F20 Black Atlantic: Resources, Pedagogy, and Scholarship on the 18th Century Black Atlantic

A Foucaldian Perspective on Capitalism, Power, and Slavery

Capitalism is the foundation of Western society. Capitalism’s role in Western society contributed to the development of slavery as an institution; white indentured servants and convicts proved nonprofitable. Therefore, capitalism works best under constant labor so that the worker can produce mass amounts of goods for profit. Owners need free labor to make a profit without sharing the wealth. Then, white colonizers saw slavery as a means of gaining wealth. It is interesting to note that “Slavery was not born out of racism: rather, racism was born out of slavery” (7). Slavery became associated with race and social status. Indigenous people were enslaved but deemed as unprofitable because they were seen as ‘weak’ and only good for working on maize fields or farms (7). I find it interesting that they saw African people as stronger and able to endure large amounts of work. How does a “strong race” become enslaved? 

In this situation, I see the importance of power and its role in the enslavement of African people. One slave-owner murdered a slave and forced the other slaves to eat the “dividing heart, liver and entrails into 300 pieces made each of the slaves eat one” to evoke terror into them (James 9). The owner’s violent behavior helps secure the bourgeoise’s wealth. James’ retelling of this terrifying experience reminds me of Michel Foucault’s theory of power. I think it would be interesting to connect Foucault’s ideas to a post-colonial framework. Specifically, I want to look at how capitalism, race, colonialism, and the black Atlantic experience intersect.

Foucault is known to state the obvious, which is “power is everywhere.” I want to look at how instances of power happen between individual people as well as large groups. However, I want to have a Foucauldian perspective of how truth and knowledge is a strategic method for the colonizer to enact power on the colonized. Western ideas about race keep colonialism successful. The colonized accepts that they are inferior to the colonist. The colonized are not encouraged to verify truths held by their dominant society. I can connect this idea to Paul Gilroy’s chapter “The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture of Modernity” in Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness concerning knowledge and culture. Gilroy associates the cultural perspectives of European traditions that provide “knowledge, power, and cultural criticism” (5). Through knowledge and power, the European tradition diffuses knowledge and power through colonization. Gilroy asserts that black cultural expressions are largely ignored. Furthermore, the colonizer’s truth continues the “struggle to have blacks perceived as agents, as people with cognitive capacities” (6). The perceived truths of race help with the continuation of capitalism which is a pillar of capitalism.

An open-source resource can very well help scholars conduct researchers. I think an online tool that archives scholarly research on capitalism through time. How does the research change or stay the same? Also, the viewer can have access to all of Foucault’s theories at no cost. Importantly, the viewer would have access to links to free materials. In this online project, I think an online exhibit that explores the profit/wealth of colonizers pre-twentieth-century. The viewer would have access to literature, photographs, and other materials that presents the history of the colonized.


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