Centre for

Reading Group

Social Thought and Analysis Reading Group

Rethinking the Matter of Economy

The materiality of our polities and economies has received renewed attention. Revolutions, financial crises and increasingly extreme weather events have torn open many integral concepts to contemporary government: "the economy," "the market", "the environment," "the energy system." Economists in laboratories and 'in the wild' have devised increasingly elaborate and sophisticated mechanisms to re-internalize the overflows and fossil fuelled capitalism (Callon, 2009). The arcane and increasingly dubious character of emissions trading, as part of the apparatus of fossil fuelled capitalism, suggests a more fundamental rethinking of the 'stuff' of economy is warranted. The Social Thought and Analysis Reading Group will address this rethinking around three related sets of pressing conceptual, methodological and theoretical questions:

The first group of questions an 'external' rethinking of the production of economic calculability, and the politics of things. What are the political affordances of contemporary energy infrastructures? How do points of vulnerability in the production of energy relate to, restrict or enact certain kinds of political structures? If we understand 'the political' as an index of the space for disagreement (Barry, 2005), how can nonhuman actors be incorporated into the technologies, practices and institutions that comprise contemporary politics? Have the processes of emancipation from constraints their heirs have worked towards progressively 'explicated' the attachments between humanity and its world (Latour, 2010a)? What kinds of 'climate publics' can we assemble in the yawning rifts between these institutions? Is there are role for critique in such assemblies? (Latour, 2010a)

The second concerns 'internal' debates within the economics discipline about its own practices, foundations and (anti)politics. What are the sub-disciplinary casualties of the Global Financial Crisis? Which sciences are being appropriated by economists to explain the crisis and consolidate economics as science (c.f. Mirowski, 1989)?

The third relates to the future of 'the social'. Concerns about the deleterious effects of industrialization have been with sociology since its foundation. Durkheim, Weber, and Marx all developed society as their objects of inquiry with reference to modern industrial production. How can we understand 'the social' in the context of new and intensified mechanisms of economic and ethnic exclusion where labour and human rights are suspended or suppressed? In the heritage of governmentality studies, how can the relationship between the juridical and economic be (re)thought? Should the theological be added to this relation?


Barry, A. 2005, 'The anti-political economy', in D. Slater & A. Barry (eds), The Technological Economy, Routledge, London, p. 84

Callon, M. 2009, 'Civilizing markets: Carbon trading between in vitro and in vivo experiments', Accounting, Organizations and Society, vol. 34, no. 3-4, pp. 456-482.

Latour, B. 2010a, 'An Attempt at a "Compositionist Manifesto"', New Literary History, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 471-490
Mirowski, P. 1989, More heat than light, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.

Session 1: Foundations of Economy Revisited

Thurs 30 Aug 4pm, GP-132

Where does the modern notion of 'economy' come from? What is the role of coal production, distribution and extraction in the creation of modern economies?


Dimock, P. (ed.) 2012 'Do We Have the Nerve to Know Finance as Class War? An Exchange between Robert Meister and Timothy Mitchell' in Rethinking Capitalism issue 3, April 2012, University of California, Santa Cruz

Supplementary Readings

Mitchell, T. 2008, 'Rethinking economy', Geoforum, vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 1116-1121.

Mitchell, T. 2009, 'Carbon democracy', Economy and Society, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 399-432.

Session 2: Economies for the Earth

Thurs 13 Sept 4pm, GP-132

How relevant is Marx's theory of value in understanding how some economies come to dominate the Earth? Does the Earth stand a chance? Is the labour theory of value a good enough tool for explaining the exploitation of the environment? Can we have an economy without nature?


Brennan, T. (1997) 'Economy for the Earth: The labour theory of value without the subject/object distinction' in Ecological Economics, vol.20, pp. 175-185.

Supplementary Readings

Cooper, M. (2008) 'Life Beyond Limits: inventing the bioeconomy' in: Cooper, M Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and capitalism in the neoliberal era. Seattle: University of Washington Press. p.15-50

Foster, J. B. and B. Clark (2009) 'The Paradox of Wealth: Capitalism and Ecological Destruction', Monthly Review, November

Burkett, P. (2003) 'The value problem in ecological economics: Lessons from the Physiocrats and Marx', Organization & environment, 16 (2). 137-167.

Session 3: Energizing Capital - Flows, Holes and Cracks

Friday 12 Oct 4pm, GP-132

What is the relationship between the rapid expansion of oil in the post–WWII period (and more recently gas) the development of 'neo-liberalism'?


Mitchell, T. 2009, 'Carbon democracy', Economy and Society, vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 399-432.

Supplementary Reading

Levine, S. (2012) 'Can we survive the new golden age of oil?' in Foreign Policy. viewed online here (accessed 14 August, 2012)

Session 4: Economics, Crisis and Critique

Tues 30 Oct 4pm, GP-132

How has economics responded to the successive epistemological crises of recent years? What kind of scandal can unseat neoliberal thinking from the contemporary policy table? Are we in "the end game of neoliberalism, in which the refusal to accept any notion of political-normative authority external to economic efficiency ends up undermining its very conditions of possibility?" (Davies, 2012).


Mirowski, P. 2011: 'The Seekers, or How Mainstream Economists Have Defended Their Discipline Since 2008', Three Part series at Naked Capitalism. viewed online (13 Aug 2012):
Part I, Part II, Part III

Supplementary Reading

Davies, W. 2012, 'The Barclays scandal: made in Chicago'. Potlatch blog. Viewed online here (accessed 13 Aug 2012)