Affect in Crisis Racism and Sexism, and the Concept of Abjection

Dimitra Kotouza


How are we to understand the present concurrency between crisis, the production of high levels of unemployment and declining wages and conditions, the heavier policing of migrant populations, and the accompanying rise in racist and sexist discourse and violence? The old leftist notion that this is a strategy of the state and capital to divide the working class explains little about why such a significant section of the working class becomes attached to such discourses. While contemporary Marxist analyses of social reproduction and biopolitical critiques of governmental practice help us understand some of the economic logics, rational interests and power relations reproduced through these tendencies, they often bracket a discussion of their affective dynamic. Perhaps, however, paying attention also to the affective dimensions of crisis tendencies, governmental practices and popular politics we can begin to produce an analysis of how these dynamics operate intersectionally. The literature for such a discussion begins with the attempts of the early Frankfurt School to combine Marxism and Psychoanalysis in understanding fascism psychosocially, but their discussion of gendered and sexual underlying dynamics was definitely of its time. In more recent work, we encounter the concept of abjection (based on the work of Julia Kristeva) as a tool to examine racism, misogyny and homophobia. However, the concept has been used in this way mostly either in literary studies, which do not explicitly offer an analysis of contemporary politics, or in sociological work and theory that eschews the psychoanalytic, and thus sexual and gendered, implications of the concept (Tyler, Endnotes). I reconsider whether the concept of abjection is an analytical tool that can be combined with Marxist analyses and is able to offer an intersectional analysis of the affective – and thus ideologically powerful – interlinked dynamics of class, gendered and racialised forms of oppression.

Crisis - Racism - Psychoanalysis - Sexism - ideology - Abjection - Affect