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Affective economies and the atmospheric politics of lively capital

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This paper is concerned with the affective economies of lively capital. Its central argument is that nonhuman life itself has become a locus of accumulation, marked by an atmospheric politics of capital: the incorporation of entire lifeworlds into regimes of generating value and an intensification of relations between life and productivity. Focusing on the Giant panda – a spectacular “charismatic” icon raising millions of dollars globally – the paper first examines junctures at which their alluring affects emerge and are manipulated to produce value. Turning to panda lifeworlds in zoos, it then shows how such value production is contingent upon affective labours nonhumans perform in captivity. Nonhuman labour, as a component of atmospheric politics, enables understanding how lively capital is produced and reproduced, a theme interrogated through a critical analysis of the commercial global circulation of pandas. The paper develops the concept of atmospheric politics – an intervention in an animal’s milieu and its affective intensities – as a means for analyzing the dynamics of lively capital. Atmospheric politics retrieves a critical political economy obscured by the concept of nonhuman charisma, and restages biopower as an apparatus and political technology of capital.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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