(En)countering the Refugee: Capital, Óscar Martínez’s The Beast, and the “Problem” of the Surplus Population

Kanishka Chowdhury, University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN


One of the principal features of Marx’s theory of capital accumulation is his formulation of a reserve army of labor, a surplus population, which is produced, used, and disposed of according to the needs of capital. Óscar Martínez’s The Beast, a non-fiction account of the journeys of Central American migrants across Mexico allows us to consider and explore the ways in which Marx’s theorization of surplus populations represents, extends, and challenges our understanding of the current migrant and refugee crisis across the world. Such an analysis, moreover, offers us a new perspective on migrants’ rights, forcing us to negotiate these rights within a larger imperial global narrative that is inextricably tied to the production and regulation of surplus populations.

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