1st Edition

Claiming Value The Politics of Priority from Aristotle to Black Lives Matter

By Alena Wolflink Copyright 2023
    180 Pages
    by Routledge

    180 Pages
    by Routledge

    Value is typically theorized from the frameworks of economic theory or of moral/ethical theory, but we need to instead think about value foremost as political. Alena Wolflink uncovers a tension in value discourses between material and aspirational life. As she shows, erasing this tension, as has been the historical tendency, can entrench existing configurations of power and privilege, while acknowledging the tension is a vital part of democratic practice. Using genealogical, conceptual-historical, and interpretive approaches, and drawing from such diverse sources as Aristotle, Anna Julia Cooper, Michael Warner, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Wolflink argues that abstractions of value discourse in both economic theory and moral philosophy have been complicit in devaluing the lives of women, queer people, and people of color. Yet she further argues that value claims nonetheless hold democratic potential as a means of asserting and defining priorities that center the role of political economy in the making of political communities.

    With many real-world examples vividly portrayed, Claiming Value is an unusually accessible work of political theory accessible to students in courses on political theory, moral philosophy, social theory, economic theory, democracy, social inequality, and more.


    1. Introduction: Recovering Our Political Values

    2. Revaluing Need: Aristotle, Commercial Exchange, and Necessity

    3. The Just Price or "Just the Price?" Conceptual History, Community Valuation, and Liberal Sovereignty

    4. What’s the Matter with Value?

    Anna Julia Cooper’s Political-Economic Thought

    5. Michael Warner and the Values of Public Sexual Culture

    6. Black Lives Matter and the Politics of Value

    7. Conclusion: Centering Value in Political Praxis



    Alena Wolflink is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Denver. She is a political theorist of democratic agency and identity. Her current research examines the construction of narratives about democracy and citizenship through analyses of the undercurrents of race, gender, and sexuality discourses in the language of political economy. Wolflink’s work has been published in such venues as Theory & Event, Critical Philosophy of Race, and Philosophy and Global Affairs.

    "From Aristotle to John Locke to Karl Marx to Anna Julia Cooper to LGBTQIA+ struggles and Black Lives Matter, Alena Wolflink explores the pressing question, through an interrogation of what it means to value and evaluate values—revealing what she calls the tension between value and values: What, in the end, are we worth? This question, well formulated by Cooper more than a century ago, drives this well-written, poignant, and careful study of the normative and economic dimensions and beyond of building democratic society and the political challenges and responsibilities such a project embodies. A genuine work of political thought, Claiming Value brings political reality to the fore with clarity, precision, and scholarly breadth."
    Lewis R. Gordon, author of Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization

    "In Claiming Value Alena Wolflink skillfully traces the tension between the material/economic and ethical/aspirational senses of "value." Revealing the slippage between and entwinement of these senses of value, she shows the political benefits of attending to the polyvalence of "value" and the injustice that arises from failing to do so. This graceful work about an ascendant and persistent political language—used by both the "Black Lives Matter" movement and the "values voter"—offers an original and timely way of articulating how any successful political struggle must simultaneously attend to the necessary interrelation between material needs and structures and the ethical character of collective life."
    Shalini Satkunanandan, University of California, Davis

    "This book is a novel treatment of the problem of value. Its methodology is sound and well-justified, and it brings together an array of thinkers and writers who are rarely found in the same books or anthologies. Its scope is ambitious, and its topic is an important one for democratic life in late capitalism."
    Emily Nacol, University of Toronto

    "Claiming Value makes an important contribution to political theory, political philosophy, race, gender and sexuality studies, and also theories of political economy."
    Kevin Bruyneel, Babson College