The Human-As-Waste, the Labor Theory of Value and Disposability in Contemporary Capitalism



Abstract:  This paper takes issue with various theoretical perspectives that examine waste within the context of consumption, distribution, or excretion, yet fail to address capitalism as a totalizing mode of production. In failing to do this, these theories are not able to make the conceptual leap to the human-as-waste. By contrast, this paper engages in a production-level theoretical standpoint and argues that capitalism, in its reduction of labor to a factor of production, speaks a logic of human disposability. On the one hand, the body of the laborer is used up or wasted at accelerated rates so as to secure the most profit. On the other hand, the exigencies of capitalist profit-making may lead to this factor of production being excreted (as a form of waste) into unemployment or underemployment, creating surplus populations that are separated partially or fully from domains of capitalist exchange and social life. This rethinking of labor as a factor that is expended or excreted allows for a re-examination of both waste and capitalism, and points toward the natural and historical limits of the capitalist mode of production.