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Capitalism: Ideas, Systems, Practices


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Professor Frank Trentmann
  • Assessment: coursework of 1000 words (20%) and a 4000-word essay (80%)

Module description

In this module you will have the chance to engage with major themes and debates about the rise, evolution and future of capitalism. Sessions on classic thinkers and texts (Marx, Weber and Sombart) will be linked to key historical literature on its growth, dynamics and crises. We will analyse and compare key concepts, consider different historical approaches and methods, and discuss critical historiographical debates about the role of commerce, slavery, work discipline, global crises, neo- liberalism and Asian forms of capitalism. Secondary sources will be complemented with selections from key classic texts.

Indicative syllabus

  • Classic works of capitalism: Karl Marx’ Capital and Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic
  • The role of commerce: Braudel and the Annales school
  • Luxury and capitalism: Werner Sombart and the historical school
  • The debate about the 'industrial revolution': from Marx to cliometric history and beyond
  • Slavery and the new history of capitalism
  • Work and gender
  • Crises
  • Neo-liberalism and surveillance capitalism
  • State capitalism in Asia

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • have good knowledge of the major approaches to capitalism, key concepts and methods
  • be able to compare and contrast modern scholars’ approaches on the subject
  • be able to handle primary sources with confidence and use them as a means of critiquing current paradigms.