A Critique of Capitalist Domination

Lillian Hall Cicerchia, Fordham University


This dissertation develops a “critique of capitalist domination” by analyzing capitalism’s structural features and their consequences for individuals and groups. In sum, the thesis is that freedom for individuals is closely connected to their capacity to participate in democratic processes of self-determination. By contrast, domination is a condition in which individuals lack this capacity. Capitalism has a deep tendency to undermine capacities for self-determination because it inhibits the social solidarity that is required for individuals to realize such capacities in a robust way. Not only does capitalism inhibit social solidarity, it obscures the need for it. Chapter 1 outlines a method for a critique of capitalism that adapts Iris Marion Young’s theory of structural injustice. This “structural practice critique” is an analysis of how certain social relationships dominate people’s thinking and constrain their freedom. The thesis focuses on the relationships between workers and employers, among workers, and among employers and how they develop in such a way that they constrain capacities for self-determination. Chapter 2 develops a theory of structural domination in the labor market. It argues that competitive labor markets create incentives for agents to intentionally produce structures that have unintended, dominating effects. Social positions condition intentions that in turn reinforce those social positions. Chapter 3 transitions to an analysis of social group domination. It begins to resolve a long-standing paradox for theorists of race and gender. The paradox is that markets seem indifferent to group identities, but they still have racist and sexist outcomes. If this is the case then what, exactly, is their connection? Contrary to the common view among theorists of race and gender – that markets are indifferent to identity – it argues that class conflict is a source of social group differentiation and a constraint on solidarity for working people. Chapter 4 argues that capitalism generates expectations that the state protect society from markets, which yields racist justifications for who deserves such protection. Chapter 5 brings together an analysis of race, class, and gender by arguing that capitalism inhibits reproductive freedom by generating incentives to blame working-class women for social problems that the system creates.

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Recommended Citation

Cicerchia, Lillian Hall, "A Critique of Capitalist Domination" (2020). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI27742879.