Originally published in Europe: In-Between Documentary and Fiction (ex cat), edited by Marina Grzinic and Walter Seidl. Vienna,Erste Foundation, 2009



Global Capitalism and the European Expansion:

An Introduction to the “Economies of the Home”


Rozalinda Borcila and Cristian Nae


Mapping Discursive Fields in the Representation of “Europeanism”


            Discussions about the expansion of the European Union have revolved around the construction of European identity itself. Many have also used a post-colonial perspective in order to discuss questions of this identity’s representation and (re)construction. Treating this matter from a historical point of view (even if the history concerned is of an economic nature), these discussions have focused mainly on the idea of self-colonization of the former East in the context of recent European expansion. Thus, they attempted by various means to deconstruct the binary opposition between East and West as it was politically and ideologically represented. Therefore, overcoming an “interstitial” condition for the East and the reconceptualization of difference as such has become one of the main pointsóif not the main pointóof these debates.
     In this respect, we think that shifting the ground (a certain displacement of perspective) can contribute to opening up new ways of imagining and positioning ourselves relative to Power. This text intends to propose and expand such a possible model of analysis on the question of how we represent European expansion, focusing precisely on how this expansion led to the dismantling of certain social relations as a consequence of profit maximization in so-called Eastern Europe, which can be identified first and foremost at the level of private life or what may be called the sphere of the “home.” In short, it is the instrumentalization of reproduction, home labor and caregiving-as-labor that are at stake.

The suggestion for such a model comes from our reading of the “Shell Global Scenarios to 2025,[1] produced by the futurists of the Shell Oil conglomerate in 2005. This document imagines possible alternative futures for the year 2025 as structured by the possible relationships of three major forces which are seen as being unlikely to all be active simultaneously. Their combination strategically reshapes possibilities for social action and describes strategies of governmentality. In the “Shell Scenarios,” the three forces which are considered the major drives in the socio-economic field are: 1.) “the force of community,”, 2.) a coercive and regulative force which acts in the name of (global and local) "security", and, last but not least, 3.) “market incentives,” which aim at maximizing economic efficiency.[2]

What we will try to suggest is that this type of analysis of the present-day mapping of forces and of geo-political spatial representations of European blocs might open up a discussion about a recent social phenomenon accompanying the integration of the “East  into the capitalist expansion of the former “West.” In a previous project[3] we developed a critical reading of the first Shell Scenario written after the fall of the Berlin Wall; without suggesting that postcolonial critique can simply be applied to the former East, we asked how such foreclosure on the future via corporate scenario planning could be productively questioned using Achille Mbembe’s notion of necropolitics,[4] which refers to the production of death or the subjugation of life to the power of death. We proposed that necroeconomics predicates itself on the advantage of the individual and the amelioration of life, with this calculus entailing the exercise of the right to “let die” or “expose to death” upon certain populations in the name of the future superiority of the economic argument.


The “Shell Scenarios” as Spatial Narratives


What is also important for us in working with these scenarios is the type of knowledge production they open up via spatialized narratives. It represents an expansion of a condensed spatio-temporal continuum, which stands for the present-day geopolitically given space or what we could call the specific “place” we refer toósuch as, for instance, “Europe.” As described by the above-mentioned scenarios, it also represents a place where predetermined future possibilities of action serve to determine its spatial coordinates.

Take, for instance, the present-day European space as it is mapped in geo-political terms as the “European Union.” Its (future) spatial representations depend on how these scenarios represent its expansion “above and below” the national economies of the integrated/excluded countries. Space becomes, therefore, a “place” ordered according to the logic, the calculative reason, of these narrative scenarios. And it is ordered by means of temporal predictions and confinements of actions which actually foreclose upon any possible but uncontrollable expansion or re-orientation of its territorial borders. This representation calculates in which way the market can take advantage of the economic relations which settle borders parallel to the territorial ones. Last, but not least, it expands towards a complete rationalization and instrumentalization of the way people live their lives, affecting human relations at their deepest level: those of the economy of “private life,” existence and subsistence. 

In the social space described by the trilemma model of the “Shell Global Scenarios to 2025,” the three determining forces (security, market incentives and the force of community) are either convergent or concurrential. None of them is mutually exclusive, but only the combination of two out of three forces is possible at any one time, reducing the influence of the third (“two wins, one loss” options). Their combination might also be represented as determining what Gilles Deleuze called “plateux” by their cooperation or opposition.[5] Each such “plateau” is, in fact, a different combination of economic positions, territorial security measures and communitarian reactions, each of which produces different representations in the distribution and exercise of power.

Shell has been producing future scenarios since the early 1970’s, imagining various possible futures in order to “rediscover the original entrepreneurial power of foresight.” Strategy, in this vision, entails identifying a set of tendences lourdes, a set of unstoppable forces or tendencies, which function to structure a field of unknown forces within a restricted set of possible futures: the inevitable against which the unknowable could be played out. Far from imagining the future as open to unlimited possibilities, the goal is “to imagine a future that is worth creatingóand to reap the competitive advantages of preparing for it and making it happen.”[6] All the narratives written by Shell futurists after the fall of the Berlin Wall assume the expansion of market liberalization as an unstoppable force, producing a meta-narrative whose persuasive logic works to eliminate any alternative in the political construction of the global future.

         The scenario written in 2005 signals a re-conceptualization of the state under globalization in response to the “dual crisis of security and trust” associated with the Enron crisis and 9/11. Shell conceptualizes the “market-state” which “retains its power to coerce” but which also deploys “market incentives and mechanisms to transform behaviors and to implement strategies.” As the market state incentivizes, it also excludes populations which cannot be “entrepreneurialized.” In the scenarios, the logic of the futures markets can be seen operating upon the unknown forces of the future, which are put to work and operated upon as future assets. This calculus extends to the formatting of subjectivity and of life itself through a set of practices operating upon and within “the force of community,” which is the key factor in the transformation from “nation-state” to “market-state.” While the ability to deploy direct coercive measures underscores the narratives, the scenarios also rehearse the production of forms of being, of identification and participation through financial practices (social development programs, incentivizing practices targeting the cultivation of “self-interest,” massive resource allocation as a way to reform and re-form populations, etc.).


Necropolitics and the Security Principle


In a previous text,[7] we introduced the issue of “necropolitics”óthe generalized instrumentalization of human lifeóin order to describe how, in the end, both presumed security and communitarian measures act in order to maximize economic profit. What we suggested was that the global capitalist expansion is unstoppable as described by these Shell Scenarios, since they in fact envisioned only a single possibility or goal. This goal referred to the predictive calculus of costs in terms of human life and to controlled or predetermined “exposure to death.” We proposed that necroeconomics predicates itself on the advantage of the individual and the amelioration of life, while this calculus entails exercising the right to “let die” or to “expose to death” certain populations. This can be exercised by economically exploiting territorial or civil war in long-term investments, and/or by creating and maintaining a permanent state of insecurity in certain regions.

Such an example of necroeconomic thinking is suggested by Anna Zalik[8] with regard to the Niger Delta, where the “force of community” is used in order to create further instability and therefore works to increase opportunities for profit maximization. This is an application of the ways in which the dynamics of the current and futures market are at least partially constituted through violence and social instability.[9] However, long-term economic development requires managing “consumer confidence,” which leads to the oil industry’s direct intervention in national and local processes of social regulation.

In the European context, we could look at the way in which the eastward expansion of the market was determined within a specific phase of inter-capitalist rivalry, occurring within an alliance united by market liberalization as the new planetary logic. This is necessarily underwritten by NATO as the military force which works both to forcefully open the eastern markets (as many analyses of the war in Yugoslavia have demonstrated, for instance) and to “stabilize” the business environment of the former East. But its expansion as a regulative principle only created a state of perpetual insecurity. The regulative force of NATO also worked in order to ideologically legitimate the capitalist expansion protecting against the “socialist,” “barbaric” former methods of production. It guaranteed that the socio-economic process of “de-Sovietization,” described as a civilizing and desirable structural reform meant to ameliorate people’s lives, could safely take place in the region.

However, we are also suggesting that the very regulative force described by the Shell scenariosóthat is, “securization” through the intervention of the (market) state (which in our case can be regarded not only as the military intervention of NATO, but also, and mainly, as the economic regulations imposed by EU)ócan also act as a necroeconomic agent by entailing social measures and structural reforms which regard as profitable the destructuration of human relations and the exposure to death of certain unprofitable categories of persons. We have also applied this at the level of the production of subjectivity, suggesting that the maximization of profit is behind the drive to create “perpetual states of insecurity” in certain areas. From this necroeconomic point of view, these “states of insecurity” can be treated as “states of precariousness,”[10] creating and maintaining precarious conditions of subsistence and insecurity about people’s futures. These “precarious states” only reinforce an ongoing instrumentalization of the “home” sphere, accompanied by the destruction of certain types of social relations and a restructuring of the sphere of “home” labor.



            Proposals for an Economy of the Home


1) The instrumentalization of the home and the “economy of care”


This sort of intervention of the Coercive Principle is therefore of major importance for what we call here the “economies of care,” reflecting the exercise of governmentality and of biopolitical adjustments to the private sphere, the sphere of “the home” and of “domestic labor.”

It should also be noticed that “home” represents not only the basic form of communitarian organization, but also an “institution of power,” a “space of enclosure” specific to disciplinary societies as defined by Michel Foucault,[11] the place where power relations are internalized and, ultimately, where strategies of biopolitical governance and biopower[12] are silently exercised. In his view, various technologies serve to produce subjectivity by “normalizing” the life of the individual. They serve to predetermine the realm of private life, confine it to “home,” and then to exercise control over the individual by strictly imposing a technology of reproduction, moral codes, social norms, etc. Thus, “home” is actually regarded as a region of the public sphere which plays the role of a “state of exception.” It is allowed by public governance, but is circumscribed via the imposition of control upon the ways people live their private lives and make decisions about their “private” milieus. It is basically a symbolic space, where individuals should internalize the outward control and discipline exercised upon “public” space.[13] 

For Foucault, the question of governmentality and exercising normalization upon individuals and their lives in the name of the “amelioration of life” also passes through the seemingly “civilizing” measures implemented in late modernity, such as “social care” and “health social insurance” which Foucault identified as actually being cynical regulative strategies meant to maximize profit for the stateósince the working body is more valuable to thestate than a dead person.[14] Although this description may seem contrary to the necropolitical description of “live and let die” or the “right to kill (and let die)” expressed as a form of economic sovereignty, what we suggest is that the “economy of care” as expressed by various social measures and structural economic reforms is only part of a larger Coercive Principle, one which is meant to strengthen the labor force and expand the capitalist production of labor towards an on-going instrumentalization of the home. Therefore, capitalist “amelioration” of living conditions, especially as presented to the ex-socialist countries of the EU, is nothing but a deeper instrumentalization of these living conditionsóand at its core it implies a necroeconomic principle.

The instrumentalization of the sphere of home refers to how the issue of home governance (the entire sphere of reproductive work, including care of the elderly and children) is inserted into the economic principles of profit maximization as described by the Shell Scenarios. Unlike the cozy and idealized representation of the home as the symbolic order of intimacy and protection, home can at the same time also be regarded as place of labor and production.[15] In short, in the context of this economic representation, the home is an invisible factory. More than that, it is a factory where subjectivity is produced, and where macro-capital can be accumulated at the expense of the exploitation of this underpaid and unrecognized labor.


2.) Necrocapitalism and the European Expansion: Suggestions for Further Analysis


The perspective of necroeconomics requires the analysis of what kinds of social relations are disrupted and destroyed as a result. There are several possibilities we can suggest for an application of necroeconomic principles according to the logic of the Shell Scenarios in the context of the European Expansion.

a. Instability, precariousness and migration in the field of “home” labor.


Very briefly, I’d like to say that, as a collateral (or main…) effect of sovereignty and sovereignty thinking exhaustion, precariousness is the most problematic state, dimension, of the societies and individuals in the time of globalization, that it describes the human condition in a “society of spectacle” or in the “society of risk” in the times of “normative or disciplinary power”.” [16]


There is a simple thesis about recent European Expansion which links theinstrumentalization of the home and the intervention of necrocapitalism, as reflected by the dissipation of certain societal relations being regarded as a profitable avenue of investmentósimilar to the creation of “market volatility” in the Shell Scenarios logic. It reflects the European expansion as an expression of the need to find cheap labor, as well as profitable new markets for capital fleeing the demands of Western workers; the consequence is a destruction of the previous labor relations in the East and an imposed circulation of the labor force towards the West.

In many nations, European integration indeed allowed merely for the “free circulation of the labor force.”[17] This resulted in the “abandonment”[18] of education and child care in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain, as many had to leave their work at “home” and their families in order to seek employment in the West at underpaid wages and often in specific sectors of activity: as nurses for the elderly and babysitters.

Expanding the question of necropolitics in this context, therefore, is related to the question of creating European regulative economic measures which are meant only to perpetuate instability on the level of societal relations and precariousness at the level of living conditions, thus coercively “incentivizing” migration of the labor force towards the West.

            Put in more concrete terms, instability has been created through the destruction of any activity that is not subordinated to the logic of accumulation. This can be seen in two major areas: a move to annihilate any guarantees of subsistence recognized by the former socialist states,[19] and the marketization of the space of the home and the work of reproductionóthe privatization of the sphere of domestic and family relations.


b). Capitalization of agriculture


We can also see how capitalist expansion into formerly Eastern Bloc countries has resulted in the massive privatization of rural areas, which had been the basis of reproduction for many ex-socialist regions before 1989. This marketization of the entire range of reproductive work has meant the radical reconfiguration of family relations (including childcare and eldercare) as well as the annihilation of self-subsisting micro-economies (involving the trading of homemade goods) by imposing common European regulations which are settled in favor of corporatist production. This is why, for us, it makes sense to identify and examine the expressions of necrocapitalism, particularly in terms of the capitalization of agriculture and the downward pressure on wages, pushing many into the cheap labor force of Europe in both domestic and agricultural work. What does this mean for the “rural” mode of production in the former East and the attendant systems of social relationsófor the “rural” as a place (as above) and for the “home” as a place, both as they relate to reproductive labor? In this respect, familial property systems and modes of exchange are being silently destroyed.


            3.Reclaiming the Home


            In the current stage of the financial crisis, issues of housing and reproduction are for the first time becoming critical in both the East and the West, raising the possibility of a real crisis of legitimacy for capitalism. It is perhaps here that we find an imperative to think about oppositionality: reclaiming the (re)production of life which is not productive for capitalism, which is not subjugated to capitalist accumulation.




[1] “Shell Global Scenarios to 2025,” Shell International Limited (SIL), 2005. An “executive summary” version of this extensive document is available online at http://www-static.shell.com/static/aboutshell/downloads/our_strategy/shell_global_scenarios/exsum_23052005.pdf

[2] Ibid., pp. 11Ė13

[3] Rozalinda Borcila and Cristian Nae, “Past Futures,” in Vector, 2007 (3)

[4] Achille Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” in Public Culture, 2003, 15 (1). Available online at http://www.jhfc.duke.edu/icuss/pdfs/Mbembe.pdf

[5] Gilles Deleuze, Mille Plateux, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1980

[6] Pierre Wack. “Scenarios: Shooting the Rapids,” Harvard Business Review, NovemberĖDecember 1985

[7] Rozalinda Borcila and Cristian Nae, art.cit.

[8] Anna Zalik, “Oil Futures: Shell’s Trilemma Triangle” and the “Force of Community,” Environmental Politics Colloquium, University of California at Berkeley. Accessed at http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/EnvirPol/ColloqPapers/Zalik2006.pdf

[9] Zalik bases her analysis on the work of Robert Pindick and others. In short, because of investment flows into oil futures market, the future price of oil can surpass its current trading value, incentivizing the storage of oil; this in turn raises the current (spot) price. Since speculative activity on the futures market is driven by (perceived) insecurity and volatility, there is a circular relationship between oil price volatility, social instability and opportunities for profit maximization in the futures market.

[10] In keeping with the writings of Ciprian Mihali, “precarity” could be spatially defined as the radical dependency on outward conditions and, in a temporal sense, as temporarity or a provisional state of affairs. According to his analysis, the existence of a precarious thing takes place under the temporary authorization of an outward source of authority which can always withdraw it and whose identity is acknowledged as long as it is attached to its origin by a required practice or belief. See Ciprian Mihali, “Intraductibilul politic. Deconstrucţie, autoimunitate, precaritate,” [The Political Untranslatable. Deconstruction, Self-Immunity, Precariousness] in: IDEA Art+Society Magazine, 2005 (22): 115

[11] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1977. Disciplinary societies, according to Foucault, follow those based on the exercise of (territorial) sovereignty. For a definition of the term “disciplinary,” see "Discipline." in Rethinking the Subject: An Anthology of Contemporary European Social Thought, Ed. James D. Faubion, 32Ė33. Oxford: Westview Press, 1995: “Discipline may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus; it is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a 'physics' or 'anatomy' of power, a technology”.

[12] In The History of Sexuality (New York, Vintage Books, 1990), biopower is defined by Foucault as “the administration of bodies and the calculated management of life,” (p.140) as “what brought life and its mechanisms into the realm of explicit calculations and made knowledge power an agent of transformation of human life.” (p. 143)

[13] Ibid.

[14] Michel Foucault, Il faut défendre la société. Cours au College de France 1976, Paris: Gallimard/Seuil, 1997, and “The Birth of Social Medicine,” in: Michel Foucault, Essential Works, III: Power, New York: The New York Press, pp. 134Ė136. For a detailed analysis see also Ivan Brend, “Foucault and the Welfare State,” European Review (2005), 13: 551Ė556, Cambridge University Press

[15] See, for instance, an entire body of work by Silvia Federici which analyzes the role of unpaid reproductive labor as a key source of capitalist accumulation. The Reproduction Of Labor-Power In The Global Economy,

Marxist Theory And The Unfinished Feminist Revolution, accessed online at http://www2.ucsc.edu/culturalstudies/EVENTS/Winter09/Federici.html

[16] Ciprian Mihali, Between sovereignty and precariousness: post-communist daily life condition, available on-line at http://www.ifres.info/europe-centrale-orientale/IMG/doc/  , see Between_sovereignty_and_precariousness.doc

[17] From this perspective, European integration might look like the “Open Doors” scenario in the Shell’s predictive trilemma (whereas the other two scenarios envisioned by Shell, “Low Trust” and “Flags,” would result either in generalized skepticism or nationalist dogmatism).

[18] For a detailed analysis of the situation, see the “Abandoned Children, Parents in Abandonment” folder in Periferic 7 Focussing Iasi/ Why Children? Exh. Cat., Ed. Atilla Tordai-S., IDEA Publishing House, 2006

[19] Silvia Federici used the term “new enclosures” to describe this state of affairs.