A groundbreaking consideration of death from capitalism, from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century
From a 2013 Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed fifteen people and injured 252 to a 2017 chemical disaster in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we are confronted all too often with industrial accidents that reflect the underlying attitude of corporations toward the lives of laborers and others who live and work in their companies’ shadows. Dead Labor takes seriously the myriad ways in which bodies are commodified and profits derived from premature death. In doing so it provides a unique perspective on our understanding how life and death drive the twenty-first-century global economy.
James Tyner tracks a history from the 1600s through which premature death and mortality became something calculable, predictable, manageable, and even profitable. Drawing on a range of examples, including the criminalization of migrant labor, medical tourism, life insurance, and health care, he explores how today we can no longer presume that all bodies undergo the same processes of life, death, fertility, and mortality. He goes on to develop the concept of shared mortality among vulnerable populations and examines forms of capital exploitation that have emerged around death and the reproduction of labor.
Positioned at the intersection of two fields—the political economy of labor and the philosophy of mortality—Dead Labor builds on Marx’s notion that death (and truncated life) is a constant factor in the processes of labor. Considering premature death also as a biopolitical and bioeconomic concept, Tyner shows how racialized and gendered bodies are exposed to it in unbalanced ways within capitalism, and how bodies are then commodified, made surplus and redundant, and even disassembled in order to accumulate capital.
James Tyner is professor of geography at Kent State University. His books include War, Violence, and Population: Making the Body Count, winner of the Meridian Book Award from the American Association of Geographers.
"We know that many workers must sell their labor power in order to live. James Tyner reminds us that many of them will die doing so. He forces us to think again on what exploitation really means: capitalism kills—not metaphorically, but really kills. And it does not kill just anybody, but those whose deaths promise a higher return than their lives. Important and profoundly unsettling, Dead Labor is proof that political economy can be gut-wrenching." —Geoff Mann, author of In the Long Run We Are All Dead: Keynesianism, Political Economy, and Revolution
"James Tyner has pushed a complicated set of ideas with clarifying precision and helped to embody the valuation of life and death through this sophisticated and timely book. That premature death is so abundantly on display in the 21st century means this book should be required reading for anybody interested in the political economy of life itself." —Nik Heynen, University of Georgia
"Tyner brings the political economy of premature death into the 21st century. Tyner looks at over 400 years of exploitation of labor—specifically through the study of premature deaths of the vulnerable and marginalized—to lay out a persuasive argument that capitalism not only exploits labor but actually kills people. Tyner posits that we need to define life not only as biological but as an economic commodity that certain people and corporations get to manage for the sake of profit."—CHOICE
"Dead Labor is a fluent, accessible and illuminating read, and will be of interest to scholars of labour, health, borders and carcerality. One hopes that it will stimulate discussion beyond the American context of the complicated network of social relations which sustain the devaluation of life under capitalism."—LSE Review of Books
"The book raises an important point: the capitalist profit imperative overrides concerns of health and wellbeing of workers, and capitalism causes unnecessary and avoidable premature death."—Environment and Urbanization
"This short book is about businesses profiting by truncating lives, turning workers into human capital in a more literal fashion than even Becker imagined."—Labour History
"Tyner offers a cohesive overview of the hellish near-future of necrocapitalism. The aspirational nature of the project is evident in the book’s sub‐title, but this compact work points the way to several avenues of further inquiry into precarity and premature death under advanced capitalism."—H-Net Reviews