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Producing Subjects

Producing Subjects: Rethinking Productivity, Subjectivity, and Value Part 2


Susan Dianne Brophy received her PhD in Social and Political Thought from York University (Canada) and is serving as Chair of the Department of Sociology and Legal Studies at St. Jerome’s University in the University of Waterloo Canada. Her research focuses on the theory and history of law and capitalism as well as anti-colonialist methodology and analysis.

Dr. Anastasia Tataryn is an Assistant Professor of Legal Studies at St. Jerome’s University, University of Waterloo Canada. Her research interrogates the limits of legal frameworks by questioning the foundations, and categories, of modern law and legal subjectivity

In part 1 of this series, Anastasia Tataryn and Susan Dianne Brophy discussed how law and markets intersect to produce subjects, and ways to rethink subjectivity in scholarship. They continue their discussion here in part 2, which features Susan Dianne Brophy’s interview of Anastasia Tataryn.

Tataryn: When considering the theoretical and political commitments of law and political economy, I am interested in starting with the basics: the term, economy. ​Eco-nomics ​originally refers to the regulation, or logic, of the ‘home’: ​eco -​ the environment or the household (οικος) and ​nomos ​- law (​ν​όμος, nómos​). Eco-nomics, on the one hand, harkens back to the racialised and gendered structure where ‘the citizen’ emerged from the private to the public, and ​his ​economic activity upheld both the home and the public, i.e. the state. On the other hand, economics, the logic of a household, does not necessarily need to reaffirm the singular, historically specific interpretation of the household. If we stay within the repetition and recirculation of economics and economy as only ever understood through this tradition and co-existence with capital and market, and if this singular definition of ‘economics’ forms the site of our critique then we deny the possibility for a radically different politics, where eco-nomy, ‘management of production, exchange and growth’ (Morin 2012, 104), can be defamiliarized from the normative vision of self and others. How can we resist reconstituting economy as productivity gauged through capitalist accumulation? The ‘flat repetition of the protocols of institutional reason’ (Braidotti 2013, 169), where ‘institutional reason’ is what perpetuates legal categories and through these, legal subjectivity, need to be dismantled.

Guided by this institutional reason, capitalism—capital accumulation and economic growth—is proliferated through its power to define value. Value is understood as proliferating an infinity of ends (i.e. accumulation). Accordingly, the end to be reached is an endless increase imagined through uninhibited market growth; capital is the end in and of itself. As such, capital is reinforced as if it were the only way to participate in the economy. Yet economy can be much more than capital accumulation.

Revisiting eco-nomos, we uproot the concept of eco- from contingencies of the household, property and modern law. Eco- as a household of ecology and nomos as a shared sociality, bounded by an ethical relationality relies not only on each other (​nomos)​ but on the ecology of living (​eco)​. This rethinking urges us to think ‘law and political economy’ where eco — ecology, economy and ecosociality — nurtures the possibility of embedding value within the totality of resonance in lived experience.

Brophy: What becomes of nomos beyond capitalism? More precisely, can we think of a framework for developing a non-capitalist nomos of value?

Tataryn: If nomos – law, or custom – emerges from shared sociality, then value can be found in the ‘ties that bind’. This harkens to ideas, that are built from material lived examples, often referred to as ‘non-capitalist alternative economies.’ Non-capitalist economies are framed in different ways, but the technique, so to speak, of a non-capitalist nomos, while being a limitation (law=limit=boundary ordering a sociality) is not the same as a limited due to a technique (techne) of capital accumulation. I discuss this more in my work where I develop a diagnosis from philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy of ‘ecotechnics’ in the context of law and the limits of legal frameworks (Tataryn 2021).

While describing this in detail is beyond the scope of this particular conversation, the ‘solidarity economy’ or ‘community economy’ actively resist capitalisation and capital accumulation (Gibson-Graham, among others). Eco districts are another emerging example of localized activities, ‘urban experiments’ (Flurin 2017, 35) that aim to address the needs and sustainable function of urban areas. The fact that there is no direct definition of what an eco-district is (Flurin 2017, 34) but yet an aim of eco-districts is to tackle ‘urban design, community building, and social and economic welfare’ suggests that there is scope within these emerging projects to think nomos (with eco) as a limit, an order, a law beyond capital accumulation. This way of seeing law challenges jurisprudential canons that limit law’s philosophy to classic debates within natural, positivism and realism. In fact, the canon of jurisprudence that assumes that we know, or can know,the nomos, and as such, can critique it for its being embedded in capital (or vice versa). However, the movement and responsiveness of law suggests that identifying the nomos as only ever linked to capital furthers the false contingencies (Marks 2009) of Western jurisprudence.

Undeniably, there is a lot of groundwork to be done here with uprooting epistemologies of law! But this departs from our focus here on value. Redefining economos would entail uprooting the concept of eco– from the ideologically weighted, historically specific contingency of the household, property and –nomos as the modern, statist legal regime. Eco- as a household of ecology and nomos as tracing the limit of a sociality, happening (what JL Nancy refers to as originary sociality, see Tataryn 2021) would posit household as a shared space, bounded by an ethical relationality to the beings that rely not only on each other (nomos) but on the environment and ecology of life (eco). This relationality is continuous material and conceptual movement. In recognising the contingency of constructions of being against the experience – the actual being-that-is-happening – we are left with the bare materiality of being as the basis of law and sociality: all we have is what is happening in material lived, felt, experienced. In Viveiros de Castro’s words, ‘at the heart of the matter, there is no stuff; only form, only relation’ (2004, 484).

Eco-nomos, uprooted from the predominant (neo)liberal market ideology upholding our onto-epistemological structures of law and economics, maintains and sustains human-animal relationships, as well as all that is within ecology and ecosystems. Value here derives from life itself. Simple as that. Yet the immense challenge lies in shifting our lens of critique, analysis and debate to start valuing differently.

Brophy: I see a significant parallel between our approaches. Specifically, the focus on the realm of life-making as a challenge to the life-destroying allyship between law and political economy. This reflects our shared sense that the task of establishing the parameters of legal subjectivity is at the same time defining the value of life, as well as a shared apprehension that for much of modern western history, a too austere notion of value determines life in general, and subjectivity as such.

Another common point of interest is the focus on “totality”, and I am very interested in your recuperation of eco as the realm of “totality”. My understanding of totality is germane to dialectics, which refers to all of the contradictory social processes that drive transformation. Is there a defining poststructuralist principle, claim, or concept that informs your understanding of “totality”?

Tataryn: Totality as a concept will always be limiting, like any claim of a ‘universal’.

Looking at this through the lens of what is referred to now as ‘economy’, we can see that the economy is not something that is contained per se. Instead, economy has become the way that what we know of as ‘the world’ has been structured. The space of the world has become articulated as an ‘essentially capitalist, globalist, and monopolist organisation that is monopolising the world’ (Nancy 1997, 101). But economy monopolises the world meaning that it is not ‘the world,’ full stop.

Brophy: There is so much in your replies I would be interested in exploring in more detail. There may be some similarities in our approaches that prevail despite our dissimilar theoretical frameworks. With respect to your first reply, when you say, “relationality is continuous material and conceptual movement” and speak of “the contingency of constructions of being against the experience – the actual being-that-is-happening”, I see aspects of a dialectical materialist approach, which places the abstract and the concrete in a generative tension to better understand “capitalism as a differentiated totality” (Rees 1998, 103). In turn, this notion of a “differentiated totality” appears to resonate somewhat with how you define “totality” with reference to Nancy.

A more salient similarity has to do with what you say at the end of your first reply, where you argue that “immense challenge lies in shifting our lens of critique, analysis and debate to start valuing differently”. In a way, I too am arguing that we need to “start valuing differently”. Beyond that high level similarity, your reply prompts me to ask a follow-up question, the answer to which I am interested in because of its potential to either merge or differentiate our respective approaches.

How might “shifting out lens of critique” begin to enact a shift in value, and who is this statement directed towards?

Tataryn: Yes!I mean researchers, academics, people writing about law and political economy – this involves thinking about how we frame the questions of our research, what tools we use to critique, what we choose to critique and where we see possibilities of change and difference. I am informed by Susan Marks’ work on false contingency, as well as Viverios de Castro, Catherine Walsh, Walter Mignolo and Boaventura de Sousa Santos (among others), all of whose work suggests that there are vital processes of ‘delinking’ and expansive ‘alternative thinking of alternatives’ that need to be imbued into academic research.  But equally, I mean ‘us’ as people involved in exchanges with other beings, whether these exchanges are in families and communities of kinship, with animals (pets and otherwise) or ecologies of living beings; exchanges that have to do with consumption and sustenance (what we buy, how we buy, what we eat, how we eat); on social networks — virtual and in person – that express value, competition and aspiration; workplaces, including Universities, are all sites where we can enact a shift in value.

But crucially this shift in critique and in value is not an aspiration towards a coherent ‘project’ – in fact, that these exchanges be rendered as a project is precisely where the technologisation and damage, if I can use that word, starts to happen. Instead, what I mean is we can recognize in our work that the shift in value starts from the very way we orient ourselves in and to living in common with other beings, in whatever way living takes place. It might sound ridiculously expansive, but it does seem to me that the awareness and the existence of critiques of the status quo, of capital and neoliberalisation, exist. So, the next step is to work the shift – and people are doing this, but most often not in traditional academic discourses and debates. This is where I find the engagement with law and political economy from the Global South, eco-philosophy, eco-feminism, anthropology, and community-based law clinics and practice truly exciting.