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We are immensely pleased to announce that Nancy Fraser will serve as this year’s Benjamin Chair and give three lectures on the ecological crisis of capitalism under the general heading Climates of Capital.

Providing us with sharp analytical tools for connecting political, social and economic structures and struggles, Nancy Fraser’s work has been driven by a commitment to critically analyzing interacting layers of oppression and exploitation from the very beginning.

Her early writings on struggles over needs and so-called ‘welfare dependency’ with a keen eye on androcentrism and state-managed capitalism made her into an eminent feminist thinker. In the 1990s and 2000s, she brought the critique of capitalism to a new level by conceptualizing the shift from post-war, state-centered capitalism to financialized capitalism. For Fraser it is never either class or status, redistribution or recognition but ‘both/and’ when she addresses questions of misrecognition, status hierarchy, ecology, and sexuality. In the last decade, Nancy Fraser, has developed a theoretical framework that focuses on the big questions surrounding the peculiar social form known as “capitalism,” upending many of our commonly held assumptions about what capitalism is and how to subject it to critique. Her new approach shows how, throughout its history, various regimes of capitalism have relied on a series of institutional separations between economy and polity, production and social reproduction, and human and non-human nature, periodically readjusting the boundaries between these domains in response to crises and upheavals. Tracing how these “boundary struggles” offer a key to understanding capitalism’s contradictions and the multiple forms of conflict to which it gives rise, she has managed to reconceptualize capitalism as an institutionalized social order – an order in crisis.

 

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.

In 2019, the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor inaugurated the series. In a sequence of three evening lectures, Taylor addressed “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. You can watch the videos of his lectures.

Climates of Capital

That capitalism is “in crisis” has almost become a truism. The financial crisis of the last decade already de-stabilized the trust in the ability of the capitalist social order to deliver on its promises. With climate catastrophe looming and ecological disasters affecting more and more people even in wealthy states, it seems all the more obvious that something is fundamentally wrong with a social order depending on the ruthless exploitation of all available social and natural resources. But how can this crisis be conceptualized and analyzed in a theoretically sound manner? In which ways is the climate crisis a crisis of capitalism?

In the Benjamin-Lectures of 2020, Nancy Fraser, one of the leading and most influential critical theorists of our times, will present an analysis of the current climate crisis that situates it within the broader framework of a social critique of the impending ecological disaster. Starting from the description of capitalism’s specific understanding of nature and the struggles over resources which the capitalist economy continually exhausts, Fraser develops solutions to global ecological problems based on a new vision of society.

 

June 17th: Capitalism’s ecological contradiction
(Commentary: Andreas Malm, Lund University)

June 18th: Struggles over Nature
(Commentary: Barbara Muraca, Oregon State University)

June 19th: Degrowth, Green New Deal or Ecosocialism
(Commentary: Stephan Lessenich, Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität, München)

 

No registration prior to the lectures is necessary. There is no entrance fee.

Press inquiries are coordinated by the HSC Center. Please contact Susann Schmeißer.

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