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 contemporary 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.
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.
The Political Economy of Modern Capitalism 2017-2018: "Capitalism and Democracy"
According to many theorists, the market is a democratizing force, while capitalism and democracy have been mutually constitutive. In their idealized form, capitalist markets decentralize decision-making to individuals and draw on their preferences to establish prices. As an historical development, the market appealed to liberal theorists partly as a counterweight to the overweening power of the feudal state. During the Cold War, modernization theorists in the West developed elaborate theories of how capitalist markets and democratic governance unfold hand in hand. Other theorists, however, read the market as an institution that is dangerous to democratic commitments. Market forces sort individuals and groups according to their resources and access, advantaging parties along lines of power and wealth. Moreover, recent developments have demonstrated that capitalist economies can thrive in authoritarian regimes, and have done so in the past.
This year, the Workshop on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism focuses on this question of capitalism and democracy. It is an issue of great contemporary relevance, but one that can only be understood in historical perspective and by embedding new analysis in a distinguished and vibrant literature.
For more information on upcoming sessions, please check the calendar.