Violence in Capitalism: Devaluing Life in an Age of Responsibility

Violence in Capitalism: Devaluing Life in an Age of Responsibility

Violence in Capitalism: Devaluing Life in an Age of Responsibility

Violence in Capitalism: Devaluing Life in an Age of Responsibility


What, James Tyner asks, separates the murder of a runaway youth from the death of a father denied a bone-marrow transplant because of budget cuts? Moving beyond our culture's reductive emphasis on whether a given act of violence is intentional--and may therefore count as deliberate murder--Tyner interrogates the broader forces that produce violence. His uniquely geographic perspective considers where violence takes place (the workplace, the home, the prison, etc.) and how violence moves across space.

Approaching violence as one of several methods of constituting space, Tyner examines everything from the way police departments map crime to the emergence of "environmental criminology." Throughout, he casts violence in broad terms--as a realm that is not limited to criminal acts and one that can be divided into the categories of "killing" and "letting die." His framework extends the study of biopolitics by examining the state's role in producing (or failing to produce) a healthy citizenry. It also adds to the new literature on capitalism by articulating the interconnections between violence and political economy. Simply put, capitalism (especially its neoliberal and neoconservative variants) is structured around a valuation of life that fosters a particular abstraction of violence and crime.


Lives are legibly valuable when they are assessed comparatively and
relationally within economic, legal, and political contexts and discourses,
framed by a culture of punishment according to the market logic of
supply and demand.

—LISA MARIE CACHO, Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the
Criminalization of the Unprotected

Jessica Kate Williams was murdered on May 23, 2003. Twenty-two years old and homeless, Jessica (an African American woman) had been living in a street camp in Portland, Oregon, with a number of other runaway youths, most of whom came from white, middle-class homes. Jessica, in many ways, was different from the other youths. For one thing, there was her size. At six feet, four inches tall and weighing 230 pounds, Jessica was bigger than most of the other residents of the street camp. For another, Jessica had been determined to have the mental capacity of a twelve-year-old, having been born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Jessica had been adopted by Sam and Rebecca Williams when she was just nine months old. As a child, and later as a young woman, Jessica had desperately wanted to be independent but also to fit in. In 1999 Jessica graduated . . .

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