Protest sticker with fist and the words "system change not climate change"

Unravelling the capitalist state: crisis and opportunity

In this PhD Seminar, SEI Doctoral Fellow Anna Sturman will draw upon her thesis to explore the capitalist state as a key terrain of inquiry for environmental and social justice movements. This analysis draws upon both the contemporary revival of state theory scholarship and on-the-ground responses from movements navigating rolling crises.

A central concept that remains resolutely under-theorised in much climate and environmental scholarship is the capitalist state. This looks to be changing, with a resurgence of interest in state theory presently occurring in the context of societies negotiating semi-permanent social, ecological and economic crises.

In conversation with this resurgent state theory literature and on-the-ground responses to compounding crises, SEI Doctoral Fellow Anna Sturman argues that what we may observe as disparate crises are internally related facets of the same crisis – or crisis tendencies – of capitalism. Moving past definitions of the state which see it as a unified and autonomous entity, instrumentally or structurally inclined to act in one way or the other, here instead the state is positioned as an internally contradictory set of social relations which can be worked on and through by different social forces. As a unifying, though internally fragmented and crisis-ridden framework of power, the state is a crucial terrain of struggle which must be integrated into theory and praxis for today’s environmental justice and other progressive movements.

As crisis tendencies continue to escalate, the state will be worked on and through by different social forces bent on achieving their aims. With the ongoing rise of the far-right, we can see that the stakes have never been higher. The time is now to return to a serious consideration of the capitalist state and how progressive forces might navigate it as part of a broader strategy to bring about a safer, democratic future.

This event was presented online on Wednesday 25 August 2021.

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Anna Sturman is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney and a SEI Doctoral Fellow. Her research interests include the political economy of climate change, the role of agriculture in programmatic socio-ecological transformations, materialist ecofeminist approaches to economics and theories of the state.

Blanche Verlie (Chair), a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Sydney Environment Institute, is an Australian climate change educator and researcher currently living on unceded Gadigal Country. Blanche has over 10 years’ experience teaching sustainability and climate change in universities, as well as experience in community-based climate change communication and activism. Blanche has a multidisciplinary background, brings an intersectional feminist approach to her work and is passionate about supporting people to engage with the emotional intensities of climate change.

Header image: Markus Spiske via Unsplash