This contribution investigates the anthropological foundations of European democracies’ continuous entanglement with economic and military expansionism and a hierarchical separation between public and private spheres, both of which have enabled the appropriation of nature and others’ labour as property on which citizens’ abstract personhood could be founded. Drawing on an argument made by David Graeber, it is suggested that modern European history can be interpreted as a process of the ‘generalization of avoidance’, in which such abstract, property-based forms of personhood, which were initially what defined the superior party in relations of hierarchy, came to be a model for the figures of market participant and citizen within the spheres of formal equal exchange of economy and politics. From this perspective, and building on an account of different stages of capitalist history as ‘subjectivation regimes’, the article then analyses the transition from the ‘exclusive democracy’ of post-war organized capitalism in Western Europe, in which citizens’ entitlement, through the collective guarantees of ‘social property’ (Castel), increasingly allowed individualized competitive practices of status attainment and gave rise to individualist movements for extended citizenship, to current-day flexible capitalism. This regime, seizing on those calls and instrumentalizing the desires for competitive status consumption, has effected a broad restructuring of the social as a unified field of competition in which new hierarchies and inequalities materialize in global chains of appropriation, causing a ‘dividual’ fragmentation of property-based personhood and generating calls for responsible citizenship as an inherent counter-movement. In conclusion, it is suggested that anthropologists have much to contribute to investigating the possibility of democratic, post-capitalist ‘anthropologies of degrowth’.
Eversberg, D., 2021. “From democracy at others’ expense to externalization at democracy’s expense: Property-based personhood and citizenship struggles in organized and flexible capitalism” Anthropological Theory. Special Issue: Democracy in Liberal Post-Growth Societies. doi:10.1177/1463499620977995
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