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Key Theme: The Transformations of Capitalism

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Presentation of the Transformations of Capitalism theme

Global capitalism has entered a new phase, seeing the tertiarisation and internationalisation of economies; the reconfiguration of the role of the state; deregulation and privatisation; an increased power among actors within finance; corporate concentration; intensified competition; the acceleration of technical progress; the increasing importance of information and knowledge as vectors of production; upheavals associated with the development of the digital economy; a heightened disparity between labour and capital ownership, and between execution and design.

For a number of years, the CEE’s members have made a key contribution to research into these various changes, working on the premise that with economic changes come significant political challenges. The centre’s research is characterised by a near-systematic use of the comparative method, and by an attention to interactions of scale (local, national and international) within the transformation of contemporary capitalism.

This research is conducted in close collaboration with Sciences Po’s two cross-cutting programmes, AxPo and the LIEPP, which were co-founded by members of the Transformations of Capitalism group and with which it remains tightly aligned. These two programmes provide funding for early career researchers attached to the CEE, as well as funding to host visiting researchers.

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Research Programme 2023-2027

Over the coming years, the group’s research will continue to be grounded in debates intersecting international political economy and comparative political economy, with two research objectives.

The governance structures of contemporary capitalism are evolving. Members of the research group will analyse the role of crises in upsetting equilibria, and the ideological or normative frameworks that underpin them (Colin Hay; Matthias Thiemann ; doctoral research by Lea Dornacher, Maxence Dutilleul and Thomas Laffitte). The aim of this analysis is to show how contemporary “European crises” have shifted the focus of governments and the European Union towards “crisis management”, and led to an assertion, since the COVID-19 pandemic, of their sovereign roles as protectors, investors, and meaning-makers within society. The “crisisification” of European politics is both a source of pressure on leaders and a means of legitimation. Specifically, this new research area will examine tensions generated by the return or emergence of new governance instruments (e.g. environmental planning or industrial policy) in a system still shaped, particularly within advanced economies, by the less restrictive regulatory instruments of the neoliberal period (Ulrike Lepont; Thomas Kayzel, Matthias Thiemann; doctoral research by Zoé Evrard, Lea Dornacher and Claire Lejeune (Fr)). The transformation of regulatory actors into investors predominantly concerned with fiscal issues has an impact both on states and on the European Union.

The group’s researchers will also examine the many constraints and contradictions of contemporary capitalism, particularly those induced by climate change (doctoral research by Meryem Bezzaz, Jean-Baptiste Bonnet and Eva Bossuyt) and by the digitalisation of societies. A key focus will be on achieving a deeper understanding of how these challenges are addressed in analyses and in the work of political and economic actors (e.g. central and public investment banks, in the research projects EvalEU and KNOWLEGPO, led by Matthias Thiemann; regulatory agencies, in the case of Cyril Benoît and Takuya Onoda; or the fiscal impact of climate change in research by Colin Hay). In effect, these shifts are driven and amplified by critiques of the social movements and activists placing increasing pressure on the economic order. Researchers within this stream will engage in detailed analysis of the sources of these critiques and the transformations they are engendering, from a comparative perspective. Whether environmental, technological, or linked to globalisation and deglobalisation, major transitions generate tensions and mutations within capitalism that are reflected in political and economic models, and closely connected to the governance of national and international economies.

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Research programme 2017-2022

In the previous research cycle, the Transformations of Capitalism group focused on three key themes.

The aim of this stream was to explore the role of crises in upsetting balances and the role of economic ideas in the formation and development of political systems. The stream emerged particularly out of the work of Colin Hay , who has played a crucial role in structuring the field of political economy in France, as co-director of a research group within the Association of French Political Science (ASFP (Fr),), and co-editor, with Andy Smith of the Dictionnaire d’économie politique (Fr) (Sciences Po Press, 2018), to which numerous members of the research group contributed. A partnership between Sciences Po and Princeton University entitled EUROGLOB provided an impetus for developing a shared research agenda on the interactions between globalisation and Europeanisation in post-crisis conditions. Research on the political economy of the world’s major global cities, and on the strategies of the big infrastructure firms (see Cities, Borders, and Mobilities) also fed into research within this group. As did work by Cornelia Woll and Matthias Thiemann on the regulation of the banking sector and financial markets, as well as by Cyril Benoît on the insurance and health industries. Finally, several PhD candidates completed doctoral research within this stream (e.g. Weiting Chao on the carbon market; Elena Escalante Block on the European Commission and state aid policies; Tiago Moreira-Ramalho on the legitimation of economic policies), and its themes were also examined as part of an innovative doctoral training programme co-run by the CEE, the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the European Union (PLATO) Network.

While the digital economy has created new employment opportunities, it has also given rise to an increasingly polarised job market. This job market is divided between a creative class that resides in the world’s big urban centres, and workers serving that creative class predominantly by way of digital platforms. This new job market structure undermines the solidarity once institutionalised under industrial capitalism. In transforming social groups and how they perceive their role within society, these developments are sowing divisions between the winners and losers of digitalisation. They are upsetting both the balance of political forces and the ideologies on which they are based, paving the way for the rise of radical populist right-wing parties (see Tensions in Representative Democracy ). Against this backdrop, several researchers in the Transformations of Capitalism group studied this reconfiguration of the job market, with an eye to the political and public policy issues it raises. Key examples were work by Nathalie Morel, who co-edited with Clément Carbonnier Le retour des domestiques (Fr) (Seuil, 2018); Bruno Palier, in collaboration with Jan Rovny and Nonna Mayer, who looked at political behaviour among the “losers” of digitalization; and finally, Paulus Wagner, whose doctoral thesis demonstrated how feelings of exclusion among the working class are a driving force behind support for the chauvinist and nationalist agendas of radical right-wing parties.

Changes in the job market are also leading to the emergence of new social risks. These new risks are insufficiently covered by existing social protection systems, whose fiscal bases are being eroded by the hollowing out of the middle class. In that context, research in this stream sought to examine whether and how Europe’s different systems of social protection can be adapted to the changes, and to analyse the links between models of growth and systems of social protection. Key developments to come out of this stream were Bruno Palier ’s co-edited essay collection, Growth and Welfare in Advanced Capitalist Economies (Oxford University Press, 2021), and his initiatives to generate engagement within the social science community and beyond around the work Que sait-on du travail ? (FR). Several doctoral theses were defended on themes explored within the stream, including Tiago Moreira’s on the welfare state crisis in Southern Europe, and Andreas Eisl ’s on austerity policies in the Eurozone.

Section #projets

Research projects

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