Field Description

The history and culture of capitalism is a sharply contested research field. Scholars debate how capitalism itself should be understood, whether it marks a stage in historical development identified with industrialization or whether it can be found in a variety of forms at different historical periods.  For all the disagreements, capitalism, however defined, has proven surprisingly resilient in the face of its many challenges. 

Students interested in the history and culture of capitalism will find relevant courses across campus: in Sociology (and in ISF 100A) students read the classical theorists of capitalism and learn about the latest cultural and economic developments; in Economic History, Economic Geography, and Economic Anthropology, students study changes in the nature, scope and embeddedness of market activities across time and space as well as transformations of monetary systems; in Industrial Relations and Operation Research, students learn about the organization of the production process; in Development Studies and Political Economy, students read about the history of economic thought; in Public Policy and Political Science, students study the varieties of capitalism; and in Legal Studies, students study the juridical structure of property laws and contracts from both an empirical and a theoretical perspective. 

Students may focus on a variety of historical topics in the study of capitalism including the reasons for its early developments, the relations between early capitalism, slavery, and colonization, the historic changes in business forms, the meanings of consumption choices and labor systems; or students may also focus on the modalities of the modern economy-- such as Keynesian regulation, neo-liberalism, financialization, the new enclosures, network capitalism or the return of patrimonial capitalism. All these developments can be investigated with an emphasis on culture, social hierarchies, systems of governance, as well as isolated economic phenomena.