Week 1. Overview
This week is an opportunity to meet each other and get a sense of the course. We will go through the structure of the course and the assessment, and discuss how the sessions will run. There is a group work assignment in the unit, so this is also an opportunity for an initial discussion about potential groups and topics.
Week 2. Class conflict and class compromise
The next two weeks of the course focus on some of the most influential theoretical frameworks in political sociology for understanding the development of market society. This week we explore a set of theories that have traditionally constitued the most dominant approach - those that focus on class. To many theorists the central political developments in market societies can be understood as the outcomes of conflicts and compromises between different social classes. Sometimes this is explicitly Marxist and at other times it incorporates aspects of different parts of sociology, including Weber, which emphasise compromise between many different social classes. For much of the twentieth century class seemed to be the dominant category - and both radical and mainstream theorists tended to explain developments in terms of class. While this has now partly changed, its an important place to begin our discussion.
Week 3. The rise of the market and social resistance
Last week we focused on class theories of social and economic development. This week we turn to the work of Karl Polanyi, which has become more popular in recent years. Polanyi was an Austrian economic historian and political economist who sought to explain the beginnings of the welfare state, as well as the rise of facism, as responses to the pressures coming from markets. But unlike class theories, Polanyi's emphasis is on how society as a whole responds to market pressures, rather than how particular class groups act. Polanyi's concept of the 'double movement' has since become an important part of current debates about globalisation and the global financial system. We will return to these broader implications towards the end of the course. But here we are interested in the idea that as the market economy develops and takes shape it generates social resistance, which in turn places limits on the operation of the market. And we ask - is this a useful way to understand the development of market societies?
Week 4. Full employment and the Keynesian compromise
This lecture sets the scene for our discussion of how capitalism has been changing in recent decades. Most theorists see a distinction between the post-War period (1945-1975) and the period of economic restructuring and globalisation that followed. These post-War policy settings are often termed the 'Keynesian compromise'; reflecting the importance of policies to support full employment. Full employment was supported by global financial institutions, developed at the end of the War, to facilitate national level macro economic policies. Alongside these macro economic policies most rich democracies developed sizeable welfare states providing social protection to citizens. Here we explore the politics of full employment and the welfare state. The links between social policy, employment and macro economic policy will be a theme of the course.
Week 5. Neoliberalism, globalisation and economic restructuring
The fiscal pressures on the state saw a backlash against the established post-War welfare state compromise. The election of Ronald Reagan as President in the United States and Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in the United Kingdom marked the beginning of the ascendency of free market economic policies. Across the developed world policies of deregulation, privatisation and free trade were implemented. In the Global South, the policies were often more brutal, and associated with despotic governments. As these policies were implemented during the 1980s other reforms were taking place within the Soviet Union. There too, new social movements had been demanding greater democracy and freedom. With a faultering economy, and with movements growing stronger, the communist governments began to collapse, signalling the end of the Cold War, and the triumph of capitalist liberal democracy. The economic restructuring which followed saw inequality in Russia increase more rapidly then virtually anywhere in history. It also saw a growing integration of global trade and investment - dubbed globalisation - and claims that the state itself would soon be an artefact of history. Here we look at the process of economic restructuring and how it can be understood - as a process of 'reregulation' in favour of powerful interests; or as a 'golden straightjacket' imposed on increasingly redudant states to promote prosperity. It is this process that dominated political debate and policy making up until the GFC.
Week 6. Making markets in the state (Guest lecturer: Gabrielle Meagher)
Despite more than a decade of concerted attempts to reduce the size of the state, the size of social spending by the state didn't fall. Indeed, as we have seen, whole new areas of provision emerged, such as child care. And other areas - like health - continued to grow. But the nature of these services has changed. Increasingly governments have restructured public spending so that it mimics some of the features of markets. Funding for services is based on competitive tendering. In many instances governments now fund consumers of services, and allow them to spend their money on private services, like in child care. This potentially changes the nature of the public sector and social policy. This process is often called 'marketisation' because it changes the way public money is spent so that both producers and consumers behave as if they were in a private market. But its not quite a private market either - because the state sets the rules. What is more, the type of markets created vary - across countries and between types of services. Here we look at the trend towards marketisation - what is driving it, and what are the consequences?
Week 7. New risks, new welfare (Guest lecturer: Adam Stebbing)
This week be switch track, from our overview of the development of market economies since the 1970s to a more detailed look at the implications for the welfare state. We begin with a question that has gained rapidly growing attention - the role of risk and how this has changed. We saw earlier how many see the rise of the welfare state as a response to the demands by the labour movement to protect workers from the risks of a market economy. But the nature of that compact was based on a very specific set of social norms, which saw a gender and racial segregation of work. New social movements began to challenge these norms, transforming society, work and the economy. In turn, this has transformed the nature of market risk. Social policy theorists have argued that these new risks demand new forms of social protection. This week we examine those claims.
Week 8. The end of 'old politics'?
Much of the post-War world was built on the politics of class and the political compromise of the welfare state. The major political parties in each country were defined to a large extent by class. The global order was organised around a capitalist west and communist east. The welfare state was framed around the risks faced by labour. From the 1960s this began to change. A series of new social movements emerged, based on social categories separate from class. Women, Aboriginies, colonised countries, homosexuals - all made claims for justice that were separate from class. And as protest increased and people took to the streets, new groups were mobilised, particularly students. This in turn reflected a new political and economic order. These movements were questioning not only the distribution of material resources, but the meanings attached to the economy. They also reflected a new social base - educated white collar service workers, who have been growing in numbers ever since. At the same time, the post-War economic model was feeling the strain. Welfare states had expanded, but in the 1970s growth began to stall. Oil shocks triggered economic crisis, with unemployment and prices rising rapidly. The old economic tools no longer seemed to work. With low growth, higher social payments and lower taxes, governments faced a fiscal crisis - not unlike what many are experiencing today after the Global Financial Crisis. In many ways the key themes of politics in the 1970s and 1980s - post-materialism and fiscal crisis - remain pressing concerns today, so this week we explore how they developed and what they might still mean.
Week 9. The political economy of a service economy
Many of the concepts we have developed in the course appear to be most relevant to industrial societies, with large blue collar workforces. The reality of 21st century economies is very different. Service industries have grown rapidly. But often these industries have much lower productivity growth because they involve people working directly with other people, leaving less room for big machines and new technology. Many see this as an underlying cause of the fiscal crisis of the state. But some industries do have rapid productivity growth, especially through information and communications technologies. This generates new dynamics, and new political conflicts. This week we start to develop a political economy of the kind of societies we live in now, and think about the implications of an economy based on educated workers and advanced computing and communications technologies.
Week 10. Work and insecurity
One of the most fundamental changes brought by neoliberalism in the rich countries of the world has been the end of full employment. Deregulation and rising unemployment have created a new kind of labour market. Fewer workers now have the same job throughout their working lives; and fewer have any form of permanent work. Casual and contract work are on the rise. This brings with it opportunties for flexibility, but also much greater uncertainty, and potentially much greater inequality. It potentially sees the rise of a new class division - the precariate - those who are in precarious forms of employment. This week we look to the labour market and how changes here have meant profound changes for the way we live our lives.
Week 11. Inequality in the new economy
One of the biggest shifts in economics over the past decade has been the reemergence of inequality as a central topic of debate. Its not only academic economists talking inequality - even the big international institutions associated with market reform, like the IMF and World Bank, have been saying inequality is a growing problem. One of the most significant contributions to this debate comes from French economist Thomas Piketty. His Capitalism in the Twenty First Century was written as an academic book, but quickly became a best seller. He sold out theaters and had queues of people waiting to see him speak across Europe and the US. His theory - that as growth slows, so inequality increases, especially based on the ownership of land and resources - hit a chord. Its an important idea, and one we discuss this week.
Week 12. Financialisation and housing
One of the striking features of the period of economic restructuring was the substantial growth of the finance sector. International finance was increasingly deregulated, contained a growing proportion of global income and was increasingly powerful in shaping the policies and choices of nation states. Individuals were increasingly required and encouraged to engage more directly with financial markets, through pension funds, credit cards and other products. Some theorists argued this constituted a process of 'financialisation', where capitalism shifted from a focus on producing physical commodities, to investing in financial products. The period was also associated with a number of financial crises, starting with the debt crisis in Latin America and Africa in the 1980s, the 1987 Wall St Crash, the 1990s East Asian financial crisis and the dot com bubble in the early 2000s. Many of these were devastating, particularly for those in the Global South. But it was not until the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 that such crises appeared to challenge the economies of the rich world. The GFC transformed politics and economics. Millions of people were losing homes and jobs. Whole national economies seemed on the brink of collapse. Central to this economic collapse has been housing (the underlying asset behind 'sub-prime' mortgages). House prices and housing insecurity have been on the rise in many countries, including Australia. For many researchers, real estate should be placed alongside finance and insurance in a group of industries that are driving instability, inequality and crisis. But why is that the case? Here we end the course by talking about the thing all Sydney dinner parties end with - housing, but with a political economy twist.
Week 13. Conclusion and wrap up.
This week we take stock of the course and spend some time discussing how to apply any insights we have gained to the final assignment.