Zombie Capitalism and the Collective Conscience: Between Bataille and Agamben

Ronjon Paul Datta


Zombie capitalism concerns how socio-economic life and death are debated and evaluated, reflecting dynamics in the “collective conscience.” Discussions of zombie capitalism have extended the popular representation of zombies as the “undead/living-dead” to the domain of socio-economic life. Rooted in radical Durkheimian social theory, this paper offers preliminary reflections on the moral framing of “zombie capitalism” by engaging imaginatively with ideas found in Georges Bataille and Giorgio Agamben, two interdisciplinary thinkers that addressed profound issues of life, death, and values. As represented journalistically and in popular economics, “zombie capitalism” is a condition in which socio-economic entities that, from the capitalist perspective about the rationality of healthy markets, would usually be left to die (e.g., declared insolvent, or deprived of further credit). Instead, they are given a “second life” via inventive schemes for keeping them going (e.g., “bailouts”) without completely erasing debt obligations, resulting in “zombies.” Socio-economic zombies are thus the “living-dead” of the political economy. Such zombification arrangements ostensibly deprive “healthy” entities (e.g., households and firms) of the creativity and assets being consumed by such zombies. Bataille contends that non-utilitarian consumption and loss are an integral part of being “sovereign” as a social being, contributing to genuine human dynamism. Popular consumerism facilitated by the uses and abuses of credit can be understood in part along those lines. However, the struggle for sovereignty in this Bataillean sense confronts another “sovereign” of capitalistic morality that can be understood by drawing on Agamben. For Agamben, the “sovereign” decides on what kind of socio-political life is deemed of value or can be killed with impunity. Extending this model to the domain of finance, capital constantly decides on which socio-economic agents are “credit worthy” or should be starved of credit and so exterminated. The central argument is that common representations of zombie capitalism are revealing of significant differences about the moral evaluation of economic activity, differences that in their extremes can be elucidated by drawing on the conceptions of sovereignty found in Bataille and Agamben. Both theorists provide a way to engage in moral debate about a zombie capitalist apocalypse and even why we might wish to embrace it.


zombie capitalism, Bataille, Agamben, sovereignty, debt, biopolitics

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.22329/iasza.v0i0.4916


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