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Chapter 13 - In Service to Capital: Theater and Marxist Cultural Theory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 March 2022

Colleen Lye
University of California, Berkeley
Christopher Nealon
Johns Hopkins University
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In the vast and growing scholarship on today’s service sector, the performing arts play a starring role. But the usefulness of performance for explaining how service fits into a capitalist economy is nothing new. Karl Marx, in his critique of political economy, used theater as proof that services could be subsumed to capital. The fact that service work today is increasingly organized along capitalist lines is not evidence that society has entered a kind of post-capitalism. As Marx himself recognized, service under capitalism has always been potentially subject to the law of value. Yet the clarity of Marx’s argument about the economic relation of services like theater to capital has been obscured by the tendency of Marxist cultural theory to either focus on theater’s role in struggles against capital or misgauge theater’s economic proximity to capital. Theater, thus, has become a missed opportunity in Marxist cultural theory for studying a deindustrial society filled with service jobs. Clarifying theater’s economic relation to capital can illuminate the limits capital faces as the jobs its workers do increasingly resemble performance.

After Marx
Literature, Theory, and Value in the Twenty-First Century
, pp. 209 - 224
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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