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  • Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism by Iyko Day
  • Jayson Sae-Saue
Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism. By Iyko Day. Duke University Press, 2016. 256 pp.

Alien Capital distinguishes itself as a serious study on how settler colonialism harnessed and then exploited Asian labor as a "negative dimension" of its foundational logic, both in Canada and the United States. To mobilize its critique of settler colonialism and the neoliberal state of which it is a progenitor, this work revisits operative terms of Marx's political economy, particularly theories of use-value, exchange-value, and surplus-value (to name a few). While none of these concepts are unfamiliar to critical ethnic studies, the field has regularly confronted their limitations for regarding race and its relationship to both labor markets and traditional Marxist theory.

Alien Capital addresses these suspicions and limitations judiciously to construct a unique critical methodology for unpacking a complex transnational history of Asian labor in the hemisphere. The idea is not to redeem Marx's philosophy by reassessing his key concepts, much less champion economic determinism. Instead, Day revisits Marx to argue how principles of "abstract labor" and "concrete labor" operate dialectically at the core of settler colonial logic, instead of functioning as detached concepts of any political economy. This theoretical maneuvering, often at the core of Day's claims, shows how "[c]oncrete labor represents the racial, gendered, and qualitatively distinct form of actual labor that is rendered abstract as a value expression" (emphasis in original, 9). To this point, Alien Capital locates the "principal violence of [settler colonial] capitalism … in the … way it abstracts (or renders homogeneous …) highly differentiated gendered and racialized labor in order to create value" (emphasis in original, 9).

Navigating distinctions and the dialectal dynamic between abstract and actual labor, Day's work demystifies the ways value obfuscates historical compositions of racial labor in order to make it measurable with all other commodities in a market of exchange. In this sense, her study diverges— [End Page 117] not sharply so, but still in important ways—from benchmark scholarship in the field, such as David Palumbo-Liu's (Asian/American, 1999), Lisa Lowe's (Immigrant Acts, 1996) and David Roediger's (How Race Survived U.S. History, 2008). She reminds us that these classic studies reveal ways capital profits by abstracting racialized and gendered differences and then by deploying these distinctions as a form of value that marks racial bodies as illegitimate, both in the labor market and in the national imagination. Yet, Day's work resists identifying a deterministic contradiction of either economics or race in any "last instance." Instead, her study theorizes—via marvelous close readings of traditional Marxist texts—how economic and racial contradictions in both colonial and capitalist contexts are consequences of a dialectical relationship between abstract and concrete labor, thereby identifying these concepts as seemingly mutually constitutive categories of value formation broadly and of settler logic specifically. This important critical move allows Day to read Asian cultural forms in North America as critiques of the ways settler colonialism mystifies the horrors of capitalism experienced by racial and gendered labor. Indeed, this is her study's gem. It reveals how settler logic and later capitalist iterations abstract incommensurable qualities of racial labor into a form that is seemingly measurable to all other commodities in a market of exchange, all while dialectically reconstituting racial difference as a sign of national illegitimacy.

These opening investments into theorizing the operative terms of her study provide Day with a sturdy critical methodology. With it, her work identifies how abstract dimensions of capital assume a distinct, yet flexible form of Asian difference, one whose biology represents both the menace of finance capital and the antinomy of a natural landscape against which the settler imagination aligns itself. Day argues that this racial form of menacing otherness, one decidedly foreign and deemed unnatural (if not mechanical), is embedded in the mystification of capitalist social relations that present themselves differentially. She writes, "[T]he social relations specific to capitalism appear as an opposition between … [concrete] labor, commodities, and nature, on one hand, and the abstractness of...


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pp. 117-121
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