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WATCH: Justin Leroy: Race, Finance, and the Afterlife of Slavery [Social Impact Bonds]

Art and EducationWhitney Museum of American Art

Filmed March 29, 2017

 

Justin Leroy presents on the overlapping histories of race and financial innovation, from slave insurance to social entrepreneurship, in conjunction with Cameron Rowland’s project for the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Leroy teaches nineteenth-century U.S. history at the University of California, Davis; his book Freedom’s Limit: Racial Capitalism and the Afterlives of Slavery, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press. — Whitney Museum of American Art

 

We cannot unthink our relations to property and the ways in which we govern and justify those bonds without also thinking of racialized capitalism and the afterlife of slavery, as Justin Leroy so eloquently does here. Our work is not so simple a matter as to lament that if we could only move from object/property to subject/human, then we could claim to have uprooted the logics which maintain dominance over our capacity to relate, and by proxy produce something like a life. We must also place these logics and practices within a historical continuum as a way to understand how they remain animate after their alleged abolition. [February, 2019]

Bonded Life, Technologies of racial finance from slave insurance to philanthrocapital

Abstract: “Amid public critiques of Wall Street’s amorality and protests against sharpening inequality since the financial crisis of 2008, the emergent discourse of philanthrocapitalism – philanthropic capitalism – has sought to recuperate a moral centre for finance capitalism. Philanthrocapitalism seeks to marry finance capital with a moral commitment to do good. These strategies require new financial instruments to make poverty reduction and other forms of social welfare profitable business ventures. Social impact bonds (SIBs) – which offer private investors competitive returns on public sector investments – and related instruments have galvanized the financialization of both public services and the life possibilities of poor communities in the USA and the Global South. This article maps new intrusions of credit and debt into previously unmarketable spheres of life, such as prison recidivism outcomes, and argues that contemporary social finance practices such as SIBs are inextricable from histories of race – that financialization has been and continues to be a deeply racialized process. Intervening in debates about the social life of financial practices and the coercive creation of new debtor publics, we chart technologies meant to transform subjects considered valueless into appropriate, even laudable, objects of financial investment. Because their proponents frame SIBs as philanthropic endeavours, the violence required to financialize human life becomes obfuscated. We aim to historicize the violence of financialization by drawing out links between financial capitalism as it developed during the height of the Atlantic slave trade and the more subtle violence of philanthropic financial capitalism. Though the notion that slaves could be a good investment – both in the profitable and moral sense of the word – seems far removed from our contemporary sensibilities, the shadow of slavery haunts SIBs; despite their many differences, both required black bodies to be made available for investment. Both also represent an expansion to the limits of financialization.”

[Zenia Kish & Justin Leroy (2015) Bonded Life, Cultural Studies, 29:5-6, 630-651, DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2015.101713]

Bonded Life Technologies of Racial Finance from Slave Insurance to Philanthrocapital

 

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