28 - 29 November 2019

A Universal Class?

Toward a Sociology of Transnational (In)Justice

Karl Marx famously considered the proletariat to be a universal class in a twofold sense. It suffers from an injustice (“Unrecht schlechthin”) that is of universal nature in that its overcoming would mean the true liberation of all humans, and it is a class that stretches across various countries, defined by its location in the capitalist mode of production. Ever since then, that notion of class and possible alternatives have been the subject of many discussions – including the position that neither that classic definition nor any more recent candidate is useful when it comes to analysing contemporary societies or the global society. Some think that the rise of the middle “class” has surpassed Marxist class analysis, others think that intersectionality analyses show that no single class is the subject of contemporary forms of domination, be they economic, racial, gendered or follow other logics of power. Or, for that matter, that there is no single dominating class, as Marx had also thought. And some believe that there are no common interests, economic or political, connecting people in similar social positions across the globe, especially when it comes to the North–South divide.

Still, the question remains whether we can analyse transnational structures of domination or injustice if we do not consider those who are dominated within such structures as sharing relevant social positions, in that sense forming a group (or a class). But which positions are these, and is a notion of class still useful in analysing them? Does the proletariat in a Marxist sense of the term still have a distinctive role to play? Finally, the question of agency and structure becomes relevant in these contexts – if there are similarly situated groups (or classes) within such structures, what kind of agency do they have, if any?

Paul Apostolidis (London), Neera Chandhoke (New Delhi), Dimitris Efthymiou (Frankfurt), Sara Farris (London), Virginia Fontes (Rio de Janeiro), Dorothea Gädeke (Utrecht)
, Ci Jiwei (Hongkong), Anja Weiß (Duisburg), Lea Ypi (London)