napoleonic or Hausmann-esque perceptual mastery, demanding instead the mobile, multi-perspectival experiential montage of the flâneur, so the speed and complexity of the global marketplace of postindustrial capitalism demands a perspective that can not only surveil the present—all of it, all at once—but “sample the winds of the future” (Dune, 193) as well.

There is a clear linkage between a panoptic, non-local subjectivity such as Paul’s and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr.’s description of the decentralized global networks of capital and power in Empire. Like Paul, Empire “exhausts and suspends historical time… its physical space is limitless, open to perpetual expansion, and its social space is open to variety, hybridity, and relentless denaturing… Empire intervenes both in the social world and in the minds of individuals, two spheres [its practices] fuse” (“Science Fiction and Empire” 237).  Randy Martin describes subjects like Paul—so in tune with both the form and the demands of Empire—as having a self “dispossessed of a secure past, present, and future” (Empire of Indifference, 36).    Unmoored from history and continuity, Paul achieves an unprecedented mobility and flexibility allowing him to “prey[] on marginal fluctuations [and] balance with alarcity” where the obsolete, encumbered stable subject would stand fast (Martin, 36). His batch produced performances of interiority are tuned, not merely to his observations of his immediate surroundings and his immediate interlocutors, but to the whole social system in both its present and its many possible future states.

Paul’s combination of panoptic surveillance of the timestreams with expanded knowledge of the present, and the capacity to batch produce his affect in response to both, is a performance of self that closely resembles the temporal logic of financial speculation and military pre-emption.  Identifying possible threats and opportunities in possible futures, and then moving preemptively to manage them, volatilizes the present in an attempt to contain the future (Martin, 19, 34, 36).  As Irulan’s epigraph on prescience suggested, in such a speculative regime it is hard to distinguish “How much is actual prediction … and how much is the [Paul] shaping the future to fit the prophecy” through his arbitrage in the present (277).

Yet in order to activate the flexible, responsive techniques of his weaponized ecological and affective literacies, Paul must surrender his self-direction and become increasingly reactive.  Where others decide for themselves, “the arbitrager is embedded in the decisions of others, surfing the waves of decision and deriving unseen value from the undertow” (Martin, 22).  Here yawns what Leonard Scigaj called “the trap of prescience” (343) in Dune:  when sensitivity to opportunity shade into reflexive response, individuality and masculine autonomy are lost to an automated, deterministic rehearsal of the reactions to stimuli technique demands.

As Juan A. Prieto-Pablas has argued, “the science fiction superhero… [offers] an exemplary instance of the symptoms which a new view of reality made possible… the result is a kind of hero in whom the reader’s fears are projected more intensely than their desires” (73).  Emulating the mobility, flexibility, and universality of postindustrial capital, Paul gains effectivity (as an arbitrageur) in proportion to the self-abnegation of his own distinguishing properties.   To become “man enough” (effective enough) to meet the postindustrial marketplace on its own terms, Paul must surrender almost everything traditionally associated with masculine interiority.

The novel’s proto-financialized approach to subjectivity and agency, and its pathological result—neither schizophrenia nor anesthesia, but sociopathy—differed from other writing of the time, but seem increasingly familiar to us now.  Dune articulates an SF parabola within which sociopathic antiheroes such as Batman’s Bruce Wayne, Watchmen’s Ozymandius, American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, and Dexter’s Dexter Morgan continue to operate today.

In the midst of working through the implications for the form of posthuman, postindustrial subjectivity Herbert’s novel presents, I stumbled across Morgan Stanley’s 2007 television spot, “World Wise”:

Morgan Stanley_World Wise

This short video brilliantly and viscerally communicated the subjectivity of “one who can be in many places at once.”  Goldman and Papson, discussing this ad in Landscapes of Capital, point out that rather than employing the conventional trope of “looking down on the globe from afar to conceptualize it as a whole, viewers are positioned by the camera’s point of view to share the panoptic eye’ whose mastery is claimed here by Morgan Stanley, one able to “envision the otherwise determinately abstract flows of the geopolitical forces that shape portfolios…..  [The ad thus constructs] a political-economic landscape that it implies can neither be assembled nor understood from a lay perspective”  (201).

The ad needs to simulate a posthuman perspective, spatially and temporally unbound, in order to articulate the complexity of the market.  The scale of that complexity, in turn, alienates and seems to disqualify any local or human attempts to understand or effect change upon it.  The ad is thus both constructs and performs an elite subjectivity that claims privileged access to and agency within our global moment–exactly the kind of subjectivity that was being constructed and coded as “heroic” in the SF and fantasy I was working with in my dissertation project.

I’m still working out how deep and how meaningful those connections and correlations are.  I look forward to sharing that work with you.


Attebery, Brian.  “Science Fiction Parabolas: Jazz, Geometry, and Generation Starships.”  Parabolas of Science Fiction.  Eds. Brian Attebery and Veronica Hollinger.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2013.  3-23. Print.

Benjamin, Walter.  The Arcades Project.  Trans.  Howard Eilen and Kevin McLaughlin. Ed.  Rolf Tiedmann.  Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1999.  Print.

Csicsery-Ronay Jr, Istvan.  “Science Fiction and Empire.”  Science Fiction Studies 30.2.  231-245.  Print.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson.  Landscapes of Capital: Representing Time, Space, and Globalization In Corporate Advertising.  Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011.  Print.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri.  Empire. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000.  Print.

Herbert, Frank.  Dune.  1965.  Berkley Mellon Books, 1977.  Print.

Martin, Randy.   Empire of Indifference:  American War and The Financial Logic of Risk Management.  Durham: Duke UP, 2007.  Print.

Prieto-Pablos, Juan A.  “The Ambivalent Hero of Contemporary Fantasy and Science Fiction.” Extrapolation:  A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 32.1.  64-80. Print.

Scigaj, Leonard M.  “Prana and the Presbyterian Fixation: Ecology and Technology in Frank Herbert’s Dune Tetralogy.”  Extrapolation 24.4 (1983). 340-355.  Print.

11. January 2015, Michael Toggweiler | 0 Comments

Promises, Contracts and the Derivative Form

Arjun Appadurai

Derivatives (financial instruments that involve trading on the basis of differential assessments of the future prices of other underlying assets) are ways in which financiers have found ways to make money out of risk, rather than out of prices of assets. Derivatives therefore raise the question of whether they are themselves a version of the commodity form or whether they represent a new symbolic form in which money has become largely separate from commodities. This puzzle is central to the sense in which finance has become the dominant current form of capital. My lecture explores the relationship between promises, contracts and derivatives to suggest that derivative finance is the latest instance of Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of “creative destruction”, in which capitalism grows and expands by destroying its prior institutional axioms and forms.

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