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Capitalists are unable to make most of their resources.

"Creativity, Genealogy, Capitalism" by Camilla Nelson

Consider oil and coal, those formerly living products whose formation has required so much more time than capitalists can imagine. Capitalists use them, but they cannot manufacture them. This is not just true for ancient things. Capitalism makes use of animal digestion and plant photosynthesis without having any clue how to shape these processes, despite the sophisticated engineering of plants and animals.

In agribusiness, milk and grain created in these non-capitalist processes are translated into capitalist value. Similar processes happen with human labor as well.

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Even factory labor, that icon of capitalist production, cannot be made by capitalists, since capitalists can shape—but not manufacture—human beings. For example, where factories employ women workers to sew, knit, or process food, owners rarely train their employees; they assume that women already know how to do this work from growing up as women.

It is salvage accumulation to harvest the value of this training in making capitalist commodities. The ability of capitalists to take advantage of non-capitalist labor processes is even more striking in supply chains that use work outside factories.

In my recent research, I studied the commercial gathering of wild mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Is this capitalism? On the one hand, the mushrooms I studied end up in Japanese commodity chains, where they are bought and sold like other commodities. On the other hand, no wages or benefits are paid to workers, who come to the forest to pick mushrooms for their own reasons, involving communal survival agendas.


Many of the mushroom hunters are survivors of the U. No one picks mushrooms as a form of industrial labor. No companies employ them; they work for themselves. The mushrooms their work procures must be translated into capitalist commodities: salvage accumulation.

Alien Capital

We used to think of factories as the basic units of capitalism. But supply chains, which spread production across many sites—from factories to independent work processes—have put an end to that core figuration. Commercial wild mushroom picking may sound peripheral, but it is also iconic of the supply-chain economy, in which independent contractors in many kinds of situations make the stuff and supply the services we need.

Indeed, the freeing of inventory from production has made it simpler to disengage the procurement of things and services, on the one hand, from the making of profits, on the other. Profits are made in their conversion of these products to capitalist inventory: salvage accumulation. My ability to think about capitalism as emerging from generative processes draws from the legacy of feminist anthropology. The converse turned out to be equally true; social relations such as class only emerged from histories of gender Ong ; Rofel This insight changed how feminist anthropologists looked at capitalism.

Genealogies of Capitalism

Instead of a political economy ornamented by inequalities of gender and race, feminist scholars showed us a system emerging from histories of difference, including gender and race Yanagisako ; Ho ; Bear The History of Capitalism Seminar brings together scholars from a wide variety of sub-fields to share their works in progress. Rudi Batzell and Destin Jenkins are the co-coordinators for the seminar, with Elizabeth Tandy Shermer returning as a co-coordinator in To attend, please read our Registration Information.

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Search this site. View Past Seminars in the History of Capitalism. Friday, September 27, John Clegg, University of Chicago. Theorizing Capitalist Slavery, John Clegg. Friday, October 25, Friday, December 13,

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