Not so very long ago, cultural studies was credited with spawning a certain post-marxism. Like the postmodern, from which it sampled, this post was meant not so much as a succession or transcendence, but as a constant nascent state which 'puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself'(1). The cultural would provide the antidote to the spectres of determinism, economism, and teleological reason'all of which belonged to something considered in retrospect to be classical in marxism. The once confident portrayal of politics seemed unaffected by what it left out of consideration. The heroic contestation replete with privileged actors and preordained outcome would be displaced to the more indeterminate and intricate domain of the cultural. Interiority, the quotidian, difference, the invisible and unconscious would be valorized as part of the life of labor, the popular, the marginal, the transcontinental, so as to recognize agency where oppressed victims passively dwelled. The facile mapping of objective interest to subjective position would be disallowed in favor of intersectionality, multiplicity, subalternity. Contingency, indeterminacy, the aleatory would feature in the making and reckoning of historical transformation.
But this solution was not without its own demons, which inhabited the continental divide between culture and political economy and haunted a still recalcitrant double culture that marked the worlds of the humanities and social sciences. The interdisciplinary, the transdisciplinary, the postdisciplinary proceeded apace as complicating elaborations without providing a reference to mark the missed negotiations of this now expanded field of engagement. For all the fertile cultivation unleashed by these posts, it appeared that the critique of capital itself and its prurient permutations were commonly omitted from the sophisticated theorizations that animated cultural politics. Political economy was relegated to a descriptive field pinned to a few datum portraying inequality, or relying on numerical time series to forecast secular decline or cyclical crisis. The cultural turn which once made it possible to look upon the relation between labor and capital as a fresh problem without guarantees, offered a long detour from the marxism that had been its initial trouble spot. While there are many, many ways to speak of cultural studies and its itineraries, here it is an imaginary'a particular projection'that is invoked. In no way exhaustive of what cultural studies has and can be, this is an exploration of a temptation, a compelling urge to follow a particular logic through until it has run its course which in turn poses an aftermath that can now be attended to.
Marxism may now be poised to unhitch itself from the post (here a device to hold what has been left behind) and provide exactly the terrain to renegotiate the realms in which the agencies of labor and of capital are valorized. Indeed, Marx's own marxism was at its most distinctive, one of treating capital as if it had a voice, of asking what moves in its midst when so much force conspires to bring people into association. That procedure today would bring us into the midst of capital's most expansive and intricate body, that of finance. Assertions of financial pre-eminence are not by themselves novel, but they come and go with all the bluster of novelty, springing de novo as if freed from history (2). The current financial fluorescence is narrated as a creation born of crisis. Accordingly, the dollar anchored to gold provided a containment strategy for international monetary flows after the Second World War. The irruption of this framework in the early seventies set the stage for the growth of the financial services industries, the emphasis on shareholder value over production, fiscal policy that attends more to fighting inflation than fostering growth, and an off-loading of public security onto personal responsibility. This syndrome of fiscal policy, monetary policing, and risky business is known as financialization. Thatcherism, Reaganomics, neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, new times, shock therapy, have named the ideology of this policy shift. Financialization is more about technique than idea, more effect than intention, less a consensus than a dispersion of consequences. As such, it is less coherent than a ruling idea and pricklier than a regime whose time can pass. It does not replace these other terms for naming what we are up against, but nestles among them. It surely cannot account for all that transpires in the present, but does insist upon reconciling the vast complexity in our midst through some means of accountability.
More than an economic sector or a whole way of life, financialization stands at the intersection between the socialization of capital and that of labor. Like the monopolies of old the contracts, bonds, securities, promissory notes that are issued among firms cast a vast web of mutual indebtedness, with those older habits of wholesale ownership. Labor too is taken up with a different kind of second shift, where personal investment to assure welfare and security is subject to the deferred compensation of dividend returns and enhanced portfolio price. Production and reproduction of capital as well as labor, no longer in this scheme operate as separate spheres but are cast in one another's intimate employ. Categories of debt like mortgages and consumer loans are mined or enclosed across a range of localities and bundled together or securitized according to delocalized characteristics of credit attribute and risk. In this ever more volatile environment, unexpected gain or loss is hedged by carving up economic exchanges into potential or future variations in price. These financial instruments, known as derivatives, disperse the irascible mutations of value and foment a thickening storm of speculative volatility. Hence, as with earlier processes of socialization, ways of life and forms of social wealth are shredded only to be rebraided into expansive but unstable interdependencies. Financialization raises mutual indebtedness without offering resolution or unity. It invites strategies for living and the accrual of social wealth that sets in motion what once would have been considered a secure anchor, like a home, business, or nation. It creates a medium where interventions that may seem small ripple voraciously and immeasurable through a field designed to give account. The fear of small numbers, the exaggerated response to terror or unsettling art speaks more to the novelty of this medium than to that of the object. At the same time, securitization always leaves behind more than it takes, and the derivative enacts a ghost dance of its entire value while some particular aspect of it wriggles free. Financialization, in short provides an account of irreconcilable difference shot through with some traceable reference, an expansive domain of circulation to which more and more is claimed and lays claim, an amalgamation of wealth, an appeal to discretionary intervention that proceeds indifferent to whole (civizational) values and (economic) rationales that still need to be named.
Given this combustive encounter between an expansive field of value-in-difference, and the potent specificity of singular interventions, financialization is fertile ground upon which to imagine the work of cultural studies. Financialization produces risk and spreads it around. The risk in question is not simply drawing uncertainty from its naturalized state of polluting, undesirable outcomes over which there is no control (3). Finance culturalizes risk by rendering it a calculable gain from an expected outcome. Risk spreads the culture of accountability and as such forms a way of knowing or epistemological conjuncture that both cuts across disciplines and renders those claims to methodological monogamy mute. Forecasting outcomes applies equally to measuring school children's test performance, reducing poverty, and deploying ballistics in warfare. The statistical models are released from their original abode in economics to reside in all manner of system'itself a claim that since human behavior is modeled on a machine all domains of cultural endeavor are subject to the same protocols. The techniques and logic of risk management, of turning the uncertain into a probability with measurable outcome and calculable gain, roam through the rooms that once held different knowledge forms apart from one another. This is not entirely a colonization of lifeworld by techne both because it is the distinctive disciplinary domains of technical reason that are now being colonized by a mastering mode of account, and because something very like a lifeworld gets formed when various constituencies once divided by specialization are now cast together through the securitized versions of mutual indebtedness (4). The labor model here is what Boltanski and Chiapello refer to as project based, that is an ensemble brought together by a particular occasion and as easily dispersed (5). This formation still leaves residues of intellectual, cultural, practical, and financial debt that is distributed laterally across the choppy seas of employment rather than sustained vertically over that coherence of time known as a career and rationalized space of a labor market.
Risk suggests more than an attack on traditional partitions of specialized knowledge and expertise. It also invites another figuration of being. The expert, the localized community, the concrete identity could all rally around the sign of autonomy. They sustained a currency that permitted movement in and out of their operative space. Those who excelled within this domain took on heroic dimensions, inventors of new ways, pathbreakers, originators, entrepreneurs. The figure of risk is less that of the entrepreneur who sifts inside and out, takes possession of ideas and initiatives and opens new space accordingly'whether these be new academic centers, businesses, social movement organizations or NGO's. Rather, risk is embodied by the arbitrager, the one who rides the ripples of volatility, taking opportunity and leaving greater volatility behind. The arbitrager operates at the interstices of others initiatives. In finance this means looking for stocks that are undervalued or devising contracts to benefit from potential departures from expected prices, which can mean winning from the losses or depreciations in others gambits, as occurred when Goldman Sachs bet correctly in their purchase of futures contracts and insurance that sub-prime mortgages would decline in value while other financial institutions maintained positions that cost them billions in losses.
Broadly labeled, derivatives make possible these gains to be made by others' losses, not just buying cheap and selling dear, but profiting from the volatility that leads price in any direction'a situation that makes financialization spread as markets implode and risk-hedging instruments proliferate. Living through the anticipated actions of others, walking with an eye over the shoulder, diversifying according to anticipated margin not preference all mark a mode of selfhood different from the receptacle of being that called be called and respond 'who me?' When called, the arbitrager responds, 'you too?' well perhaps I'll look for myself elsewhere.' Rather than being fixed in a position of identity, arbitrage invites a shifting of positions, a move outside where one just was, a firmer implication of others actions in the maneuvers of self. Of course, arbitrage incorporates a disavowal of this enhanced interdependence such that its is experienced and celebrated as competition, as if the cooperation that makes any agonism possible is only seen from the perspective of its measurable outcome'some won, some lost.
This cleavage in the population amounts to a greater sorting between those capable of succeeding by dint of risk and those who fail in the face of it'what in policy terms are called the 'at-risk'. The at-risk do not simply await the fate of social death by category extermination (the end of welfare, poverty, crime, deviance as we know it), they do not disappear, but rather return as a contagion, a threat that can make those who suffer risk the targets of its remedy. More than moral panic in which fresh fodder is added to the pyre of victimhood, risk renders productive the hitherto unwanted'both justifying social abandonment at the moment of personal failure (three strikes you're out) and constituting industries of accountability around the at-risk (from privatized public goods like schools and prisons to the profitable machinery of measurement and surveillance itself). So has been launched a series of domestic wars against the at-risk'children, drug users, poor, welfare recipients, HIV positive, artists. But this last instance, references culture wars where art and cultural critics were less the at-risk, than the risk takers who violated the monogamy of method. Bad risk well taken is presented as the paramount derivative of these wars, the bad object imbued with powers to topple empires and erase traditions, however small in number or restricted in reach constitute a threat to which monstrous force must be applied. The governmental and media assaults on artists and denizens of cultural studies would, by this account become the precursors to the war terror. The leveraged enemy justifies endless attack, beyond their own capacity to harm beyond the damage they present to the unanimity of risk logic. Drawing upon the swamp-draining legal framework for front groups and shadowy-networks pioneered in the 1970 anti-racketeering legislation used to fight the mob, the USA Patriot Act (2001) would treat the terrorist as a derivative in a far-flung circulation of danger. Because all can walk innocently into this web of terror, risk must be assessed and triaged everywhere and at all times, a nation on permanent elevated alert (code orange). The redress is not simply to extend war indefinitely into the future, but as with the logic of financial investment, to anticipate outcomes, to deter forward (in military parlance), to lower prime interest rates in when inflation appear imminent, in short, to pre-empt. If bringing the future into the present is the temporality of financialized risk, pre-emption is its preferred mode of activation. Acting before action has coalesced, intervening before the enemy has emerged, punishing before the crime is committed, measuring before the outcome is achieved, selling before the product is produced'all these join the hyperactive attention-deficit inducing disorder we have come to treat so kindly and readily.
The sense that something is already in motion before it has appeared, that its being is anticipated before its makes its presence known speaks to a more general inversion of the operation of circulation with that of production. This is one way of understanding what has been called the 'general intellect.' A capacity for knowing gathers an abundant collectivity that cannot deposit itself in any particular decision, datum, or moment. Financial and industrial capitals, like the spheres of production and consumption were thought of as separated by location, operation, and function. Financialization presents a double movement of finance into industry and consumption, the registers of production and social reproduction. It is at once what has become common among these disparaties and what is suturing them into one another. Certainly this does not mean that all is the same. For financialization bears its own unevenness, heterogeneity, and cleavage. More, financialization does not convert use into exchange but circulates some aspect of the concrete, a shaving, a derivative and leaves the rest to be affiliated and absorbed elsewhere. In this sense it is a medium of exacerbated valuation of heightened difference that does not remain stable or await its own end or demise. Hence financialization can at once be an articulating thread across that field of difference that it amplifies and disperses, rather than unifying and homogenizing. Certainly this was true of Marx's initial theory of value, difference was an unstable and unending consequence of subjecting more labor to the commodity form. That the fractions, departments, and divisions of Capital have been resorted and realigned does not make the account of socialization less salient, even if it demands that we rethink the categories and voicings and recombinations, of capital as such.
Cultural studies had valorized creativities of community that could not be subsumed to a deadening position in the workplace. Consumption, leisure, achieved their relative autonomy under these circumstances as both emergent and residual forms with their attendant intellectual, cultural and symbolic currencies. The sense that this autonomy was sustainable presumed that the non-traditional forms of capital would remain free, or that a commons uncorrupted by proprietary claims could provide an abiding abode for dissident communities. If it is now the state that pilots lines of flight and capital that data mines the fields of autonomy, the conception of these domains'though not the persistence of the various practices'needs some rethinking. So too, the work of reproduction entailed a politicization of subject positions. The public-private boundary emitted the political rather than containing it, a situation that made fertile ground to marxist alterities. The otherings to class and political economy recognized the political's expanded field without inquiring into where capital's formation fit with this expansion. In some respects cultural studies already anticipated conditions when consumption is no longer outside of work, when production and reproduction commingle, and when circulation and realization of value cannot await the arrival of their own future. And yet, without investing cultural studies into somehow surpassed protocols of political economy, these unrepresentable moments would not find voice in the present architecture of capital. By examining financial reason'manifest as risk management'across an array of sites from war, to domesticity, to education, a richer trajectory for marxism and cultural studies can itself be more readily imagined. For marxism to now emerge as the unrepresentable within cultural studies does not demand a return to the classical formulations with their prior stabilities and separations. Rather, this marxism makes room for the cultural as it manifests and multiplies in those spaces and affects that capital lives off of but remains indifferent to. This marxism is also a cultural studies, but one that asks what life we lead together when all that concerns us can be placed at risk. It allows us to pose the question of value, including that of our own theoretical labors, when these would be denied both a history and a futurity. From the little difference that we make can be derived a field of studies to survive and even thrive these pre-criminal crises.
Randy Martin is professor and director of the graduate program in arts politics at New York University. His, An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management was recently published by Duke.
(1) Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report On Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 81.
(2) Giovanni Arrighi maps the recurrent assertions over five hundred years of financial capital linked to crises in the middle class. See his, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origin of Our Times (London: Verso, 1994). The ways in which the present financial regime pressures labor with continuous demands for productivity before production is completed receives illuminating treatment by Mike Rafferty and Dick Bryan in Capitalism With Derivatives: A Political Economy of Financial Derivatives, Capital and Class (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006).
(3) Ulrich Beck's Risk Society: Toward a New Modernity (Sage, 1992) and Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky, Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Environmental and Technological Dangers (University of California Press, 1983) are seminal texts here but still within the framework of risk as an uncertainty to be externalized. Recent surveys of the use of risk in humanities and social sciences include, Tim Lewens, Risk: Philosophical Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2007) and Peter Taylor-Gooby and Jens O. Zinn, Risk in Social Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
(4) Jurgen Habermas' argument that technical rationality beholden to its own autonomous norms would overwhelm the substantive reason germinated within community already received significant feminist criticism for reinscribing a active-passive gender divide between public and private spheres. See, Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991) and Nancy Fraser, Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989).
(5) Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso, 2005). Boltanski and Chiapello seem to suggest that the artistic critique generated by 1960s countercultures has been wholly assimilated by the present regime, a perspective that may dim the critical capacity it seeks to imagine.