Rio de Janeiro, March 12-14, 2024
Organizers: Tamis Parron and Sven Beckert
Capitalism pervades every aspect of our lives, from the ways we produce to the structures of our families, from state power to our most mundane daily routines. Its expansion in space and in society has been of such impact that some scholars now speak of the current geological era as the “capitolocene.” It is impossible to understand the world we inhabit without also understanding capitalism.
For at least two centuries, scholars have tackled this strange way of organizing economic life. Adam Smith and Karl Marx, Max Weber and Rosa Luxemburg, Friedrich von Hayek and Nancy Fraser have all grappled with vital questions concerning the conceptual definition and the historical trajectory of capitalism. Their writings invariably evoked a deep sense of urgency in moments of turmoil, addressing either the social question of the nineteenth century, the world wars of the twentieth century, or the world economic order in the wake of the Cold War.
In the twenty-first century we are again watching profound global upheaval, this time marked by the end of exceptional economic growth in the West, precarious employment, growing income inequalities, deepening social fractures, and widespread institutional failures. Now, however, the space for maneuver has been dramatically reduced, as an unprecedented planetary ecological crisis looms large on the horizon and rising Asian economies point to the emergence of a new geopolitical world order never seen before in the history of capitalism. It seems we are on the brink of the famous Gramscian interregnum: the old frameworks are crumbling, but the new ones have yet to emerge. It is a challenging scenario that demands new forms of thought.
The conference we are organizing in Rio de Janeiro urges scholars to rethink capitalism’s history from the vantage point of this new historical moment and to consider what are the most promising theoretical formulations, methodological approaches, and historical framings to define capitalism, identify its drivers, shed light on its mechanisms, periodize its cycles, incorporate previously neglected spaces or processes, and offer a prognosis of its current reconfiguring. While traditional analyses of capitalism’s history were centered on Europe, the United States, or the North Atlantic, new strands of scholarship recognize that such a narrow lens fails to capture the complexity of the global economy and its history.
Scholarship on the history of capitalism has witnessed a “global turn” in the last decade, bringing again to the fore big picture analyses once adopted by “world-system perspective,” “dependence theory,” “theories of imperialism”, and “critical theory.” One key difference between this new wave of global studies and previous works, however, is that older narratives often take a top-down approach from global to local, while newer studies are looking upward from the local to the global. While this shift has added complexity to historical inquiry, it has also introduced challenges such as fragmentation and a-theoretical writing. In this conference, therefore, we particularly encourage historical studies that introduce fresh theoretical, conceptual, or methodological perspectives.
We also encourage projects that aim to “southernize” the global history of capitalism. The histories of the Global South, encompassing regions such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America, possess rich and diverse narratives about their place, role, and impact in the global history of capitalism. While some scholars consider these spaces to be a categorically different sort of capitalism, others view them as key constitutive elements of the uneven structure of global capitalism. We invite scholarly exploration into how these regions have influenced and reorganized global commodity circuits, world competitive pressures, integration of labor processes, circuits of world money, the composition of capital, and forms of imperialism over the centuries. We also seek to recover and reinterpret the often-overlooked intellectual and epistemological traditions of the Global South that have the potential to transform our understanding of global capitalism and its changing hierarchies.
At its core, the conference aims to rethink capitalism from a global perspective. With a focus on interdisciplinary and comparative approaches, we encourage participants to open new avenues of inquiry. We particularly encourage theoretical-historiographical syntheses. We also welcome case studies insofar as they combine their empirical investigations with fresh theoretical, conceptual, or methodological perspectives that help us rethink more broadly historical capitalism as a changing global process.
We ask prospective participants to be explicit about their methodological, theoretical and empirical contributions to the project of rethinking the global history of capitalism.
The Conference is organized by the Center on Global Inequalities at the Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) and the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History at Harvard University. We will meet in Rio de Janeiro in person from March 13 to March 15, 2024. Each panel will be anchored by a distinguished keynote speaker, and we will use the conference proceedings as a first step towards producing a book on Rethinking the History of Global Capitalism.
We will cover travelling expenses (economy class) and accommodation for four nights in Rio. We can only cover expenses for one person per submission.
If you are interested in participating in the conference and presenting a paper, we ask you to submit a double-spaced three-page proposal and a copy of your CV combined as a single PDF document as soon as possible, but no later than January 1, 2024. Please send your proposal to Jessica Barnard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will let you know if your paper has been selected no later than January 15, 2024. We especially encourage participation from scholars in the Global South.
The conference is sponsored by Cátedra Unesco sobre Desigualdades Sociais e Globais; the DRCLAS Brazil Studies Program at Harvard University; and the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History, Harvard University.