Initiative seeks to determine if there be capitalism without racism, struggles to define ‘racial capitalism’

Celine Ryan, Campus Reform

  • The University of California-Davis is in the midst of a multi-year research initiative that aims to advance the theory of “racial capitalism.”
  • The initiative’s website indicates that the researchers have yet to settle upon a formal definition of “racial capitalism,” but last year they hosted an event asking questions like “Can there be capitalism without racism?”

The University of California-Davis Humanities Institute is running a multi-year research initiative regarding “Racial Capitalism,” but has yet to actually define the term.

The program is one of four ongoing “Mellon Research Initiatives” at UC-Davis sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, each of which receives “a generous multi-year funding package that supports a two-year postdoctoral fellow, three years of event programming, and recruitment and research awards for graduate students,” according to the university.

The initiative was originally launched in Fall of 2017, but the UC-Davis Humanities Institute has highlighted it as a main focus of research this year.

“The historical relationship between race and capitalism is one of the most enduring and controversial debates in U.S. historiography,” according to the initiative’s website.

“Sometimes explicitly, often only implicitly acknowledged, it shapes fundamental questions about inequality, value, life, bondage, and freedom, among others, across the disciplines of race and ethnic studies, history, literary studies, law, economics, sociology, and anthropology,” the description continues.

The initiative’s launch event last year sought to define the term “racial capitalism,” posing questions such as “Can there be capitalism without racism?” “Which came first, capitalism or racism?” “Is capitalism always racial?” and “Why is thinking about race and capitalism together important today?”

Other events hosted or scheduled by the initiative so far focus on topics such as “Asian Socialism, Magical Realism,” “Anthropology of Marxism,” “Dispossession by Administration: The Open Secret of Racial Capitalist Violence,” and “Racial Capitalism and U.S. Empire.”

Notably, however, the “What is racial capitalism?” section of the initiative’s website remains completely blank.

The initiative’s website also links to a related collaboration called “The Race and Capitalism Project,” which seeks to “deepen scholarship on how processes of racialization within the U.S. shaped capitalist society and economy and how capitalism has simultaneously shaped processes of racialization.”

While the project “is currently in the formation stage,” its website boasts that scholars from the University of Washington, the University of California-Berkeley, Occidental University, MIT, The New School, Princeton University, Marquette University, Harvard University, New York University, CUNY, the University of Chicago, UCLA, and John Hopkins University have all agreed to participate.

Campus Reform reached out to the UC-Davis Humanities Institute for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @celinedryan

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