[Seminar] Jonathan Stafford – ‘Marxism and the Maritime: The nineteenth-century colonial steamship as an exemplary space of modernity’

Marxism in Culture Seminar
Wolfson Room NB01, Institute of Historical Research
University of London Senate House, Malet Street
All welcome!

Friday 2 October 2015, 17.30-19.30
 
Jonathan Stafford
‘Marxism and the Maritime: The nineteenth-century colonial steamship as an exemplary space of modernity’
 
What would it mean to construct a theory of capital from the perspective of the colonial steamship?  This paper attempts to do just that, salvaging the historical world of nineteenth-century steam shipping, arguing that not only is this a crucially overlooked element of a specifically global capitalism, but that it is a history which requires a radical theoretical Marxist intervention in its study.  This will be achieved through working in a tension with Walter Benjamin’s speculative archaeology of the city in the Arcades Project, which I contend depicts a Paris which repeatedly threatens to tear free from its terrestrial moorings, persistently reaching beyond itself to the imperial network of shipping at whose intersections it lies.  Retaining the radical historical materialism of Benjamin’s method, I will ask what happens when we take the environment of the steamship as an alternative site for the explication of modernity as a modality of experience. Continually returning to the theoretical insights of Marx, the steamer’s human history will be employed to question the possibility of capital’s representability at the level of circulation.  This will mean engaging with the materiality of the ephemeral, the circulatory processes which lend modernity its dynamism, and which perhaps hold some keys to questioning capital’s historical inevitability.
Jonathan Stafford recently completed a PhD at Kingston University, an exploration of the experience of modernity from the perspective of the entry of steam technology into imperial shipping.