Capitalist Form in the Eighteenth Century

deadline for submissions: 
October 3, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies 2023: St. Louis, March 9-11, 2023
contact email: 

Organisers: Lilith Todd (Columbia) and Christopher Geary (UC Berkeley)


In recent years, Anglophone literary criticism has taken up questions and descriptions of capitalist form, from Sianne Ngai’s groundbreaking investigations of the political economy of affects and aesthetic judgments to the lively debates on world literature following the reception of Roberto Schwarz’s theorization of literary production in the capitalist periphery to our discipline’s re-engagement with theories and histories of racial capitalism to reconsider both our chosen objects and critical practices. We wonder, here, what eighteenth-century literary criticism can return to the theorization of capitalist forms, which more often than not takes its objects from later periods of high imperialism and late capitalism, when capitalism is already hegemonic as a global mode of production. This panel seeks to reconsider capitalist form in an earlier moment of capitalist transition. How do eighteenth-century aesthetic objects register the uneven development of new forms of capitalist production and reproduction? How are the uncertainties and fantasies of non-hegemonic capitalism indexed? How is cultural production keyed to the violent processes of dispossession that attend the birth of capital as well as the accumulating differences and increasingly subtle compulsions through which capital began to expand? What, in other words, does the primitive accumulation of capitalist form look like? 


Potential topics might include:

  • The uneven “rise” of genres (the novel, natural history, etc.) as capitalist forms; 

  • Eighteenth-century “gimmicks” and devices; 

  • Plots, plantations, and literary representations of racial capitalism; 

  • Histories and fantasies of primitive accumulation from Robinson Crusoe to Cederic Robinson, from John Locke to Sylvia Federici.


Please submit your abstracts for this panel through the ASECS submission form, found here along with further information about the conference:

And please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions!