Sociology

Capitalism and its Critics

Module code: 805L4
Level 7 (Masters)
30 credits in spring teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Essay

This module provides an account of major theories of capitalism in the tradition of social theory and political economy. It begins with a survey of the classical approaches of Adam Smith and Karl Marx before looking at the main theories of capitalism in the 20th century, mainly Max Weber, Joseph Schumpeter, John Maynard Keynes and Karl Polayni. We examine each theorist with an emphasis on different elements of capitalism:

  • Smith on the market's 'invisible hand'
  • Marx on capital's exploitation of labour
  • Weber on the foundations of economic rationality
  • Schumpeter and Keynes on the instability of capitalism due to its monetary and financial character
  • Polanyi on the embedded nature of capitalism.

The second topic covers some of the main debates about capitalism and its alternatives in the 20th century, such as Hayak's The Road to Serfdom (1947), the social welfare approaches of Beveridge, Crossland and Marshall, the later critiques of the welfare state by theorists such as Habermas, Offe and O'Connor, and the Social Limits to Growth (1976) arguments of Hirsch and others.

The third focus of the module is on recent theories of capitalism, principally David Harvey's critique of post-Fordist capitalism, Castell's account of the rise of global networked capitalism, Hall's and Soskice's varieties of capitalism theory, and Boltanski and Chiapello's The New Spirit of Capitalism (2006).

The module concludes by looking at debates around the post-2008 economic crisis, the relation between capitalism and democracy, and feminist and ecological criticism of capitalism.

Module learning outcomes

  • Recognise, understand and describe types of capitalism
  • Apply theories to the study of capitalism
  • Analyse and criticise theories of capitalism
  • Synthesise studies of capitalism
  • Evaluate and assess of theories and studies of capitalism
  • Compare and Contrast theories of Capitalism