Translating the Fetish: Lifting the Veil and Demystifying Capitalism I (Panel / In-Person)


Special Session
Cultural Studies / Historical and Political Studies

Oscar Guerrero (Claremont Graduate University)
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Donalyn White (Claremont Graduate University)
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In Translating Blackness: Latinx Colonialities in Global Perspectives, Lorgia García-Peña asserts that “to translate thus presents us with the possibility of seeing the Other. This act of seeing is also an act of recognition that can contradict hegemonic knowledge.” Scholarship for this session would utilize Karl Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism (which argues that the fetish obscures and mystifies social relations) to reveal instances of fetishism occurring in daily life, society, politics, economy, and culture beneath the schema of capitalism. The power of translation in relation to the fetish works to demystify and make legible the ways in which hegemonic power functions and is imbricated within systems of capitalism and colonialism. Research presented in this session would identify instances of fetishism and ways in which real-life social relations are obscured, mystified, and alienated, as well as provide strategies or provocations to overcome such alienation and mystification.

Karl Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism is helpful in understanding how the fetish animates produced commodities to have a mysterious power of their own, in which power is obscured, mystified, and alienated, holding sway over people in the dominion of capitalism. In Translating Blackness: Latinx Colonialities in Global Perspectives, Lorgia García-Peña asserts that “to translate thus presents us with the possibility of seeing the Other. This act of seeing is also an act of recognition that can contradict hegemonic knowledge.” The work of translating the fetish can thus be presented as a means of revealing real relations hidden by the fetish, an antihegemonic project of deconstructing systems of capitalism and oppression. Translating the fetish demands an intentional consideration of semiotics, systems of power, deconstruction, and the privileging of real social relations in analysis.

Welcoming research from fields such as cultural studies, ethnic studies, psychoanalysis, anthropology, media studies, queer studies, and art history, discussions will focus on taking something like the fetish -- as defined by scholars such as Karl Marx, William S. Pietz, David Graeber, and Michael Taussig -- where power is obscured, mythologized, or made outright invisible, and demystifying it by translating its meaning socially and historically.

The session predicts inquiries into themes of alienation, the "Other," social meaning, identity and subject formation, gifts and exchange, sexuality, and power. Paper submissions might consider questions such as: Which areas of life do you see fetishism emerging? In what ways can we understand alienation through commodity fetishism? How can the fetish be deconstructed? How can we privilege real social relations over symbolic analysis? What can be revealed about power through an analysis of the fetish?