Visiting Professorship - Nancy Fraser

Incinerating nature. Why global warming is baked into capitalist society

May 4th, 2021 

On May 4th, 2021 the Viennese Karl Polanyi Visiting Professorship has been officially awarded for the first time. In the Wappensaal of the Vienna City Hall, City Councillor for Science and Culture, Veronica Kaup-Hasler, ceremoniously handed over the Visiting Professorship to our first Visiting Professor, Nancy Fraser. Due to ongoing pandemic measures and restrictions, the event was held on-site with only participating speakers, and the event including Fraser’s keynote was streamed live via social media, where approx. 500 people watched the inauguration.

“The system gives capitalists motive, means and opportunity to savage the planet. It is they, and not humans in general, who have brought us global warming–but not by chance or simple greed. Rather, the dynamic that has governed their actions and led to that outcome is baked into very structure of capitalist society.”

IKPS President and Professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, Andreas Novy, opened the evening and also guided us through the rest of the evening. The three universities involved in the visiting professorship – Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU), University of Vienna and Central European University (CEU) – were represented by Sigrid Stagl (WU Vienna), Bernhard Kittel (University of Vienna) and Liviu Matei (CEU), and board member Maria Markantonatou from Greece (Uni Lesbos) joined for the IKPS. The laudation for Prof. Nancy Fraser was held by Prof. Brigitte Aulenbacher (JKU Linz) and can be read here. After Fraser’s keynote there was a commentary by Attila Melegh (Corvinus University of Budapest). 

Kenyote: Incinerating Nature

Many societies have experienced ecological crises; some have even perished due to environmental impasses of their own making. But only capitalist societies produce such crises non-accidentally, as a result of their intrinsic structure. Combining insights from Polanyi and Marx, Nancy Fraser excavates a deep-seated ecological contradiction lodged at the very core of capitalist society, which she claims is the central driver of global warming. Far from standing alone, however, this contradiction is entwined with several others (economic, social, and political), which are equally endemic to capitalism–and equally implicated in the present crisis. After situating climate change within the system’s “general crisis“, Fraser maintains that the first cannot be successfully resolved apart from the second. She concludes, finally, that an ecopolitics serious about saving the planet must be anti-capitalist and trans-environmental.

“All told, capitalism’s ecological contradiction cannot be neatly separated from the system’s other constitutive irrationalities and injustices. To ignore the latter by adopting the reductive ecologistic perspective of single-issue environmentalism is to miss the distinctive institutional structure of capitalist society.”

The Lecture continued with a second part on the next day. Watch the second part here