The Institutions of Modern Capitalism: States and Markets in Urban Spaces

Recent tumultuous developments in the global political economy have raised fundamental questions about the institutional arrangements that underpin contemporary society. Many of these center on the global rise of the political right -- as seen in Europe, India, the Philippines, and most recently the United States – and the implications for the liberal institutions upon which the global capitalist system has rested since the end of the Second World War. These complex issues reiterate the need for interdisciplinary study of politics, society and economy. This is a crucial starting point for making sense of interrelated developments across diverse institutional contexts in Europe and the United States as well as in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

This course will introduce students to a set of analytic tools and conceptual frameworks through which to assess the origins and evolution of the institutions that constitute modern capitalism. The course takes an inter-disciplinary political economy approach that draws insights from economics, sociology, political science, history, geography and science and technology studies. The course will critically assess the rise of what Karl Polanyi and Albert Hirschman have referred to as ‘market society,’ a powerful conceptual framework that views the development of modern capitalism not as an outcome of deterministic economic and technological forces, but rather as the result of contingent social and political processes. Capitalism is a set of institutions that is produced by competing ideas that are socially constructed, politically contested and morally embedded. These ideas are neither purely technical nor value-free; they are humanly-created products with specific histories and underlying systems of meaning. These systems of meaning hold powerful appeal, shaping the way we make sense of ‘data’, ‘information’ and ‘facts’. In this respect, humans do not simply observe the world ‘as it is’; we see the world through competing theories and beliefs. The course material will thus cover different theoretical perspectives that illustrate alternative conceptions of rationality, which in turn produce competing ways of ‘seeing’ and making sense of the complexities of our social world. The ultimate objective is to provide students with tools to interrogate the current relationship between states and markets, and frameworks to consider the extent to which social actors can challenge its limits and imagine alternative possibilities.