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Amidst “herd immunity” strategies and discourses on the disposability of unproductive populations, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the scandal upon which capitalism is built, not only in the south, but also, increasingly, in the north: the scandal of surplus populations. Driven by widespread expulsions from secure livelihoods brought about by land grabs, climate change, and neoliberal restructuring, impoverishment, indebtedness, and informalisation have become an integral feature of everyday life for many people on this planet.

These trends have also led to renewed scholarly engagement with Karl Marx’s concept of the relative surplus population: the portion of the working-age population surplus to the immediate needs of productive capital in any given time and place. A good deal of literature has examined emerging processes by which such marginalised populations have been subjected to new forms of surveillance and discipline and linked constructions of race and criminality, or rendered ‘disposable’.

Often neglected in the debates, however, is Marx’s insistence that the relative surplus population – while temporarily ‘surplus’ to the needs of capital – also serves as a vital lever for future capital accumulation. Surplus populations are often mobilised in ways that serve to discipline labour, forcing down wages and reproduction costs, and remain subjected to secondary forms of exploitation, especially through rents and debts.

This special issue bridges these different research strands through a range of empirically-grounded case studies, situated in both the global north and south and on multiple different scales. Join us for a discussion between the editors, the contributors and the discussants: Dr Elisa Greco (Lille, Editor of Review of African Political Economy), Dr Nithya Natarajan (KCL Geography), Prof Engelbert Stockhammer (KCL European & International Studies) and Prof Simona Talani (KCL European & International Studies).

The event is organised by the Contemporary Marxism Research Group and IPE Research Group at King's College London.

Register here in advance of the meeting.

If you would like to receive the articles in advance, e-mail Dr Lucia Pradella:

Launch of the Geoforum special issue 'Placing Surplus Populations in Global Capitalism'

Edited by Dr Nick Bernards (Warwick) and Prof Susanne Soederberg (Queen’s University)

  • Nick Bernards (Warwick) and Susanne Soederberg (Queen’s University), Relative Surplus Populations and the Crises of Contemporary Capitalism: Reviving, Revisiting, Recasting – Introduction to the special issue.
  • Vanessa Banta and Geraldine Pratt (University of British Columbia), Surplused in Dubai: Filipino professionals as surplus entrepreneurs
  • Nick Bernards (Warwick), ‘Latent’ surplus populations and colonial histories of drought, groundnuts, and finance in Senegal
  • Rebecca Hall (Queen’s University), Indigenous/state relations and the “Making” of surplus populations in the mixed economy of Northern Canada
  • Lama Tawakkol (Queen’s University), Reclaiming the city’s core: Urban accumulation, surplus (re)production and discipline in Cairo
  • Marcus Taylor (Queen’s University) and Suhas Bhasme (Tata Institute, Mumbai), Between deficit rains and surplus populations: The political ecology of a climate-resilient village in South India
  • Lucia Pradella (King’s College London) and Rossana Cillo (University of Venice), Bordering the surplus population across the Mediterranean: Imperialism and unfree labour in Libya and the Italian countryside
  • Angela Wigger (Radboud University, Nijmegen), Housing as a site of accumulation in Amsterdam and the creation of surplus populations


Contributors: Vanessa Banta (University of British Columbia), Geraldine Pratt (University of British Columbia), Rebecca Hall (Queen’s University), Lama Tawakkol (Queen’s University), Marcus Taylor (Queen’s University), Suhas Bhasme (Tata Institute, Mumbai), Lucia Pradella (King’s College London), Rossana Cillo (University of Venice), and Angela Wigger (Radboud University, Nijmegen).

Discussants: Dr Elisa Greco (Lille, Editor of Review of African Political Economy), Dr Nithya Natarajan (KCL Geography), Prof Engelbert Stockhammer (KCL European & International Studies) and Prof Simona Talani (KCL European & International Studies).

At this event


Reader in International Political Economy

Professor of International Political Economy

Prof Simona Talani

Professor of International Political Economy and Director of the Centre for Italian Politics @ EIS

Nithya Natarajan

Senior Lecturer in International Development