Political Economy of Modern Capitalism Workshop

In the fall of 2005, Professors Sven Beckert (FAS, Dept. of History) and Christine Desan (HLS) initiated a new graduate student-faculty research seminar on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism. The workshop aimed to provide a forum for the intensive interdisciplinary study of capitalism with particular attention to it as an historically situated process of regulating social relations. The topic is unparalleled in importance.  As a political economic form, capitalism defines not only market dynamics, but governance structures and social relations. The study of its growth and development therefore attracts scholars from a wide variety of fields, and we believe that their contributions can powerfully stimulate mutual insight.

Program for 2013-2014:

Labor in the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism

In 2013-2014, the Workshop will focus on the theme of labor under capitalism. As the study of the history of capitalism has rapidly expanded in recent years as a field of reeseach and teaching, studies of consumption, business elites, management practices and economic policy making have increasingly become dominant.  The question how massive numbers of workers have been mobilized to do the harvesting, digging, manufacturing, and servicing that is at the core of capitalist economic activities and how they have responded to their position within capitalist economies has become marginalized. This is in many ways surprising, not least because for many scholars, the advent of wage labor defines capitalism itself. This year, the Workshop tried to address some of these shortcomings of the debates on capitalism by focusing on labor and production.  

The workshop meets on Monday afternoons at 4:00 PM at the Law School in Lewis 214A. Please join the Program on the Study of Capitalism's email announcement list for the latest updates and information on the Workshop and other events and activities of interest on campus. 

The current syllabus for the course is available here


Schedule of Speakers: 

FALL 2013: 

Oct. 28: Suresh NaiduSIPAColumbia University: “The Economics of Unfree Labor in the Nineteenth Century”

Commentators: John WomackHarvard University; Zachary NowakAmerican Studies, GSAS 

Nov. 11: Shaun Nichols, Harvard University: “Making Crisis Work: Migrant Labor, Mobile Capital, and the Creation of an Industrial Regime in Massachusetts

Commentator: Andrew Gordon, Harvard University; Sam HeppellHarvard Law School 

Nov. 25: Ed Baptist, Cornell University: “Towards a Political Economy of Slave Labor: Hands, Whipping-Machines, and Modern Power

Commentator: Norberto FerrerasWIGH Postdoctoral Fellow, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil; Mycah Conner, History, GSAS 

SPRING 2014: 

Feb 10: [JOINT MEETING with the Global History Seminar]

Cindy Hamamovitch, William & Mary: "Slavery's Stale Soil: Indentured Servants, Guest Workers, and the End of Empire

Commentator: Emmanuel AkyeampongHarvard University; Manuel Rincon-Cruz, WIGH Fellow

Feb. 24: Steven Hahn, University of Pennsylvania: “Wheels of Capital

Commentator: Alexander Keyssar, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Liat SpiroHistory, GSAS 

March 10: Ken Kawashima, University of Toronto: “Biopolitics and the Aleatory Event(s) of Capitalism

Commentator: John Trumpbour, Harvard Trade Union Program, Harvard Law School; Nicole SummersHarvard Law School 

March 31: Nancy Folbre, UMass Amherst: “The Political Economy of Patriarchal Systems

Commentator: Nancy CottHarvard University; Cristina GroegerHistory, GSAS 

April 14: Alessandro Stanziani, Centre de Recherches Historiques, EHESS: “Bondage in Eurasia, Seventeenth to early Twentieth Century

Commentator: Terry Martin, Harvard University; Balraj GillAmerican Studies, GSAS 

April 28: Workshop Participants Presentations

    Aisha AhmadHarvard Law School: "Accumulation by Juridical Dispossession: The IMF and its (Legal) Discontents

    Joan ChakerHistory, GSAS: "Muleteers between Banditry and Revolt: Peasant Resistance in 19th Century Lebanon

    Zachary Nowak, American Studies, GSAS: "Something Brewing: Forward Integration in 19th Century Boston Breweries


Please join the Program on the Study of Capitalism's announcement email list to receive information about the Workshop and other events and activities at Harvard. 

For more information on upcoming sessions, please check the calendar

Past Syllabi: 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010-2011

Many student research papers have gone on to be published, a partial list of this research is available here