Contemporary Capitalism seminar series

October/November 2012

We live in a world where there is more wealth in the financial system than in the real economy, where most of the work we do is with our brains rather than our hands and where we are working more than ever without the promise of any security. We need to understand this world, our world; to do so we need to understand contemporary capitalism.

We say contemporary capitalism because capitalism is not a static, fixed structure but is constantly transforming. That is why it needs to be researched, analysed and critiqued in an ongoing way. This is what this seminar series is all about.

The series presents four talks by four different researchers, discussing issues from financialization to mental health. You can read a full synopsis of each below. The titles and dates are as follows:

  •  Oct 11: Mick O’Broin. From welfare to debt-fare: financialization and the right to housing in Ireland and Spain
  • Oct 25: Patrick Bresnihan. Work, time and precarity
  • Nov 8: Susan Gill. Contemporary capitalism and mental health
  • Nov 22: Rachel O’Dwyer. The new commons or the new enclosures?

The first two talks will take place at 7pm in the Supafast building, 6 Great Strand Street, Dublin 1. []

The second two talks will take place at 7pm in CTVR,  Dunlop Oriel House on the Corner of Fenian Street and Westland Row, Dublin 2. [].

If you have any questions email

October 11th 7pm @ Supafast building 6 Great Strand Street, D1
Financial capitalism and the financialization of property in Ireland and Spain
Mick O’Broin

The mainstream take on the current financial and property crisis tells us that the present crisis is in many ways peculiar to Ireland, that its roots lie in the Celtic Tiger era (especially 2003-2007) and that, basically, ‘we all went mad borrowing’. Needless to say, this perspective hides more than it reveals.

This session traces the financialization of housing in Ireland and Spain over a period of several decades and argues that financialization is an international and systemic process which has been actively promoted by governments in both countries.

I look at how financialization functions by appropriating collective forms of wealth and monopolizing access to social rights (housing, healthcare, pensions, education). This points towards new forms of exploitation and new forms of ‘class conflict’ which cannot be understood in terms of traditional capitalist production but which are nevertheless increasingly central both to the economy and to new social conflicts around debt. Finally, the session considers the implications of all this for anti-capitalist politics.

October 25th 7pm @ Supafast building 6 Great Strand Street, D 1
Work,  time and precarity
Patrick Bresnihan

“We have lost the pleasure of being together. Thirty years of precariousness and competition have destroyed social solidarity. Media virtualization has destroyed empathy among bodies, the pleasure of touching each other, and the pleasure of living in urban spaces. We have lost the pleasure of love, because too much time is devoted to work and virtual exchange.” (Berardi and Lovnik)

Since the 1970s, the deregulation of traditional forms of labour and the emergence of new forms of ‘immaterial’ labour have transformed the conditions under which we work. This is often spoken of in terms of freedom – freedom to move between jobs, freedom to move country, freedom to work from home, freedom to be creative. But this freedom only seems to describe our unequal capacities to negotiate the risks and opportunities of an unforgiving labour market.

For many of us the experience of work is now a succession of unfulfilling part-time or short-term jobs that do not provide any security into the future. At the same time we are told that our failure to find decent work must be our own fault. We are told to work more on ourselves, to improve our CV, acquire more qualifications and skills, identify better contacts, apply for more jobs.

We find ourselves working harder than ever in the hope that one day we’ll be rewarded or, more likely, out of fear that we will be left behind. This cycle becomes exhausting and depressing as we are left with less time to do the things we want and care about. This talk will discuss these common experiences of ‘precariousness’ in relation to contemporary capitalism.

November 8th 7pm @ CTVR, Dunlop Oriel House, Corner of Fenian Street and Westland Row, Dublin 1
Contemporary capitalism and mental health
Susan Gill

In this financial climate it’s not hard to imagine the psychological impact that job loss, lack of opportunities and an increase in government taxes has on the mental health of the nation. Yet the sociologist Emile Durkheim noted that rates of depression and suicide multiply, not only at times of recession, but also at times of increased economic growth. Likewise anxiety disorders increase when the opportunity for employment is vast, just as much as they do when it is low, and in particular among people of high education level.

Durkheim, noted this phenomena in the late 19th century, a time when capitalism centered around the second industrial revolution, the proprietary nature of European imperialism and Taylor’s scientific management approach to production. While the capitalist mode of production has undergone a number of changes since then (most notably the move away from Fordism), it seems that Durkheim’s theories may speak to us about the nature of mental health among contemporary workers.  While much emphasis is placed upon the flexible, mobile nature of current labour and the contemporary worker thought to be free from the oppressive temporal and spatial chains of factory life, theorists such as Mark Fisher & Franco Berardi have called attention to how current modes of production drain workers of cognitive and emotional energy and may give rise to a range of mental disorders. This talk by Susan Gill unpacks the issues that Fisher & Berardi are concerned with through a detailed explanation of current labour forms and asks if Durkheim’s idea’s can transfer from their roots in 19th century to explain the aetiologies of mental illness among contemporary workers.

November 22nd 7pm @ CTVR, Dunlop Oriel House, Corner of Fenian Street and Westland Row, Dublin 1
The new commons or the new enclosures?
Rachel O’Dwyer

In recent years, notions of ‘the commons’ and associated practices such as sharing, grassroots collectives, gift economies and peer production have really come to the fore. This is partly the result of a reinvigoration of social cooperation in online spaces and partly the product of attempts by social movements and critical thinking to formulate alternative courses of action for the management of resources, for cooperative decision-making and for collective production.

Today, more so than ever, ‘the commons’ has become a difficult issue. We’re frequently led to believe that concepts such as ‘open’ and ‘free’ are by nature non-market and that the commons, because it stands opposed to property and operates outside of traditional labour/wage relations, is in some way diametrically opposed to capitalism. But is this really the case? Today we’re seeing a growing centrality of different forms of the commons to contemporary capitalism. Examples include the role of cultural-artistic activities in gentrification, the primacy of open source platforms and user-generated content to the information economy and the enclosure of forms of shared and local knowledge by corporations and institutions.

It seems like the traditional distinctions of socialism vs. capitalism or private property vs. the commons are no longer adequate to apprehend this system. In contemporary capitalism we need to rethink ‘the commons’, not as some abstract equality, but as a conflictive terrain. This talk explores how forms of the commons are enclosed today and how value continues to be extracted outside of traditional wage and property relations.


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