CfP: The Temporalities of Capitalism. Time, Timing and the Formation of the World Economy

Call for papers, deadline 20 May 2021

The history of capitalism has attracted ever growing interest among scholars in the last decade. Several studies aimed for exploring the role of violence and imperialism for the implementation of capitalist economies across the world and studied the relation between state policy and economic actors. Others have expounded on the role of consumption for the establishment of industrial production, the increased commodification of everyday life, or the social embeddedness of economic interaction. Due to the role of entrepreneurial competition and the reliance on credit, capitalism is characterized by a high degree of volatility. Time management and the evaluation of future developments are thus crucial for economic actors.

Yet, even though pioneering studies such as those of E. P. Thompson (1967) or Jacques Le Goff (1960) pointed out the role of new temporal regimes in the implementation of capitalism, only few studies have picked out this topic as a central theme so far (Sewell 2008; Beckert 2016; Ogle 2019). This conference aims for breaking new ground by exploring the significance of temporal regimes for the breakthrough of capitalism globally. By linking the history of temporality, which has become a vibrant research field in the last few years, to the history of capitalism, the conference aims for confirming that economic history in general, and the history of capitalism in particular, cannot be understood without investigating the cultural processes that accompanied, and often rendered possible, the implementation of specific economic structures.

The workshop will address the following three themes in particular:

1) The contributions will explore whether capitalist economies are structured by a particular manner of time management and calculating the future and examine when, and why, such techniques were implemented. Was there a specific moment in time after which we can talk about a breakthrough of capitalism in certain societies? Can we distinguish between different varieties of capitalism, each featuring a particular temporal regime?

2) Papers will examine the extent to which capitalist economies were confronted with the ‘non-simultaneity of the simultaneous’ across the world. Did local time regimes resist the implementation of synchronized and liner time orders? Was the establishment of global capitalism accompanied by an increasing divergence between temporal orders in different world areas? Were there frictions between linear capitalist time orders and other temporalities (such as natural cycles) and how did actors cope with, or capitalize on, respectively, such challenges?

3) How can the temporalities of capitalism be linked to recent debates about the Anthropocene? Could it be that the economic capacity of capitalism, rendered possible, among other things, by an efficient time management, destroyed the very ecological basis on which it relied in the first place? Is such an awareness of ecological limits of growth a recent development or can it be observed to have already happened in earlier periods?

The workshop will mainly focus on the modern period (eighteenth to twentieth-first centuries). However, we also would like to invite papers which refer on the ancient, the medieval or the early modern periods, respectively, in order to explore differences and similarities between the pre-modern and the modern period in terms of structures and actors that can be described as capitalist. We are particularly interested in longue durée approaches and papers that examine historical processes in the global South.

We plan a publication of selected contributions to the workshop, either in an edited volume or a special issue of a journal. We are very pleased to announce that Prof. Prasannan Parthasarathi (Boston College) will be a keynote speaker at the workshop.

Proposals of two pages (max.) should be sent to Christof Dejung, <> and Moritz von Brescius <> before 20 May 2021.

Accepted papers will be pre-circulated in advance of the workshop, which will be expected to be submitted by 30 April 2022.

The workshop will take place from 23 to 25 June 2022 at the University of Bern, Switzerland. All travel and accommodation expenses will be covered by the organizers. For ecological reasons, we consider a hybrid format with part of the speakers being present and others participating via Zoom.