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Three Faces of Capitalist Labor: Uncovering the Hidden Ties among Gender Race and Class.

June 14-16th, 2022, Haus der Kulturen der Welt

Nancy Fraser’s 2022 Benjamin lectures are inspired by a striking claim made by W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1935 masterpiece, Black Reconstruction. Characterizing abolition as a labor movement, Du Bois held that US history would have been fundamentally altered had the anti-slavery forces been united with movements of free white wage workers. For Du Bois, the failure of these “two labor movements” to recognize one another squandered the chance to build a labor democracy and set the United States on the road to plutocracy. Fraser’s lectures extend Du Bois’s idea to the present and to the rest of the world. Given the persistence of dependent and expropriated labor, she asks: Can the anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggles of our era be usefully viewed as unrecognized labor struggles? And if so, why stop there? Can we view feminist movements, too, as unacknowledged struggles over work in systems built on a gendered separation of paid “productive labor” from unpaid carework? Elaborating these hypotheses, Fraser argues that capitalist societies rely on three analytically distinct but mutually imbricated forms of labor: exploited, expropriated, and domesticated. She further argues that the historically shifting relations among these three faces of labor constitute the hidden ties among gender, race, and class. Disclosing those hidden ties, finally, Fraser considers the relations among, not two, but three labor movements and evaluates the prospects for uniting them.

Nancy Fraser will serve as Benjamin Chair in 2022.

The Benjamin-Lectures are named after the Berlin-born philosopher Walter Benjamin and dedicated to his intellectual integrity and political commitment in the face of historical catastrophe. Each year, inspired by the Amsterdam Spinoza-lectures as well as the “Adorno-Vorlesungen” in Frankfurt, the Benjamin-Lectures will bring one leading critical theorist to Berlin. His or her public lectures will allow for a broad audience to partake in the latest debates on social and political issues of core concern. Prior to the lectures, the invited speaker will hold the Walter-Benjamin-Chair at the HSC Center Berlin and spend up to three months in close cooperation with the HSC academic community.

Benjamin Lectures 2019: Charles Taylor on "Democracy and its Crises"

In June 2019, the Walter Benjamin Lectures took place for the first time at the Humanities and Social Change Center Berlin at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The renowned Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor inaugurated the prominent series. On three consecutive evenings, Taylor gave lectures on “Democracy and its Crises”, covering various forms of democratic deterioration, such as political alienation, increasing inequality, xenophobia and polarization, as well as possible ways out of crisis.

Charles Taylor is one of the most important thinkers of our time. His early work on the embeddedness of cognition in the life world alone represents a paradigm shift in the social sciences. Guided by his novel reading of Hegel, Taylor subsequently embarked on an extraordinary research program: to elucidate and overcome the contradictions of modernity in the light of modernity’s own development, drawing out its limitations and imbalances. This project is laid out in two monumental monographs, one on the history of the self and one on secularization. More recently, Taylor has brought the motif of obscured social grounds to bear on questions of democratic politics and has developed a recognition-theory of tolerance. He has traced progressive trajectories, yet also started to analyze how the disavowal of shared values, imaginaries, and social relations unleashed destructive tendencies.

The Benjamin-Lectures advanced these investigations. In Berlin, Taylor proposed a trenchant diagnosis of the contemporarty threats to democratic societies. Moving from crisis to resources for potential remedy, the Lectures assembled an encompassing picture of our time.

You can watch video recordings of Charles Taylor’s lectures.

Benjamin Lectures