Advanced Study in Political Economy of Industrial Societies

POLECON 150 Advanced Study in Political Economy of Industrial Societies: Commodities and Cultures: Building a Global Economy

Prerequisites: Consent of instructor and background in political economy or related social sciencesCCN: 39746

Units/Credit: 4

Time/Location: MWF 10:00-11:00am / 102 WHEELER

Final Exam Group: 1 – Monday, 12/14/2020 – 8:00-11:00am

Instructor: Stephanie Ballenger

Whether we look at silver, sugar or tobacco and the Atlantic World, cotton and the Industrial Revolution, or oil and globalization, commodities drive not just the world economy but shape societies, politics and cultures. Commodities are thus crucial tools for studying global capitalism, provoking questions about the embedding of politics and markets, social organization, labor and social hierarchies, cultural contact and exchange, moral economy and the nature of power and individual autonomy. What can the study of a single commodity reveal about political economy? The relationship between production and consumption, state power and imperial expansion? (Quite a lot, as it happens.)

These are just a few of the questions and concerns that will animate this class, which requires that we pay attention to the dynamics of the intersection between the local and the global in the period following the European invasion of the Americas and the rapid expansion of trade with Africa and Asia. Throughout the course, we will explore the role of “things” in connecting people separated by geography, time, interests and resources. We will evaluate modes of production, distribution, consumption and governance, as well as the way people forge their identities through owning and using things. Thus, this class helps us to elaborate the profound but often hidden connections between political economy, culture and social change.

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