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The Specter of State Capitalism

6 April 2022

Presenter: Ilias Alami, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow in the Department of Social and Economic Geography at Uppsala University

Discussant: Susan Newman, Professor of Economics at The Open University

Chair: Lorena Lombardozzi, Senior Lecturer in Economics at The Open University

The talk draws upon a series of papers recently published on state capitalism, and a work-in-progress book-length manuscript co-authored with Adam D. Dixon. The book contributes to the development of state capitalism as a reflexively critical project focusing on the morphology of present-day capitalism, and particularly on the changing role of the state. It aims to bring analytical clarity to state capitalism studies by offering a rigorous definition of its object of investigation, and by demonstrating how the category state capitalism can be productively construed as a means of problematising the current aggregate expansion of the state’s role as promoter, supervisor and owner of capital across the world economy. Noting some of the geographical shortcomings of the field, we outline an alternative research agenda ‘uneven and combined state capitalist development’ which aims at spatialising the study of state capitalism and revitalising systemic explanations of the phenomenon. Rather than the negation of an abstract model of free-market capitalism, or the rise of a nationally scaled variant of capitalism, we posit contemporary state capitalism as a global process of restructuring of the capitalist state (including in its liberal form) underpinned by secular transformations in the materiality of surplus-value production, such as the consolidation of new international divisions of labour driven by automation and labour-saving technologies. The political mediation of these transformations results in the combined expansion of state-capital hybrids and of muscular forms of statism, which develop in inter-referential and cumulative forms across territory, producing further state capitalist modalities. This is a particularly potent dynamic in contemporary state capitalism, and its tendency to develop in a spiral that both shapes and is shaped by world capitalist development.

Ilias Alami is Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow in the Department of Social and Economic Geography at Uppsala University. Before that, Ilias worked at Maastricht University and the University of Manchester. He also held visiting positions at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo and the University of Johannesburg. His research and teaching interests are in the areas of global political economy, money and finance, state capitalism, North-South relations, theories of the state, and the articulations between race/class/coloniality. He has published in a range of journals including New Political Economy, Review of African Political Economy, Review of Radical Political Economics, Geoforum, Development and Change, Human Geography, Competition and Change, Political Geography, Science and Society, Antipode, Geopolitics, Environment and Planning A, and Contemporary Politics. He is the author of Money Power and Financial Capital in Emerging Markets (Routledge, 2019), which was shortlisted for the British International Studies Association 2020 best book in international political economy award, and The Specter of State Capitalism (forthcoming with OUP, co-authored with Adam Dixon).

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