The coloniality of contemporary capitalism


Datum: måndag 27 november 2023

Tid: 13.00 – 14.30

Plats: B600

Forskarseminarium med Prem Kumar Rajaram från Central European University


The contemporary global political economy is marked by dispossession of people from the resources that they hold, a reduction in their entitlements to care and sustenance, their cultural denigration as lazy or in some cases deviant, the gradual erosion of access to secure work, and the cheapening of the bodypower of the racialised worker.  

While these political economic arrangements increasingly seem to affect people in the Global North generally, in Europe it is migrants who feel the sharp end of these practices. They are subject to cultural cheapening - being cast as deviant or even dangerous outsiders and thus placed ‘outside’ of political and social orders - and to their value of their body power being lowered in price. Migrants have their value drained from them, the value that they produce is used to accrue profit for others, and their denigration as outsiders helps cohere the cultural boundaries of national societies from which they are excluded.

This cultural and economic cheapening bears strong resemblances to strategies of domination and exploitation carried out by European colonialists in the 19th and 20th centuries, where ‘native’ subjects were denigrated as backward or barbaric, allowing their dispossession and exploitation in capitalist production.  

In this talk, I’ll try to offer a historically-informed analysis of contemporary coloniality in order to better understand how culture, economics and politics come together today to exploit and exclude members of the racialised very poor, as well as the struggles and responses of the very poor to this. This is done through focusing on two cases of ‘cheapening’ and exploiting labourers in colonial India in the service of capital extraction.  The first case is a study of the politics and struggles around the entitlement to care undertaken by the very hungry poor during the ‘Madras Famine’ of 1874 to 1876.  

The second is the establishment of a ‘makeshift economy’ of sex work in early 20th century Rangoon.  Both the struggles and politics around care and the makeshift economy were responses to a system of cultural, political and economic exclusion.  At the end I’ll consider what we may learn from these examples for studying the contemporary cultural and economic cheapening of migrants in Europe today.


Prem Kumar Rajaram is professor of Sociology and Social Antropology at Central European University.  His research is at the intersection of capitalism, race, migration and colonialism.  He also works on developing inclusive access to universities and on critical pedagogies. He was a co-founder and former head of CEU's Open Learning Initiative (OLIve) which offered education for displaced people and is now involved in establishing OLIve as an independent organisation.