Social Imaginaries

Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 2016

Craig Browne
Pages 95-118

Critiques of Identity and the Permutations of the Capitalist Imaginary

In their elucidations of the capitalist imaginary, Castoriadis and Adorno emphasize the significance of identity thinking to this social-historical constellation. Adorno contends that the principle of identity constitutes the nucleus of the capitalist imaginary, because it underpins commodity exchange and the formal rationality of bureaucratic administration. Castoriadis associates the logic of identity with the same tendencies, but accentuates the horizon of meaning that animates the deployment of this logic. However, Castoriadis and Adorno recognise that the critique of identity logic confronts a genuine antinomy. Although it is integral to the capitalist imaginary, the logic of identity is present in every institution of society. I show how these critiques of identity pose questions about the ontological underpinnings of capitalism’s value system. After explicating variants of identity logic and its critique, I explore different interpretations of the permutations of the capitalist imaginary. These accounts of conflict, innovation and individualism diverge from Adorno and Castoriadis’s assessments of organised capitalism. Similarly, Arnason’s civilizational perspective situates the capitalist imaginary’s permutations in a longer-term historical perspective and suggests a revised core signification of unlimited accumulation. Finally, my analysis outlines some highly significant, though arguably often neglected, current capitalist instantiations of identity logic.