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Marx vs. the Robots Beitrag open-access

J. Jesse Ramírez

Amerikastudien/American Studies, Volume 62 (2018), Issue 4, Page 619 - 632

Debates about automation and the future of work have proliferated in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. From smart software to nimble industrial robots, new labor-saving technologies seem to explain why the post-Recession period has witnessed the decoupling of economic growth and employment. This essay argues that Marx’s contribution to the automation debate is his critique of the contradictions and hollow promises of capitalist technological progress. For Marx, although robots could potentially help transform labor time, they are ultimately frauds that express the emancipatory potential of science and technology in the inverted form of humanized machines and mechanized, superfluous humans.


Marcuse Among the Technocrats Beitrag open-access

America, Automation, and Postcapitalist Utopias, 1900-1941

J. Jesse Ramírez

Amerikastudien/American Studies, Volume 57 (2012), Issue 1, Page 31 - 50

The dominant narrative about the Frankfurt School during the 1930s and 1940s portrays the group as “permanent exiles,” their cultural, conceptual, and linguistic differences from their American hosts perhaps equally as vast as their geographical distance from Germany. This essay seeks to revise this narrative through a historically contextualized reading of Herbert Marcuse’s critical theory. Building on new histories of critical theory’s American period, as well as on Howard Brick’s recent work on the transatlantic postcapitalist vision, I show that early critical theory, Second International European Marxism, and American progressive thinkers such as Thorstein Veblen and the Technocrats shared a discourse on the utopian potential of systemic shifts in early twentieth-century capitalism. While Marcuse’s colleagues saw their postcapitalist vision of rational economic planning perversely realized in the state capitalisms of Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Roosevelt’s America, Marcuse instead took inspiration from Technocracy’s left wing, especially Lewis Mumford’s vision of automatism in Technics and Civilization. By helping him imagine the possibility of full automation, of the abolition of (alienated) labor, and of a post-scarcity world, Left Technocracy contributed to making Marcuse one of the most remarkable utopian thinkers in modern America.

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Pandemic Patterns: The Cultural Semiotics of Medical Crisis