Make Kin Beyond: Against the Focus on the (Urban) Centers of Capitalism

Multi-layered collage: Wagenburg Köpi in Köpenicker Straße, Berlin; police clearing the Wagenburg; activists who have their say in the documentary film “Berlin Utopiekadaver” (2024); sky over Berlin: Earth’s atmosphere from space; oil rig. Artwork: Colnate Group, 2024 (cc by nc).
Artwork: Colnate Group, 2024 (cc by nc)

Cities function as engines of capitalist growth not least because of their multiple, often invisiblized connections to the surrounding countryside and other regions of the world, which are mercilessly exploited in terms of both resources and labor. As Friederike Habermann argues in her contribution to the “Kin City” series, overcoming the ecological and economic crisis of the planet means, not least, thinking everything from outside – that is, from outside the city and, ultimately, from outside any center.


I lived for many years in a forest in Brandenburg. That’s about as non-urban as it gets. But after my name in conference programs I usually read: Berlin. Officially, I lived in a village of 1500 people. Now I actually live in a village of 1500 people, but officially in a city. The magic word for this is incorporation. At first, I wrote the name of the village after the zip code, but when the work contracts came back because of this, I gave up. And so I look out of my window in my city, which consists of 49 settlements with a view of forested mountains, and ask myself, first, if I am contributing to statistical urbanization in this way, and second, why I am writing an article for the “Kin City” series from this position – and if I am not contributing to the problem.

Cities are engines of growth, I read in the Call for Papers. Sure – but aren’t industries increasingly moving to the countryside? There is already often less biodiversity here than in the city as a result of monoculture and the use of pesticides in agriculture. And isn’t the individual consumption of resources even greater per person in the countryside due to poorer public transport connections and more affordable housing? Not that I’m proud of that. I also read that cities are particularly susceptible to crises. And what about drought and/or flooding in the countryside? Forest dieback? In my street alone, aging and the loneliness that comes with it is a big problem.

Reclaiming the village?

More concretely: Isn’t it high time to put the feeling of being left behind in villages with a dying infrastructure (‘grow or die’ applies to bakeries as well as farms) at the center of political activity? It is no coincidence that right-wing hegemonic conditions are mainly found in the countryside. As emancipatory forces, are we not in danger of reinforcing this if we also – once again – focus on the city? Why aren’t we calling for “reclaiming the village”?

I find the proposal to understand the “city as a factory” similar to the focus on the city. As Magdalena Taube and Krystian Woznicki show in their introductory essay, this focus runs the risk of reproducing the capitalist view of paid work and paid resources – while many activities and much of the world around us is unpaid and therefore often invisible in statistics. Of course, this is problematized by this comparison in the call. But do we solve the problem just by looking at the center again from a critical perspective?

Countryside feeds city

Anna Saave wrote in the BG text series “Allied Grounds” about the tradition of radical materialist ecofeminism and the realization that solutions, however well-intentioned, fall short when they focus on wage labor and market-based care – in short, on the realm of the official, valued economy. It was Maria Mies who originally designed an iceberg model for a lecture in 1979, which visualizes “the whole of the economy.” The upper, visible part of this iceberg represents what is generally regarded as the economy: the monetary sphere, i.e. everything that is transacted through prices. This includes wages. Karl Marx famously analyzed how surplus value is extracted from workers because their cost of reproduction, reflected in their wages, is less than the value they add to products. He called this exploitation.

The part below the water’s surface symbolizes what is externalized and yet essential to the capitalist production process: the so-called “ecosystem services” as well as unpaid or underpaid activities, be it reproduction in the household or subsistence activities (the latter not only but predominantly in the Global South). Economic activity takes place both above and below water. But in the “underwater area,” as Anna Saave calls it, in the sense of satisfying needs as the actual production, namely the production of life. In the upper area, goods are valorized as commodities in order to maximize profit. This is fed by the underwater area.

The fundamental analysis behind this is much older. In 1913, Rosa Luxemburg showed in “Accumulation of Capital” that capitalism has always had and still needs a supply of raw materials, labor and sales markets from outside (accordingly, she criticizes Marx’s mathematical equations of c+v+m as purely internal capitalist formulas that make this invisible). Then as now, the supply came from the (still largely female-connoted) care activities, as well as then from the colonies, today from unpaid or underpaid resources from the Global South.

It is not only post-colonial power structures that lead to this, but the market mechanism alone. Adam Smith already wrote about this in 1776: In urban crafts, the same amount of labor could produce significantly more valuable goods than in the peasant economy, resulting in different rates of productivity. According to Smith, the city therefore had an increasing advantage in the direct exchange of its goods: “A city might in this manner grow up to great wealth and splendour, while not only the country in its neighbourhood, but all those to which it traded, were in poverty and wretchedness.”

Overcoming hyperseparation

Today, the same is true for the trade between industrial goods and the products of the South (raw materials, food, tourism), as well as between the productive and reproductive sectors. Even more serious than the mechanism of the invisible extraction of energy in the broadest sense from the underwater sector, however, is the structural pressure on companies to exploit nature and activities (and thus life/time, as Andrea Vetter points out in her BG article for the “After Extractivism” series) as unpaid or underpaid as possible in order to be cheaper than the competition. Whoever “sleeps” here will be squeezed out of the market.

However, it is clear that in practice these market mechanisms can hardly be separated from conscious and unconscious postcolonial and patriarchal policies. Today’s multiple crisis will not be resolved without overcoming the “hyperseparation” that divides the iceberg, in the words of Val Plumwood, i.e. the division of the world into a “kingdom of ends and a kingdom of means” that permeates everything.

Jason W. Moore understands the aspect of hyperseparation as the separation of nature from society: “nature” is everything that is defined as a resource, as being available to “society” for exploitation. He places this “Cartesian binary” at the center of his analysis of the Capitalocene – his term, which he opposes to the Anthropocene as more appropriate. This binary arises from the dialectic of value formation as abstract social labor and abstract social nature. Together with Raj Patel, this connection is summarized in the plural with “frontiers”: „Frontiers are frontiers because they are the encounter zones between capital and all kinds of nature – humans included. They are always, then, about reducing the costs of doing business. Capitalism not only has frontiers; it exists only through frontiers.”

It is no coincidence that the question of whether indigenous people are human beings was raised in European discourse in the 16th century, and whether women are human beings in the 17th century. Racist, sexist, and other identity categories arose within this framework of separating “nature” from “society.” And we reproduce this framework every day. All too often, efforts at emancipation result in being allowed to switch to the upper part of the iceberg model.

Make kin beyond!

So what happens when we focus not on the city and not on the factory, but on the outside? The documentary “Berlin Utopiekadaver” (2024) shows how the pressure to invest leads to rising rents and repression, and open spaces in the city become increasingly difficult to maintain. In the words of the activists portrayed, these are places that instill self-confidence and increase the desire for discussion; that absorb the world-weariness when young people realize, “Fuck, the world as it currently exists, I don’t really want to grow up in it, I actually want to change things.” They show that another life is possible. Outside the capitalist logic of exploitation. Where it’s about “being there for each other a lot more and deciding a lot more collectively: How do we want to live together?” In the end, the musician (and in one of my short real Berlin episodes, one of my 23 roommates) Yok sings: “We had our time – it’s over now. Now comes another time. Now comes a new time. Now comes our time! And it’s going to be good!”

What is new is that more and more people, especially young people, are taking advantage of the relatively inexpensive space in the countryside. Not as closed communities as in the past, but networked as different projects, which may well have different political cultures, in one village. And 5 km, 10 km, 20 km away are the next ones in another village. This creates a regional and ultimately supra-regional network of solidarity. The term “free of exchange logic” is often used. What is meant is a focus on needs and peer-to-peer contributions based on inner motivation. In other words: commoning.

The Network Economic Transformation (NOW NET) sees the way to a good life for all in dismantling the logic of the market and replacing it with democratic structures (free of the logic of exchange) that are already building commons. Not only within movement projects, but also as peninsulas of other self-evident things with an impact on the environment. And on every other level of action. Because the big picture is at stake. It’s about escaping the growth compulsion of the market and the danger of a new fascism. And about the small things. Because abolishing the hyperseparation between “nature” and “society” also means abolishing the separation into useful and superfluous parts of ourselves. And with it, a completely different way of life and economy. A more precise formulation of Donna Haraway’s call to “make kin” would be: Make kin beyond! No, not “to the beyond,” because that would leave a center. And that is what needs to be overcome.

Editor’s note: The article is a contribution to the “Kin City” series of the Berliner Gazette. More information:

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