The Subsumption of Desire Under Capital: Consumption and Capitalism from Calicoes to iPhones

William Sewell, University of Chicago

Marx began the first chapter of capital with the statement “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as ‘an immense collection of commodities.’” Work in the Marxian vein has, however, mainly concentrated on the commodification of labor as the key to capitalism’s emergence. This paper will argue that the active stimulation of consumer tastes for novel commodities – what I call the subsumption of desire under capital – has, like the subsumption of labor under capital, been central to shaping capitalism’s dynamics from the very beginning right up to the present. I believe that an analysis of consumption is an essential aspect of the critical history of capitalism.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 259. What is Critical History