A one-day scholarly gathering, Saturday March 21

March 21, 10am-4pm

Location: Institute for Advanced Study, University College London

Organized by Max Haiven and Leigh Claire La Berge

Image be Leigh Claire La Berge
Image be Leigh Claire La Berge

How does one respond to capitalism, a system of abstractions, through the strategic use of abstraction, which is to say through the techniques today categorized under the headings of art, culture, poetics and literature? Such a venerable question is oddly pressing in a moment when some critics have contended that capitalism appears “too abstract” to be grasped, let alone arrested, and when cultural production seems helpless or (worse) complicit in the face of mounting disaster.

In such dangerous times, what is the role of the cultural critic working in the Marxist tradition, which is to say with a keen attention to the way “culture” and “economy” are in dialectical relation with one another. What methods and means are at our disposal to theorize capitalism’s work in and work on “culture”? And at what level of abstraction should such a work be undertaken, with what consequences, and to what ends? What is the specific organization of conceptual abstraction that allows for the work that cultural critics undertake?  

This one day scholars’ workshop will respond to Leigh Claire La Berge’s call, in her recent Wages Against Artwork: Decommodified Labor and the Claims of Socially Engaged Art (Duke UP, 2019) for critics to specify the necessary levels of abstraction in their critique of cultural forms. La Berge suggests that “We must ask: When should the economic be thematized? How should it be periodized? When should we rely on static or formalized economic norms? When should the economy be rendered as empirical and when should it be rendered in more broadly metaphorical strokes? It matters on what level of abstraction these questions are staged.” 

We invite cultural critics to present work which foregrounds and articulates the problem of method, whether in terms of periodization, mode of production, or allegory.  

We encourage the sharing of works in progress and/or responses to the questions posed above. We are striving to produce a generative, convivial, rigorous and imaginative gathering where we can forge and renew scholarly relationships. Lunch will be provided

The format of the day will be ultimately be determined by the responses we receive, but we envision a day of shorter sessions dedicated to a thorough discussion of concepts and approaches with participants sharing and responding to one another’s projects.

Those who would like to participate are asked to complete the following brief form specifying their particulars and if they would like to 

  • (a) present and receive feedback on new or already-published work, 
  • (b) act as a respondent to another participant’s work (circulated in advance), or
  • (c) attend and participate in a less organized fashion


For more information, please email Leigh Claire La Berge [llaberge] at [bmcc.cuny.edu] or Max Haiven [mhaiven] at [lakeheadu.ca]

Leigh Claire La Berge is Associate Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, author of Wages Against Artwork: Decommodified Labor and the Claims of Socially Engaged Art (2019),  Scandals and Abstraction: Financial Fiction of the Long 1980s  (2014), and coeditor of Reading Capitalist Realism (2014).
Max Haiven is associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice at Lakehead University. He is author of books including Cultures of Financialization: Fictitious Capital in Popular Culture and Everyday Life (2014), Art After Money, Money After Art: Creative Strategies Against Financialization (2018) and the forthcoming Revenge Capitalism: The Ghosts of Empire, the Demons of Capital, and the Settling of Unpayable Debts (2020).

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