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Chapter Fifteen - Marx, the Chief, the Prisoner and the Refugee

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 February 2022

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Summary

Abstract

This chapter preliminarily interrogates the potential relevance of Marxian analysis and methodology for the study of what would appear as ‘marginal’ categories in the study of political economy, namely those that are either often (mis)represented as remnants of a precapitalist or a non-capitalist past, or inaccurately theorised in residual or exclusionary terms vis-a-vis the main working logics of global capitalism. The chapter gathers the reflections of three scholars of, respectively, South African tribal chieftaincy, prison and forced labour, and refugees and border studies, on the possibility to deploy Marxian methods and categories to capture the features of three main figures: the tribal chief, the prisoner and the refugee. Crucially, in the process of thinking about these figures, which takes the narrative form of a collective interview, we learn both what Marxian political economy can offer as well as what are its main methodological shortcomings.

Introduction by Alessandra Mezzadri

As explained in the general introduction, the contributions included in this volume explore the potential of bringing Marx in the Field through three different lenses. The first lens implies analysing some key categories and tropes in Marxian analysis that are crucial for the study of our global present (e.g. Jan, Hanieh). The second lens entails, instead, exploring how Marxian main categories and concepts may appear concretely in the field, in ways that may seem fairly distinct – yet analytically and logically compatible – with those historically sketched by Marx in his work (e.g. Bernstein, Selwyn). Indeed, learning from Jairus Banaji (2010), when researching and ‘doing’ political economy, we should always distinguish logics from history. Finally, the third lens involves an engagement with actual methods of enquiry – either those deployed by Marx to study, for instance, accumulation and/or exploitation (e.g. Toffanin, Stevano), or those one could deploy today to produce an analysis consistent with Marx's method (Mtero et al., Harriss-White). In effect, as we have seen towards the end of this volume, all contributions adopt at least two out of these three lenses to explore the usefulness of Marx for historical and contemporary field research. Many, then, also analyse how Marxian analysis could/should be ‘contaminated’ with insights from other theoretical traditions (e.g. Mezzadri, Lombardozzi).

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Marx in the Field , pp. 203 - 218
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2021

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