The creation of capitalist time: Rethinking primitive accumulation through conservation

Scholars have revived the concept of primitive accumulation to describe how explicit violence is an ongoing and structural, rather than simply historical, tool for capitalist domination. However, the relationship between the logic of capitalism and history of capitalism remains obscured. Capitalism is politically enforced and hegemonic, but ongoing instances of capitalist violence repeatedly appear as though they were breaking new ground or finding new frontiers for capitalist growth. In this paper, I offer a novel framework for understanding how primitive accumulation not only creates a capitalist material order but also a temporal order that motivates and reproduces capitalist violence. Focusing on Maasai conflicts over conservation lands in Kenya and Tanzania, I describe how primitive accumulation imposes the historical narratives that naturalize capitalism, ecological rhythms that suppress competing lifeways, and identity categories that marginalize dispossessed populations by characterizing them as primitive. This account advances key debates about settler-colonialism, racial capitalism, and potential resistance by clarifying how disproportionate harm against particular populations is justified, how those justifications reproduce and naturalize capitalist domination, and how temporality represents not only a site of domination but also political struggle.

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Volume 40 Issue 5

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