Blog post

New Works of Theory in Context

Verso Books18 March 2023

New Works of Theory in Context

Theory never takes place in a void. The greatest advances often come through work that finds a way of engaging critically with arguments of the past, building on them and putting a new spin on the deepest questions of politics, economics, psychology, culture, and social life. The list below is organized around conversations between texts, from new releases to Verso classics. 

Artificial Intelligence and Automation

[book-strip index="6" style="buy"]

What is AI? A dominant view describes it as the quest "to solve intelligence" - a solution supposedly to be found in the secret logic of the mind, such as in its complex neural networks. The Eye of the Master argues, to the contrary, that the inner code of AI is shaped not by the imitation of biological intelligence, but the intelligence of labour and social relations. Described as “a political weapon to rethink the politics of AI”, The Eye of the Master urges a new literacy on AI for scientists, journalists and new generations of activists, who should recognise that the "mystery" of AI is just the automation of labour at the highest degree.

Read The Eye of the Master with:

With and Against: the Situationist International in the Age of Automation by Dominique Routhier

With and Against reframes the history of the Situationist International as a struggle to come to terms with the then-emerging ideologies of cybernetics and automation.  With equal attention to aesthetic detail and to the broader contours of political economy, this book serves as a critical intervention in art history as well a call to reconsider the contemporary lessons of the most political of all artistic avantgardes.

Revolutionary Mathematics: Artificial Intelligence, Statistics and the Logic of Capitalism by Justin Joque

This book provides a new and unique perspective on the dangers of allowing artificial intelligence and big data to manage society. It is essential reading for those who want to understand the underlying ideological and philosophical changes that have fueled the rise of algorithms and convinced so many to blindly trust their outputs, reshaping our current political and economic situation.

Automation and the Future of Work by Aaron Benanav

Aaron Benanav uncovers the structural economic trends that will shape our working lives far into the future. What social movements, he asks, are required to propel us into post-scarcity, if technological innovation alone can’t deliver it? In response to calls for a universal basic income that would maintain a growing army of redundant workers, he offers a counterproposal.

Political Theory

[book-strip index="1" style="buy"]

A new Marxist theory of the abstract and impersonal forms of power in capitalism. To understand capital’s paradoxical expansion and entrenchment amidst crisis and unrest, Mute Compulsion offers a novel theory of the historically unique forms of abstract and impersonal power set in motion by the subjection of social life to the profit imperative. Building on a critical reconstruction of Karl Marx’s unfinished critique of political economy and a wide range of contemporary Marxist theory, philosopher Søren Mau sets out to explain how the logic of capital tightens its stranglehold on the life of society by constantly remoulding the material conditions of social reproduction. 

Read Mute Compulsion with: 

Cannibal Capitalism by Nancy Fraser

A trenchant look at contemporary capitalism’s insatiable appetite - and a rallying cry for everyone who wants to stop it from devouring our world. Capital is currently cannibalizing every sphere of life–guzzling wealth from nature and racialized populations, sucking up our ability to care for each other, and gutting the practice of politics. In this tightly argued and urgent volume, leading Marxist feminist theorist Nancy Fraser charts the voracious appetite of capital, tracking it from crisis point to crisis point, from ecological devastation to the collapse of democracy, from racial violence to the devaluing of care work.  

The Rise and Decline of Patriarchal Systems by Nancy Folbre 

Why do patriarchal systems survive? In this groundbreaking work of feminist theory, Nancy Folbre examines the contradictory effects of capitalist development. She explains why the work of caring for others is under-valued and under-rewarded in today's global economy, calling attention to the organisation of childrearing, the care of other dependants, and the inheritance of assets.

Confronting Capitalism by Vivek Chibber

Why is our society so unequal? Why, despite their small numbers, do the rich dominate policy and politics even in democratic countries? Why is it so difficult for working people to organize around common interests? How do we begin to build a more equal and democratic society? Vivek Chibber provides a clear and accessible map of how capitalism works, how it limits the power of working and oppressed people, and how to overcome those limits.

Black Radicalism

[book-strip index="8" style="buy"]

Red Africa makes the case for a revolutionary Black politics inspired by Marxist anticolonial struggles in Africa. 

Contemporary debates on Black radicalism and decolonisation have lost sight of the concerns that animated their twentieth-century intellectual forebears. Okoth responds, challenging the claim that Marxism and Black radicalism are incompatible and showing that both are embraced in the anti-imperialist tradition he calls 'Red Africa'.

Read Red Africa with:

Decolonial Marxism: Essays from the Pan-African Revolution by Walter Rodney

A previously unpublished collection of Rodney’s essays on Marxism, spanning his engagement with of Black Power, Ujamaa Villages, and the everyday people who put an end to a colonial era

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney. Foreword by Angela Davis

An exemplary work of political, economic, and historical analysis, powerfully introduced by Angela Davis

Making the Revolution Global: Black Radicalism and the British Socialist Movement before Decolonisation by Theo Williams

Making the Revolution Global shows how black radicals transformed socialist politics in Britain in the years before decolonisation. 

The Frankfurt School

[book-strip index="7" style="buy"]

Fifty years after the publication of The Dialectical Imagination, his pioneering history of the Frankfurt School, Martin Jay reflects on its legacy with this powerful new study.

Focusing on the characteristic critical gesture that unites many Frankfurt School thinkers-that of immanent critique-Jay succeeds in opening up a fascinating perspective on a critical legacy that, even a century on, remains open and still to come.

Read Immanent Critiques with:

Splinters in Your Eye: Frankfurt School Provocations by Martin Jay

“In this sizzling collection of essays, Martin Jay demonstrates again that he is the unsurpassed reader of the group of thinkers known as the “Frankfurt School.” In fact, he challenges the false unity and coherence of ideas and views often imposed upon them, including his own earlier writings on the subject.” - Professor Seyla Benhabib

Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life bTheodor Adorno

A classic of twentieth-century thought, Minima Moralia is Adorno's literary and philosophical masterpiece.

Aesthetics and Politics by Theodor AdornoWalter BenjaminErnst BlochBertolt Brecht and Georg Lukács

An intense and lively debate on literature and art between thinkers who became some of the great figures of twentieth-century philosophy and literature.


[book-strip index="2" style="buy"]

For several years after 1968, Herbert Marcuse was one of the most famous philosophers in the world. In the 1960s and 70s, young people seeking a theoretical basis for their revolution found it in his work. Marcuse not only supported their struggles against imperialism and race and gender discrimination, he foresaw the far-reaching implications of the destruction of the natural environment. Marcuse’s Marxism was influenced by Husserl and Heidegger, Hegel and Freud. These eclectic sources grounded an original critique of advanced capitalism focused on the social construction of subjectivity and technology. 

Read The Ruthless Critique of Everything Existing with: 

Power and Resistance by Yoshiyuki Sato

The "structuralist" theories of power show that the subject is produced and reproduced by the investment of power: but how then can we think of the subject's resistance to power? Based on this fundamental question, Power and Resistance interprets critically the (post-)structuralist theory of power and resistance, i.e., the theories of Foucault, Deleuze/Guattari, Derrida and Althusser.

Henri Lefebvre and the Theory of the Production of Space by Christian Schmid

Henri Lefebvre belongs to the generation of the great French intellectuals and philosophers, together with his contemporaries Michel Foucault and Jean-Paul Sartre. His theory has experienced a remarkable revival over the last two decades, and is discussed and applied today in many disciplines in humanities and social sciences. This book explains in an accessible way the theoretical and epistemological context of this work in French philosophy and in the German dialectic (Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche), and reconstructs in detail the historical development of its different elements.

The Destruction of Reason by Georg Lukács

How Western philosophy lost its innocence: from Enlightenment to fascism. The Destruction of Reason is Georg Lukács’s trenchant criticism of certain strands of philosophy after Marx and the role they played in the rise of National Socialism: ‘Germany’s path to Hitler in the sphere of philosophy,’ as he put it.


Psychology and Social Theory

[book-strip index="3" style="buy"]

How to find dignity and a meaningful life in the modern city

In this reissue of the 1972 classic of social anatomy, Richard Sennets adds a new introduction to shows how the injuries of class persist into the 21st century. In this intrepid, groundbreaking book, Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb uncover and define a new form of class conflict in America: an internal conflict in the heart and mind of the blue-collar worker who measures his own value against those lives and occupations to which our society gives a special premium. 

Read The Hidden Injuries of Class with: 

Microverses by Dylan Riley

Microverses comprises over a hundred short essays inviting us to think about society—and social theory—in new ways. Lockdown created the conditions for what Adorno once termed ‘enforced contemplation’. Dylan Riley responded with the tools of his trade, producing an extraordinary trail of notes exploring how critical sociology can speak to this troubled decade. Invitations rather than finished arguments, these notes attempt to recover the totalising perspective of sociology—the ability to see society in the round, as though from the outside—and to recuperate what Paul Sweezy described as a sense of the ‘present as history’. 

The Third Unconscious by Franco “Bifo” Berardi

A wide-ranging exploration of the present, and the future, of the Unconscious. In the early twentieth century, Freud characterised the Unconscious as the dark side of the well-ordered framework of Progress and Reason. At the end of the past century, Deleuze and Guattari described it as a laboratory: the magmatic force that ceaselessly brings about new possibilities of imagination. In this book, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi vividly illustrates the form in which the Unconscious will make itself manifest for decades to come, and the challenges that it will pose to our possibilities of political action, poetic imagination, and therapy. 

The Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno, et al.

What makes a fascist? Are there character traits that make someone more likely to vote for the far right? The Authoritarian Personality is not only one of the most significant works of social psychology ever written, it also marks a milestone in the development of Adorno’s thought, showing him grappling with the problem of fascism and the reasons for Europe’s turn to reaction.

Art and Aesthetics

[book-strip index="4" style="buy"]

The award-winning, highly acclaimed Artificial Hells is the first historical and theoretical overview of socially engaged participatory art, known in the US as “social practice.” In recent decades, the art gallery and the museum have become a place for participatory art, where an audience is encouraged to take part in the artwork. This has been heralded as a revolutionary practise that can promote new emancipatory social relations. In this fully updated edition, Claire Bishop follows the trajectory of twentieth-century art and examines key moments in the development of a participatory aesthetic.

Read Artificial Hells with: 

Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell

New York Times Best Art Book of 2020
The divide between the digital and the real world no longer exists. We are connected all the time. How do we find out who we are in this digital era? Where do we create the space to explore our identity? How can we come together in solidarity? In Glitch Feminism, Legacy Russell makes a series of radical demands through memoir, art, and critical theory, as well as the work of contemporary artists—including Juliana Huxtable, Sondra Perry, boychild, Victoria Sin, and Kia LaBeija—who have travelled through the glitch in their work.

Choreography of Every Day Life by Annie-B Parson

In this sparkling, innovative, fully-illustrated work, world-renowned choreographer Annie-B Parson translates the components of dance - time, proximity, space, motion and tone - into text. With the insight and verve of a soloist, Parson shows us how art-making is a part of our everyday lives and our political life as we move, together and apart, through space.

Crisis as Form by Peter Osborne

Criticism of contemporary art is split by an opposition between activism and the critical function of form. Yet the deeper, more subterranean terms of art-judgment are largely neglected on both sides. These essays combine a re-examination of the terms of judgement of contemporary art with critical interpretations of individual works and exhibitions by Luis Camnitzer, Marcel Duchamp, Matias Faldbakken, Anne Imhof and Cady Noland.


Economic Theory 

[book-strip index="5" style="buy"]

Part of our Essential David Harvey series

David Harvey’s Companion to Marx’s Grundrisse builds upon his widely acclaimed companions to the first and second volumes of Capital in a way that will reach as wide an audience as possible. While respecting Marx’s desire to “bring out all the contradictions of bourgeois production, as well as the boundary where it drives beyond itself,” David Harvey also pithily illustrates the relevance of Marx’s text to understanding the troubled state of contemporary capitalism.

Read A Companion to Marx's Grundrisse with: 

Democratizing Finance edited by Fred Block and Robert Hockett

What if our financial system were organized to the benefit of the many rather than simply empowering the few? Robert Hockett and Fred Block argue that an entirely different financial system is both desirable and possible. Democratizing Finance includes six responses that seek to amend, elaborate, and challenge the arguments developed by Hockett and Block.

Revolutionary Mathematics by Justin Joque

Our finances, politics, media, opportunities, information, shopping and knowledge production are mediated through algorithms and their statistical approaches to knowledge. Increasingly, these methods form the organisational backbone of contemporary capitalism. Revolutionary Mathematics traces the revolution in statistics and probability that has quietly underwritten the explosion of machine learning, big data and predictive algorithms that now decide many aspects of our lives.

Keystroke Capitalism by Aaron Sahr

Contemporary capitalism produces more and more money, debt, and inequality. These three trends have a common cause: the privilege of private banks to create money by means of accounting—with the stroke of a key.  Keystroke Capitalism traces the omission of money creation from theories of capitalism and maps its consequences.

Mute Compulsion
Despite insoluble contradictions, intense volatility and fierce resistance, the crisis-ridden capitalism of the 21st century lingers on. To understand capital’s paradoxical expansion and entrenchme...
The Ruthless Critique of Everything Existing
For several years after 1968, Herbert Marcuse was one of the most famous philosophers in the world. He became the face of Frankfurt School Critical Theory for a generation in turmoil. His fame rest...
The Hidden Injuries of Class
In this reissue of the 1972 classic of social anatomy, Richard Sennets adds a new introduction to shows how the injuries of class persist into the 21st century. In this intrepid, groundbreaking boo...
Artificial Hells
The award-winning, highly acclaimed Artificial Hells is the first historical and theoretical overview of socially engaged participatory art, known in the US as “social practice.” In recent decades,...
A Companion to Marx's Grundrisse
When leading scholar of Marx, Roman Rosdolsky, first encountered the virtually unknown text of Marx's Grundrisse - his preparatory work for his masterpiece Das Capital - in the 1950s in New York Pu...
The Eye of the Master
What is AI? A dominant view describes it as the quest "to solve intelligence" - a solution supposedly to be found in the secret logic of the mind or in the deep physiology of the brain, such as i...
Immanent Critiques
Fifty years after the appearance of The Dialectical Imagination, his pioneering history of the Frankfurt School, Martin Jay reflects on what may be living and dead in its legacy. Rather than treati...
Red Africa
Red Africa makes the case for a revolutionary Black politics inspired by Marxist anticolonial struggles in Africa. Contemporary debates on Black radicalism and decolonisation have lost sight of the...

Filed under: student-reading, versoreadinglists