International relations

Capitalism and Geopolitics

Module code: L2062A
Level 6
30 credits in autumn semester
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Essay, Coursework

In this multi-disciplinary module, you'll examine the relations between capitalism and geopolitics and how their interaction has shaped different political communities and world orders from the 17th century up to the 21st century.

You'll explore the major theoretical traditions and debates, old and new, on the connection between capitalism and geopolitics. It combines these theoretical perspectives with in-depth interrogations of the historical material, the key events, processes, actors that shaped this turbulent international history of war and peace, crises and revolutions, conquest and exploitation.

This course is at the centre of the emerging sub-fields of International Historical Sociology and the Political Economy of Geopolitics.

You'll study the three classical traditions that have most centrally informed this discourse:

  • the writings of Max Weber and Otto Hintze that assert the primacy of military competition for geopolitical orders and that have inspired a Neo-Weberian turn in Historical Sociology and International Relations (IR) since the mid-1980s
  • the works of Fernand Braudel and Immanuel Wallerstein, updated and extended by neo-Gramscian IR Theory, that stress the rise of commercial exchange and the construction of successive world hegemonies
  • the ideas of Karl Marx that have more recently led to intense debates within the Neo-Marxist literature on how to conceptualise capitalist social relations and class conflict in their effects on inter-state conflict and co-operation across the centuries.

Against this theoretical setting, you also examine sequentially different historical geopolitical orders (dynastic-absolutist, 19th century British Hegemony, imperialist, fascist, liberal and contemporary) and the transitions between them on the basis of divergent and contested interpretations deriving from the three classical traditions. 

You'll gain theoretically-informed and empirically-controlled analyses of the ways in which capitalism and geopolitics have shaped each other and constituted varieties of territorial orders in historical perspective.

Module learning outcomes

  • Develop a systematic and critical understanding of the key debates in International Historical Sociology that helps to explain and interpret the historical co-development of capitalism and goepolitics.
  • Develop a detailed conceptual understanding of the historical development and expansion of the European system of states from the 17th to the 21st centuries.
  • Effectively synthesise and communicate the theoretical and empirical uncertainties, ambiguities and limits in the way that International Historical Sociology explains the emergence of the European system of states.