Thinking the Financial Subject with Contemporary French Thought: Ontology, Time, and the Critique of Capitalism in the Work of Catherine Malabou, Bernard Stiegler, and Frédéric Lordon

Change log

This thesis explores how contemporary French thought can make a novel theoretical contribution to financialisation studies, and more specifically, to the field’s interest in the relation between finance and the subject. Mobilising Catherine Malabou’s notion of the schème moteur, I argue that unlike the current literature in financialisation studies, which still heavily relies on Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze to think a financial subject, the work of Malabou, Bernard Stiegler, and Frédéric Lordon can help us better understand the relation between individuation and financialisation.

This thesis equally contributes to the field of French studies by offering an in-depth interpretation of Malabou, Stiegler, and Lordon. More precisely, it looks at how their ontologies, which either underpin their conceptualisation of individuation or that of the subject, inform their critiques of capitalism and their politics. Departing from this relation between critique and ontology, I note how for these three thinkers the loss of the subject’s power to act is characterised by the shared temporality of an excess of presentism that emerges from certain encounters of the subject with their material milieu, undoing subject’s possibility to unfold long-term habit-forming processes.

I claim that this temporality stems from finance’s increased influence in shaping our material environment. Engaging with heterodox voices in economics and building upon the French regulation school’s Marxist analyses of structural finance, I map down the subcontracting chain to determine the precise ways in which macroeconomic financial mechanisms, investment, and their temporalities are shaping our preindividual milieu that in turn shapes the subject. Using a case study of the German recruitment app Zenjob, I hold that their workers are finance’s ideal subjects. On the contrary to most theoretical considerations of the financialisation of everyday life, I do not argue that all subjects are financialised equally. Using Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper, and Martijn Koning’s notion of the asset economy, informed by Hanna Szymborska’s three-class system, I argue that a new class divide plays out along the lines of asset ownership and portfolio diversification: the greater the diversification, the greater the stability of the milieu.

I conclude the thesis with a proposal for a politics for habit which I hold to be anticipated by Lordon and Bernard Friot’s rethinking of communism.

James, Ian
Bernard Stiegler, Catherine Malabou, continental philosophy, critique of political economy, finance, financialisation, financialization, financialization of the subject, Frédéric Lordon, French Hegel, French philosophy, Individuation, political economy, political theory
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France
Is supplemented by: