Great Transformation


24 September 2019
Great Transformation
Image: Sarah Cords

Please mind that only events in English language will be presented on this page. Please check the corresponding German page de for all events.

All events shown below are in chronological order.

Joan Tronto (Minneapolis, US): The Future of Caring Democracies

Joan Tronto Joan Tronto Image: privat

Keynote at 9–10 a.m. // Lecture Hall 2

Joan Tronto is Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota and was previously Professor of Women's Studies and Political Science at the Hunter College and the Graduate School, City University of New York. Main areas of work include: care ethics, women’s and gender studies, political theory, caring democracy.

Actions spur reactions. The current neopopulist threats to democracy are a reaction, it is often claimed, to “going too far” in the direction of pluralism and “identity politics.” This paper offers a different view of recent history and of the nature of the threat to democracy. Neopopulism, it is argued here, is a childish response to the sense of precarity created by neoliberal policies. Horizontal aggression against the people who are also in precarious situations creates tribal responses, and it does not eliminate the real danger. The real dangers are the remarkably unequal distribution of resources in society and the mindset that justifies it. This mindset is the ideological assumption that only more growth can solve our problems by making a larger pie to share.  

If humans think instead about real needs – the needs for the care of people, of the biosphere, and of the planet – it is possible to imagine an alternative society. Such a society would displace “wealth-care” and revalue all humans as caring beings. The first step to such an alternative is to notice how little our current approach to life provides for care and how, if hierarchies of privileges are eliminated, another future is possible. It could be a genuinely democratic form of governance, based on freedom and equality, to care justly for all of our world. 

James K. Galbraith (Austin, US): Inequality and the End of Normal

James Galbraith James Galbraith Image: privat

Keynote at 9–10 a.m. // Lecture Hall 1

James K. Galbraith is an American economist. He is a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Lehrstuhl für Government / Business Relations at the University of Texas, Austin and Senior Scholar at the Levy Economics Institute des Bard College. Main areas of work include: inequality, economic policy, growth theory.

"The End of Normal" (2014) argues that four major changes in the structure of the modern economy have and will impede any sustained return to the high growth rates characteristic of the first thirty years after World War II in Europe and the first fifty-five years – interrupted only by the 1970s, in the United States. The four are energy instability, international insecurity, digital technology and financial fraud. This lecture will review those arguments and link them to the broad concern with economic and social inequality – with reflections on the consequences for political developments in Europe and the United States.

Beyond Property?

Plenum event at 10.30 a.m. – 1 p.m. // Großer Rosensaal, Fürstengraben 27, 07743 Jena

Organised by: Silke van Dyk (Jena)

Discussants: Brenna Bhandar (London, GB), Timo Daum (Berlin, DE), Stefan Metz (Berlin, DE), Simon Sutterlütti (Berlin, DE), Silke van Dyk (Jena, DE)

The plenum "Beyond Property?" will explore the relationship between property relations, growth and socio-economic issues in a global perspective and thus surmount the widespread narrowing of the social question to the distribution of resources. At the same time, proprietary theoretical perspectives need to be questioned more closely than has been the case to date about their implications for future growth policy. What role, so the initial question of the plenum, will private property play for future capitalism? What is the significance in this context of common goods, digital platforms and sharing economies, through which economies of use and sharing beyond property titles have left the niches of left-wing alternative projects? How are such economies structured and embedded in the global North and South? Do they transcend capitalism and its growth dynamics, or do we rather observe new modes of marketization as responses to secular stagnation in contemporary capitalism? In order to be able to pursue these questions, the discussion of global property relations is dependent on a historical analysis that is sensitive to (post-)colonial conditions. The plenary will discuss Brenna Bhandar's analysis of the global enforcement of capitalist property rights as a racial capitalism with two competing diagnoses on the transformation of contemporary capitalism: Massimo de Angelis' draft of a post-capitalist economy of the common on the one hand and Timo Daum’s diagnosis of platform capitalism beyond private ownership on the other.

  • Brenna Bhandar (London, UK): Colonial lives of property. Racial Regimes of Ownership
  • Timo Daum (Berlin): Capitalism beyond property? The recuperation of General Intellect through Capital
  • Stefan Meretz, Simon Sutterlütti (Berlin): Transcending property. An invitation to an utopian perspective

Lecture abstracts by the speakers [pdf, 158 kb] de

Gurminder K. Bhambra (Sussex, GB): European Colonialism: The Great Transformation that Explains the Global Crisis

Gurminder Bhambra Gurminder Bhambra Image: privat

Keynote at 1.30–2 p.m. // Lecture Hall 2

Gurminder K. Bhambra is Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies in the Department of International Relations at the School of Global Studies of the University of Sussex. Main areas of work include: citizenship, colonialism, world history, historical and political sociology, modernity, postcolonial/decolonial theory,

Our times are marked by the unprecedented attention given to the movement of peoples, especially here to Europe. Indeed, in the description of the possible themes of this conference, it is stated that European societies are now ‘forced to accept being plural migration societies’. At the same time, however, there is little understanding that the numbers moving today are nowhere near the proportions who moved during the Great Transformation analyzed by Polanyi, albeit without reference to that movement. This movement of Europeans, in the nineteenth century and earlier, led to the elimination and dispossession of populations globally and to environmental degradation. It is precisely as a consequence of these earlier histories – histories of European colonialism – that there is such movement today. The wider debates on migration, however, whether in the media or scholarly discussions, rarely reference the historical context of this movement. Rather, it is simply presented negatively in terms of its consequences for European societies. In contrast, I argue that the earlier movement of Europeans that was integral to the Great Transformation is the context for the contemporary configuration of modern societies, and without taking it into account we will not be able adequately to address the continuing inequalities and injustices that are its legacy. This legacy is also woven into the conference abstract which posits that transformation does not necessarily lead to betterment, but may in fact result in authoritarian forms of rule and indeed may do so in the future. There is something puzzling about European scholars’ failure to address colonialism as the paradigmatic form of authoritarian rule brought about by the preceding Great Transformation. Perhaps the explanation for this omission rests in the fact that it did lead to the betterment of European societies at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of others. As those others seek some form of repair for the conditions that are the legacy of European colonialism, they, however, are presented as a threat to ‘us’ and our ways of life and in need of ‘offshore’ containment.  

Human Flourishing Beyond Growth

Plenum event at 3–5.30 p.m. // Lecture Hall 4

Organised by: Hartmut Rosa (Jena, DE), Hanna Ketterer (Jena, DE), Peter Schulz (Jena, DE)

Discussants: Hanna Ketterer (Jena, DE), Miriam Lang (Quito, EC), Beate Roessler (Amsterdam, NL), Hartmut Rosa (Jena, DE)

The fact that the logic of dynamic stabilisation today has reached its limits in many ways is shown by ecological, social, and political crisis phenomena – one of the key findings of the Post-growth Societies research group. Instead of stabilising modern societies, the principle of dynamic stabilisation – the structural constraints of permanent growth, ac-celeration, and innovation – is increasingly leading to ›dynamic destabilisation‹. On the part of the subjects, the pressure for indefinite upward growth correlates with experiences of social estrangement and sclerotic world relations; it thus tends to threaten to shut out subjective approaches to alternative ideas of a good life.
However, we do see approaches for a successful life: a) If accelera­tion and dynamisation is the problem, then resonance relationships (not deceleration) could be the solution; b) an unconditional basic income which would guarantee secure, market-external livelihoods could provide an exit option from the ›hamster wheel‹ and allow for individual access to a livelihood that is less oriented to paid work and consumption and more oriented to work on or in the democratic community. The panel intends to confront these propositions, which were discussed in the Post-growth Societies research group, with the theoretical concepts and empirical findings of academics outside the research group.

Transformation of Societies, Class and Labour Organisations in Africa

Forum event at 3–5.30 p.m. // MMZ 028 (Multimediazentrum), Ernst-Abbe-Platz 8, 07743 Jena

Organised by: Edward Webster (Johannesburg, ZA), Carmen Ludwig (Gießen)

In the mainstream discourse about the “Future of Work”, much of the conversation has focused on responses to technological trends rather than ways of addressing shifting power dynamics and the transformation of societies through the struggles of precarious and informal workers. The panel seeks to focus on the making and re-making of class in Africa and its link to new, emerging forms of workers’ organisations.

In Africa, the industrial working class is very much a minority of wage earners. Instead, we find “classes of labour“. These include men and women who sell their labour power either directly on a wage labour market or indirectly through some form of product market in order to reproduce themselves and their families. Categories like ‘worker’, ‘peasant’, ‘employed‘ and ‘self-employed’ become fluid. The ambiguity and heterogeneity of class corresponds with new forms of organisations of precarious and informal workers. “Hybrid” organisations are emerging which cross the divide between traditional unionism, informal workers’ associations or cooperatives. 

The panel seeks to address the link between the re-making of class and the new, emerging forms of organisations. Its aim is to shift the debate and fields of action toward the “Future of Worker Organisation” and to the contribution their struggles make to the dynamics of change in Africa.

  • Matteo Rizzo (London, GB): Trade unions and informal workers in Dar es Salaam public transport: Strategies and limits to solidarity
  • Carmen Ludwig/Edward Webster (Gießen/Johannesburg, ZA): Crossing the divide: New forms of collective solidarity and workers’ organisations in Africa
  • Hibist Kassa (Johannesburg, ZA): Conceptualising the distinctive character of Petty Commodity Production in Mining
  • Dave Spooner (Manchester, GB): Union Transformation through Organisation of Informal Workers – A Case Study of Ugandan Transport Worker

Lecture abstracts by the speakers [pdf, 505 kb] de

Cancelled: Jason W. Moore (Binghamton, US): Great Transitions in the Web of Life: Climates of Crisis in the Holocene and Beyond

Cancelled: Keynote at 6–7 p.m. // Lecture Hall 1

Jason W. Moore is an environmental historian and historical geographer at Binghamton University, New York, where he is Professor of Sociology. He is also coordinator of the World-Ecology Research Network. Main areas of work include: capitalism and the environment, especially with a view to their historical development and their current crisis.

The end of the Holocene, a 12,000-year era of unusual climate stability, poses fundamental challenges to dominant modes of social inquiry. We are not well-equipped to conceptualize climate changes with – and within – transformations of human relations of power and re/production. This paper explores the longue durée history of climate change and civilizational crisis, from the fall of Rome to the unfolding planetary crises of late capitalism. Its claims are threefold. First, civilizational crises have been intimately connected to climate changes. Second, climate changes are moments of political possibility in which ruling class power has been destabilized. Third, the modernist cosmology of "Man" and "Nature" is wholly inadequate to the intellectual and political challenges occasioned by the end of the Holocene. A historical, geographical, and relational perspective – and politics – of humans in the web of life is a fundamental condition for planetary justice in the 21st century.

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