Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Navigate here

Capitalist Aesthetics

                ◄ Back to journal


 Pansy Duncan and Nick Holm (Cultural Studies Association of Australasia)


In 1989, surveying the hyper-commodified, performance-driven and information-saturated conditions of what he called “late capitalism,” Fredric Jameson diagnosed the rise of a world-system that, as he put it, “assign[ed] an increasingly structural function and position to aesthetic innovation” and aesthetic judgment. Today, in what’s variously dubbed “networked,” “neoliberal,” “communicative” or “platform” capitalism, Jameson’s appraisal seems more pertinent than ever. Aesthetic objects, from holiday selfies to “lolcatz” memes, are the bread and butter of our everyday online social exchanges. Aesthetic debate on the merits of Melania Trump’s sartorial choices has become a proxy for popular political deliberation. And aesthetic criteria, from “streamlining” and “flexibility” to “excellence,” serve as the alibis of fiscally-driven restructuring across the public and private sectors. In fact, while the aesthetic practices that preoccupied Jameson in 1989 remain sealed in the realm of “culture” (whether high or low, elite or popular), the rise of the so-called creative economy, the data-fication of cultural production and distribution, the increasingly intimate imbrication between culture and techno-science, and the apparent “democratization” of design, mean that, today, what Jan Mukarovsky calls the “aesthetic function” extends into spaces as diverse as the workplace, the body, the bedroom, the social media-sphere, and the environmental or extra-planetary imaginary.

“Capitalist Aesthetics,” then, will build on Jameson’s attention to the rich seam between aesthetics, ideology and political economy in light of the above developments. Assessing a world marked by what Hal Foster, bleakly, calls “total design” and by what Jacques Ranciere, more optimistically, calls the “aestheticization of common life,” this special issue of Open Cultural Studies welcomes articles that explore the aesthetic configurations—from the cute to the comfortable, from the no-brow to the fringe—through which the economic logics of late capitalism come to crystallize today. It invites work that treats the stylistic and formal dimension of cultural objects, and the verdictive and affective dimensions of cultural discourse/experience, as valuable “cryptograms” of contemporary ideological formations and the economic relations they sustain. In the process, it will foreground the fact that—despite widespread suspicion, post-Bourdieu, of the discourse of the aesthetic—scholars associated with cultural studies, from Raymond Williams to Rosalind Gill, have developed a powerful set of critical tools for analysing aesthetic configurations, both as vehicles of ideological and economic domination, and as sources of subversion, pleasure, critique, and renewal.

We welcome essays on any topic related to the intersection of capitalism and aesthetics, including:

• Aesthetic manifestations of capitalism;
• Capitalist mediations and expressions, genres and forms;
• “Post-Capitalist” aesthetics: designing the future;
• White collar aesthetics: corporate aesthetics, from the bank to the boardroom;
• Aesthetic subversion or critique of/as capitalism;
• Aesthetics and techno-science: datafication of/as aesthetics;
• Aesthetics as domination and/or liberation: between autonomy and heteronomy;
• Digital aesthetics and “platform capitalism”;
• Beyond “zany,” “cute” and “interesting”: late capitalism’s (other) aesthetic categories;
• The aesthetics of the Capitalocene: eco-catastrophe and environmental activism as late capitalist spectacle;
• Capitalist structures of feeling, capitalist affects;
• Neoliberal aesthetics;
• Representations of capitalism;
• Late capitalist temporal aesthetics, from speed to slowness;
• The “creative industries” and the “cultural economy” as late capitalist aesthetic formations;
• The fate of “political aesthetics” in cultural studies;
• New aesthetic currencies, from the corporeal to the celestial;
• Aesthetics and/of class.