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Journal of Japanese Philosophy

Volume 4, 2016

Special Issue on Karatani Kōjin

Kanishka Goonewardena
Pages 77-105

Theory and Politics in Karatani Kōjin’s The Structure of World History

First, this article seeks to demonstrate why Karatani Kōjin’s The Structure of World History offers a unique and pioneering contribution to Marxist theory in particular and radical thought more generally. In so doing, it examines Karatani’s key conceptual innovations that enable to him to open up a novel perspective on world history and propose a revolutionary political program—one drawing from Kantian anarchism as much as Marxian communism. Particular attention is paid to the central concept that Karatani deploys in this work—exchange or intercourse, which is derived from Marx’s use of the term Verkehr—in order to examine critically the formidable case he makes for replacing the classical Marxist concept of the “mode of production” with the “mode of exchange.” The article argues that Karatani’s novelty and attraction lies in his production of a new concept of history by means of a new concept of social totality, which invites him to be read alongside other leading thinkers in the orbit of Marxism such as Hegel, Althusser, Braudel, and Lefebvre. In conclusion, the article highlights an illuminating ambiguity in Karatani’s conception of exchange, arguing that it is in the light of this that his political conclusions are most productively studied.

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