Capitalism Research Fellowship Recipients 2013


Derek Bentley, Ph.D. Candidate, Latin American History, University of Georgia, Athen: "The Regional Roots of Mexican Neoliberalism: Northern Businessmen and the Rise of Market Values"

bentleyDerek Bentley’s research explores how, beginning in the 1970s, Mexican businessmen and their allies transformed conservative strategies for confronting the state, and how their efforts helped to legitimate free market ideas in Mexico. The dissertation focuses on northern Mexico, where conservative opposition to central authority was strongest. It examines alliances which formed among businessmen, the clergy, and civic organizations and the ways that these actors helped to reframe political-economic debates around a defense of the family, religious values, and traditional gender roles. Looking beyond the abrupt policy changes of the 1980s and 1990s, it explores how these novel challenges to the state’s role in shaping societal values nourished resistance to government economic intervention, and how this process laid the foundation for Mexican neo-liberalism.



Mara Caden, Ph.D. Candidate, History, Yale University: "The Work of Making Money: Labor, The Great Recoinage, and the Geography of Currency in Britain and its Empire, 1690-1730"

Caden-photoIn the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688/89, the English state began a large-scale monetary project in 1696: the Great Recoinage, which entailed the collection of old coin and the mechanized production of new money in six locations across the nation. Petitions poured into the Treasury office from English towns, calling on the state to open mints and provide needed employment to the poor. By 1699, the Royal Mint at the Tower of London and the new country mints in Bristol, Exeter, Norwich, Chester and York had produced over 6.8 million pounds sterling in new silver money. My project gives a detailed picture of the nature of work and employment at the country mints and the Tower of London, asserts the importance of language of “employing the poor” in discussions about coinage, and explains the failure of efforts to erect mints in Ireland and Massachusetts during the same period. This study also addresses the legacies of the Great Recoinage, up to the Wood’s halfpence controversy in Ireland and the paper money controversies in the American colonies in the 1720s.


Eli Cook, Ph.D. Candidate, History of American Civilization Program, Harvard University: "The Pricing of Progress: Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life"

EliCookA research project on the political, intellectual and cultural history of statistical economic indicators in America, Eli Cook’s research uncovers the protracted struggle which took place in the nineteenth century over how economic life should be quantified and how American prosperity should be measured. By revealing the contested origins of statistics such as GDP, and by uncovering the alternative measures that ended up on the losing side of history, his work denaturalizes the seemingly objective nature of modern economic indicators while offering a fresh take on the rise of American capitalism.  In doing so, he seeks to explain how modern measures of market productivity and “economic growth” helped to transform the maximization of capitalist production and consumption into the main objective of American social policy, all the while turning monetary prices into the standard unit for measuring not only our goods but our planet, our society, our future and ourselves.


Lauren Coyle, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago and  Exchange Scholar in the Departments of African and African American Studies and Anthropology, Harvard University: "Dual Sovereigns in the Golden Twilight: Law, Land, and Sacrificial Labor in Ghana"

Coyle Lauren photo 2013Lauren Coyle works in legal and political anthropology, historical ethnography, and critical theories of law, sacrifice, and sovereignty in capitalist modernity. She currently is writing a dissertation titled Dual Sovereigns in the Golden Twilight: Law, Land, and Sacrificial Labor in Ghana. This project, based on ongoing historical and ethnographic research, concerns transformations in searing contests over gold mining and the recently revitalized significance of the colonial legacy of dual legal systems – “customary” and state-based – for contemporary nationhood in Ghana. In particular, Coyle analyzes how this legal legacy interacts with “rule of law” governance logics and with various shadow sovereigns to frame signal conflicts over land, labor, gold, the sacred, and “sovereign wealth” in the nation’s neoliberal economy. More broadly, she examines the moral economies of sacrificial mining and environmental politics, as well as the mounting transparency and “upward adjustment” movements in Ghana and across the postcolonial world. Coyle also received an M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Her recent work has appeared in TelosTransition, and Rethinking Marxism.


Nicholas Crawford, Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard University: "Feeding Slavery:  Scarcity, Subsistence, and the Political Economy of the British Caribbean, 1783-1833"

Nicholas CrawfordWhat if we made scarcity and human necessity central to our understanding of the political economies of slavery and empire? Historians of early modern colonial slavery have recognized that food scarcity and hunger were core components of plantation economies and the experience of the enslaved, especially in Caribbean sugar colonies. But scholars have not explained how the circulation of foodstuffs and other provisions were tied up in circuits of global commerce and imperial expansion in ways similar to—and no less significant than—trade in more profitable commodities, such as sugar, coffee, tobacco, and slaves. By examining the transnational history of provisioning in the British Caribbean from 1783 to 1833, Nicholas Crawford’s dissertation demonstrates the connections between the economic and coercive resources of the eighteenth and nineteenth-century British imperial state and the distribution of power between masters and slaves in West Indian societies. Most significantly, this project explores how practical and conceptual distinctions between being provided for and providing for oneself shaped the social and political terrain of the early modern Atlantic world.


Leticia Garcia, Ph.D. Candidate, Geography Department, San Diego State University: "Recognizing the Radical Potential of Economic Diversity in Food Security Projects"


As public health concerns regarding chronic disease intensify, many have expressed a growing interest in the connection between income and poor dietary habits in neighborhoods with a high occurrence of diabetes and obesity. This growing interest has led to the creation of missionary style food security projects that address hunger and malnutrition in low-income neighborhoods through market-based solutions. Within such projects, activists from privileged backgrounds charitably bring “good food” to those in need through economic incentives, such as vouchers for fresh produce. These projects hinge on depictions of low-income neighborhoods as lacking the economic resources and know-how necessary to make wise consumer choices. By framing low income neighborhoods from a deficit perspective, food security projects invisibilize the existence of informal economic activities, such as block parties, urban gardening and childcare shares, that have been traditionally excluded from market relations. These activities cultivate local knowledge and cultural practices that may pose some alternatives to existing capitalist relations, which produce uneven access to food resources in the first place. Why are the informal economic activities and the associated local knowledge of residents so undervalued? How might food security projects better address structural constraints in the food system through the cultural practices of residents? Drawing from current debates in feminist economic geography, Leticia Garcia discusses how various community organizations in North Central Philadelphia, a predominantly low-income African American region, work collaboratively to integrate economic development, food security and cultural empowerment through diverse and informal economic activities at the grassroots level. This research encourages proponents of missionary-style food security programs to interrogate their existing depictions of low-income neighborhoods in favor of more affirmative depictions that highlight radical spaces of collaboration, hope and possibility.



Kian Goh, Ph.D. Candidate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: "'Smart Cities' and the New Spatial Organizations of Accumulation"


“Smart cities,” envisioned by IBM, Siemens, and Cisco, constitute a new trajectory of corporate urbanism after a period of anti-urbanness. In the 1960s and 70s, technology companies took flight from the cities and set up in suburban corporate parks, dreaming up the information systems that would enable further decentralization, prompting Melvin Webber to proclaim the “post-city age” in 1968. Now, global cities threaded by optical fiber and lit up by sensors, hotspots, and RFID tags herald the techno-urban revolution. “Smart cities” are lauded as emancipatory, a new “urban age” in which intelligent systems increase quality of life and alleviate ecological damage. Implying as they do new spaces of control and ownership, “smart cities” also suggest new frontiers in the privatization of urban space, a “virtual enclosures,” and new spaces of capital accumulation. But immediate profits are just the beginning, especially when considering the ultimate potential – the control of urban practice itself. What, then, will become of the “right to urban life,” as exhorted by Henri Lefebvre? This research project is a spatial and political economy study of the “smart city,” to document the real-world impacts of real-time intelligent urban systems. To what extent do “smart city” projects constitute new “virtual” and physical enclosures of urban public space in the globalized, capitalist city? And, as we increasingly submit to real-time information gathering and our means of decision-making become more and more intertwined with the networks of urban systems, how is urban “public” experience transformed?


Mircea Raianu, Ph.D. Candidate, History, Harvard University: "The Tata Company and the Ethics of Capital in Modern India, 1870-1950"

RaianuMircea Raianu’s dissertation project is a study of the Tata Group, India’s largest and most powerful business, from its origins as a cosmopolitan mercantile firm in the age of empire to its position as a diversified industrial enterprise of national importance.  Based on archives in Pune, Delhi, and Mumbai, his research traces patterns of capital flows and infrastructural investments, focusing on the many philanthropic, scientific and educational institutions established by Tata across India.  His aim is to present Tata as a useful case study for addressing the contemporary ethical challenges for business within and beyond South Asia.


Lindsay Schakenbach, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, Brown University: "Manufacturing Advantage: the Federal Government, Diplomacy, and the Origins of American Industrialization, 1790-1840"

Schakenbach head shot 4 22 13Lindsay Schakenbach’s research examines the role of the federal government in the development of manufacturing in early republican New England. While the standard narrative of industrialization in the United States emphasizes individual initiative and entrepreneurial innovation, this project will combine business papers with State Department and Congressional records to tell a story that reveals the rise of American manufacturing as dependent on favorable commercial policies, treaties, patent administration, and the settlement of shipping claims.  It will reveal economic development in the United States as less a product of laissez-faire policy than of the concerted efforts of prominent businessmen, politicians, and diplomats to shape economic development in specific and calculated ways.



Joshua Specht, Ph.D. Candidate, History, Harvard University: "Red Meat Republic: The Rise of the Cattle-Beef Complex, 1865-1905"

JoshSpechtHeadshotJoshua Specht’s dissertation, “Red Meat Republic: The Rise of the Cattle-Beef Complex, 1865-1905,” examines the consolidation of the American meatpacking and ranching industries. In the span of fifty years, fresh beef went from delicacy to daily fare. Yet the sort of industrialized animal husbandry that facilitated this transformation has had high costs, both human and environmental. In spite of these costs – the source of widespread criticism and public unease – this system has persisted in roughly the same shape for nearly a century. Specht argues this resilience depends on a set of widely accepted narratives that made centralized meatpacking appear natural and inevitable. Whether rooted in cultural discourses justifying native land expropriation or technological arguments rationalizing market concentration, particular narratives enabled the historical processes integral to the rise of big meatpacking. His dissertation critiques these narratives, offering an alternative account of industrial animal husbandry’s origins.



Levi Van Sant, Ph.D. Candidate, Geography Department, University of Georgia: "When Local Comes to Town:Food, Agriculture, and the Geography of Capitalism"

LevivansantLevi Van Sant’s dissertation research examines the growth of local food systems in the South Carolina lowcountry — the coastal region surrounding the port city of Charleston. Proponents of local food systems in Charleston and beyond offer their model as one which can redress the social and ecological ills of global agribusiness. It is arguable, however, that the politicization of local food — as a process driven by urban society — represents a continued extension of the city’s power over rural futures. Through an historical and agro-ecological analysis of food system change, this project aims to develop a more full understanding of the geographies of capitalism.



Vanessa Williamson, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Government and Social Policy, Harvard University: "The Purse of the People: Support for Taxation in the American States"

Vanessa-0026814-MStarting in the late 19th Century, states made the transition to more modern tax systems, often including an income tax. There is very wide variation in these modernized tax regimes; some states rely heavily on an income tax, while others primarily use sales taxes to finance government. This variation does not seem easily explained by the most obvious demographic or economic factors. Vanessa Williamson’s historical analysis, based on paired case studies, will examine the processes by which states chose their mix of taxes.  Understanding the historical context in which state tax policy developed will have important implications for a broader understanding of tax legitimacy in the United States. Williamson’s results could have additional implications for public policy; finding sources of revenue that are relatively immune from changing political tides would allow for vastly more effective planning. These results may also fit in a broader discussion about the social and political circumstances in which different tax tools are used to shape market outcomes.



Gabriel Winant, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, Yale University: "The Costume of My Trade: The Politics of Work and Daily Life in Postwar Pittsburgh"

gabriel winant

Gabriel Winant’s project seeks to understand the transition in the labor market and the process of class formation, from the end of manufacturing through the development of the service sector, using Pittsburgh as a case study. Though Pittsburgh remains known as steel city, more people work for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center than ever did at U.S. Steel. Winant wants to examine how race, gender, and class intersected in this process of labor market shift to produce a particularly strange result: industrial maturity — even overcapacity — yielding declining wages and rising working hours. He hopes to argue that this perverse labor market outcome is the social basis of the phenomena  at the levels of high politics and political economy that are often described as neo-liberalism and financialization.