Live and let die: colonial sovereignties and the death worlds of necrocapitalism

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Date: May 2006
From: Borderlands(Vol. 5, Issue 1)
Publisher: Borderlands
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,529 words
Lexile Measure: 1480L

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In this paper I develop the concept of necrocapitalism by discussing contemporary forms of organizational accumulation that involve dispossession and the subjugation of life to the power of death. Drawing on the works of Agamben (1998, 2005) and Mbembe (2003) I discuss how some contemporary capitalist practices contribute to this subjugation of life. I discuss some ideological formations of necrocapitalist practices and examine what kind of social relations are disrupted and destroyed as a result of these practices. I discuss the organization and management of global violence and explore the rise of the privatized military and its use in the so-called war on terror.

Trade must be driven and maintained under the protection and favor of your own weapon.

Trade cannot be maintained without war, nor war without trade. The times now require you to manage your general commerce with your sword in your hands.

--Jan Coen, Governor General, Dutch East Indies Company, 1775.

1. The above quote is from a memo Jan Coen wrote to his staff after being appointed as Governor General for the Dutch East Indies Company. Coen offers a prescription on how to manage trade during the glory days of what was probably the world's first multinational corporation--I refer of course to the infamous East India Company. In an era of European colonial expansion, the company was engaged in conquering markets, eliminating competition, securing cheap sources of raw material supply, building strategic alliances: in short everything management textbooks tell us to do 200 years later. Colonial expansionist practices of the British empire in the 1800s involved both capital appropriation and permanent destruction of manufacturing capacities in the colonies--the 'technological superiority' of the British textile industry for example, was established as much by invention as by a systematic destruction of India's indigenous industry including some innovative competitive strategies that involved cutting off the thumbs of master weavers in Bengal, the forced cultivation of indigo by Bihar's peasants as well as the slave trade from Africa that supplied cotton plantations in the US with free labor (Dutt, 1970; Shiva, 2001: 34).

2. In this paper I explore the implications of 'managing general commerce with a sword' in today's global economy. In attempting to understand the management of general commerce I refer to specific capitalist practices in what is commonly referred to as the doctrine of neoliberalism. In describing the sword of commerce I examine how different forms of power--institutional, material, and discursive--operate in the political economy and the violence and dispossession that results. Drawing on the works of Agamben (1998; 2005) and Mbembe (2003) I develop the notion of necrocapitalism based on Achille Mbembe's concept of necropolitics which he defined as 'contemporary forms of subjugation of life to the power of death' (Mbembe, 2003: 39). I argue that some contemporary capitalist practices contribute to 'the subjugation of life to the power of death' in a variety of contexts, for example in the management of global violence and the increasing use of privatized military forces in the so-called war on terror....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A169457995