(Tel Aviv University)
Paper Short Abstract:
Capitalism is an economy where everything is up for sale, yet it is in capitalism that gender relations must be distinguished from exchange. This historical peculiarity is the key to the libidinal economy of capitalism, where things outside the market are suspected as involving an obscene exchange.
Paper long abstract:
Capitalism is often described as an economy where everything is up for sale, yet it is in capitalism that the conception of gender relations in terms of exchange is considered most obscene. The paper presents this historical peculiarity as the key to the libidinal economy of capitalism, that is, to the way gender relations and identities, desire and erotic are encoded and articulated in the sphere of goods and money. Critical perspectives on capitalism are often informed by the idea that money homogenizes: that it flattens social and cultural differences in processes of extensive commodification. They are guided, in other words, by a literal reading of the commonplace that in capitalism everything is up for sale. The full meaning of this commonplace is that capitalism is characterized by a specific topology, were things that are formally outside the market are suspected as hiding an obscene exchange. To explore this idea the paper will revisit Werner Sombart's Luxury and Capitalism, which traces the origin of capitalism to the rise of illicit love and the luxury industry it propelled. In light of Sombart's thesis, we will examine how in early economic thought the image of prostitution marks a unique economy, where money is inherently obscene and upsets equivalences. We will examine further why in contemporary cultural imagination prostitution is associated with finance.
Contemporary capitalism and unequal society: obscene exchange, complicity and grassroots responses