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Course 1003: Reframing the Debate on ‘the Political’ (in the wake of the Financial Crisis)

Swagato Sarkar

(1) Course Description:

In the last two and a half decades, a large volume of theoretical literature has been produced which tries to move away from the supposedly economically reductionist explanations and understanding of politics, to demarcate ‘the political’ as a separate domain, distinct from ‘economy’, etc. The recent global economic turmoil and the growing number of movements against displacements in India require us to re-look at such theorization and call for reframing the relationship between ‘politics’ and ‘economy’, in fact, question whether such a division is at all possible and whether we need a holistic framework to understand this relationship.

In this brief course, we will first engage with the debate on ‘the political’, and then try to understand the specificity of capitalism as a dynamic, but at the same time a crisis prone system, and its relationship with ‘politics’, particularly representative democracy. Instead of an outright normative judgement, we will critically examine the relationship between capitalism, (representative) politics and violence, and strive to build an analytical and conceptual framework to understand this relationship. 

(2) What does the course want to achieve? What are the educational objectives? What is the scope of the course?

The course wants the students to delve into the question: ‘what is politics?’ in a coherent and holistic manner, to see the interconnections between various aspects of our existence, rather than separating out the ‘economy’, ‘politics’, etc. In the process, the course wants the students to understand what is at stake, be analytically and conceptually clear and have firm grip over the issues.

(3) Instruction models in classroom (tools of instruction)

Conventional classroom lectures and discussion, but students can watch videos of David Harvey’s lectures (the teacher can provide the videos to them) on reading Capital at home.

(4)  Methods/modes of communication (only lectures or class presentations)

One student will summarize the arguments in one of the selected texts, the class will discuss the issues identified; the teacher will then intervene, clarify the issues and link the literature with the wider debate; this will again be followed by classroom discussion.

On weeks 3-5, the teacher will first give a lecture, followed by classroom discussion.

(5) Assignments

The students are required to write one 3000-word essay. They can re-examine their research project proposal or any other popular topic, and identify and question their assumptions and understanding of ‘politics’ ‘political’ and ‘economy’, and ask whether it is possible to move beyond such categorization.


A. Introduction to the course structure

B. Thinking and writing analytically and conceptually

C. Methodological note: On Ontological enquiry – what is ‘logics’?

D. What is ‘the Political’ ?

[Electronic copies of all the bibliographic materials will be provided to the students; many are also available online, on Google books]

Mouffe, Chantal On the Political, Routledge [Chapter 1]
Glynos, J. and Howarth, D. 2007. Logics of Critical Explanation in Social and Political Theory, Abingdon: Routledge [Chapter 5].
Howarth, D. and Y. Stavrakakis. 2000. ‘Introducing discourse theory and political analysis.’ In D Howarth and Y. Stavrakakis. (eds.) Discourse Theory and Political Analysis: Identities, Hegemonies and Social Change Manchester: Manchester University Press.

WEEK -2 : Rosenthal’s critique of the Post-Marxist Political, or Politics within capitalism + the concept of ‘class’ and ‘norm’

Rosenthal, John. 1988. 'Who Practices Hegemony?: Class Division and the Subject of Politics.' Cultural Critique 9 (Spring) pp.25-52. (Link found here)
Marx, Capital vol 1. [the section on “Normal Working Day” -] (Link found here

WEEKS-3-5: What is capitalism? What makes it so dynamic?  What problem does this dynamism pose to political practices?

WEEK-3. Commodity, Use-value, Exchange-value

WEEK-4: The expanded reproduction of capital: surplus value and its source

WEEK-5: Periodic crises, destruction and the reconstruction of capitalism

Marx, Capital vol. 1  [selected sections -]
Karatani, Transcritique  [Chapters 5 and 6]

Videos of Lectures on Capital Vol. 1 by David Harvey, available on
Class notes of Williams, Gavin (2008) Finding Your Way through Capital, vol. 1, Oxford

WEEK-6: The private authority of capital vs. the public authority of the state: The existing political system and the problem of representation

Marx , The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte [Chapters 3 and 5]
Laclau , ‘On representation’ in Emancipations, 1997  [pages 97-101]
Karatani, Transcritique [pages 142-152]

WEEK-7 : Capitalism and Political Violence: opening up the foundational moment

Marx, Capital Vol. 1 [Chapter 26 - on ‘Original (primitive) Accumulation’ -]
Benjamin, ‘A critique of violence’
Derrida, ‘Force of law’  [pages 995-1045]

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