Abstract: To better account for deepening global inequalities, political theory could greatly enhance empirical and normative work by answering a fundamental question: what is profit? When engaging political-economic questions, however, theorists often begin thinking from the concept of private property. This, I argue, has obscured the central role of profit as an organizing category for capitalist societies since the eighteenth century. Grounded in the dynamic and uncertain processes of production and accumulation, profit displaces the proprietary citizen and subject of natural rights and gives rise to new social protagonists, who lay claim to increasingly asymmetric rewards. In particular, the article calls attention to a dangerous contemporary sensibility, which sees profit as inherently unlimited. As a viable, robust alternative, it presents Adam Smith’s idea of profit as a regular, uniform rate that acts as a productive constraint on business activity, shapes character, and safeguards against risk by widely distributing its costs.
“The Environmental Justice Movement as a Model Politics of Risk,” Polity, forthcoming. View
Abstract: Risk carries unique significance for democratic politics today as it faces the challenges of rising inequality, neoliberalism, and systemic racism. To show how, the article divides “risk” into two complementary political models: a technocratic logic of risk allocation, concerned primarily with safety, and a forensic logic of risk attribution, concerned with holding risk takers and risky policies to account. Both have had pervasive effects on a transformed welfare state, increasingly focused on “personal responsibility” and privatized risk-management. But risk has also played a key role in the way post-1968 movements have organized and challenged the logic of privatization. Risk-based movements, the article argues, especially from the political margin, are key agents in promoting a new political form founded on risk attribution. The article focuses on the exemplary case of the American environmental justice movement in the 1980s and 90s as it reframed social justice around three core demands: accountability from decisions makers, equitable risk distribution (including redress for extreme inequities, past and present), and broad participation in decisions about danger and communities’ well-being.
Abstract: The article asks why and how Hannah Arendt framed The Human Condition as a history of modern science. It answers that, in telling the history of instrumental rationality and the work of the experimental scientist, Arendt accomplished three main things. First, by identifying science as a form of “work” Arendt could demonstrate the significance of her threefold division of human activity into labor, work, and action, highlighting the dangers of their indistinction. Second, she used the form of organization typical of scientists—a professional community founded around standards of objectivity—to warn against the substitution of the appearance of publicity for true openness. Finally, she identified the transgression of the boundaries of action as the site where a political community might become visible to itself, taking the unsuccessful attempts of postwar “public scientists” to reckon with their past as a cautionary tale. Her account of modern science thus allows her to define freedom through its dependence on humanmade boundaries, politicizing the very act of history-writing.