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Key Issues and Texts: Capitalism and Society

Seminar 1: Latin America and the World Market: Theorising the Continent's Shifting International Intergration (PML)

This session examines key attempts to theorise Latin America’s insertion into the world market during the 20th and 21st century. It covers the broad arguments laid down by a series of schools originating from, or reflecting upon Latin America, including structuralism, dependency theory, centre-periphery analyses, global capitalism, and varieties of capitalism. The focus throughout is on identifying how these different schools have theorised i) the specificity of Latin American economies, ii) the causes that explain Latin America’s position in the world market, iii) the processes and policies that could potentially transform the continent’s economic relations. In other words, this session explores how different schools of thought have attempted to understand how Latin America is inserted into the world market, why it is in such a position, and what could be done to change this.

Key issues

  • Structuralism
  • Dependency theory
  • Centre-periphery
  • Global capitalism
  • (Neoliberal) imperialism
  • Varieties of capitalism

Required readings

Bibliography
 

Seminar 2: Energy Politics in Latin America (DSL)

This session will focus on how strategic resources derived from fossil fuels (e.g. oil and natural gas) have shaped the politics of Latin America. Energy politics in the region are linked to past and present dilemmas in terms of the role of the state, the insertion in global markets and the pursuit for inclusive development.

The patterns of resource-dependence are a common feature in Latin America since the colonial period, but it was only in the decade of 1930s that the state took a leading role in energy infrastructure. Later on, the wave of privatizations of the 1990s reshaped the energy landscape and, from 2000 onwards, the boom in commodity prices and global demand has also shaped different political and social process across the region in what is labelled as ‘neo-extractivism’.

This seminar will discuss the implications of governments’ energy policy and their position regarding energy nationalism, with a particular focus on Venezuela and Brazil as two key players with dissimilar approaches to energy politics. The seminar will also inform a debate about the Latin American energy landscape and how it overlaps with socioeconomic and environmental crises.

Key issues

  • Energy politics
  • Resource nationalism
  • Oil
  • Natural Gas

Required readings

Bibliography
 

Seminar 3: Which development? For whom? Challenges from Latin America (PML)

This session discusses how Latin American authors have challenged ‘standard’ views of development and proposed alternatives during the past decades. It first examines how a series of concepts, theories and political platforms emerged in the struggle against neoliberalism, during the 1990s. This session then investigates the novel theoretical approaches and visions of development that have been proposed, during the 2000s and 2010s, in relation to the left-of-centre governments and the processes of commodities-based capital accumulation of the period. In examining these visions, the focus of the session is to identify what are their novelties, how they defy prevailing visions of development, and how they are related to the social, economic and political landscape of Latin America since the 1990s.

Key issues

  • Neo-extractivism
  • Commodities consensus
  • The compensatory state
  • Post-neoliberalism
  • The decolonial option

Required readings

Bibliography
 

Seminar 4: Latin America, global value chains, and the zero-carbon agenda (DSL)

The session discusses how the region is inserted into the global value chain of lithium and its relevance for the low-carbon energy transition agenda. Lithium-ion batteries play an essential role in this global agenda by expanding and massifying the use of electric vehicles, currently the dominant approach to reducing CO2 emissions from the transport sector; and by increasing the efficiency and capacity of renewable energies through large energy storage systems to be connected to the grid and off-grid.

The so-called ‘lithium triangle’ (Bolivia, Chile and Argentina) accounts for 55% of the world reserves and 50% of the world production in 2019. This makes the region an important scenario  with different actors seeking to extract and industrialize lithium.

In the session, we will explore the different governance frameworks in place and will focus the debate on the potentialities and challenges emerging from lithium mining.

Key issues

  • Value chain of lithium
  • Governance
  • Industrialisation
  • Low-carbon energy transition

Required readings

Bibliography
 

Seminar 5: Financialisation and Wealth Elites in Latin America (JS)

This session explores class relations in Latin America from above, looking at how the financialisation of the region’s economies has opened up new frontiers for the accumulation of wealth, through speculative investment, financial trading and rentier activities among local and foreign elites. Exploring the ways in which financialisation has taken hold in the Latin American context, we will examine how this process has served the interests of corporate and wealth elites, while both deepening patterns of local inequality and reinforcing the unequal position of Latin American countries within the global economic order. We will look at case studies of the financialisation of housing and urban development and of agricultural ‘land grabbing’ in Brazil and Argentina, to explore the workings and effects of these processes across the region.

Key issues

  • Financialisation in Latin America
  • Elites and the accumulation of wealth
  • Housing and debt-based urbanisation
  • ‘Land grabbing’

Required readings

Bibliography
 

Seminar 6: Capitalism, social reproduction and inequality (PML)

This session casts a broad look at inequalities in Latin America, exploring how processes at different scales and of different dimensions jointly re-produce the continent’s social formations and their constitutive inequalities. To this extent, the session investigates different approaches that highlight several aspects or causes of inequality, such as Latin America’s insertion into the world market, the internal distribution of power and resources, and the role of individual characteristics such as race, class and gender. The focus throughout is on understanding how and to what extent these approaches can be combined, ultimately aiming at an understanding of how capitalism is reproduced in Latin America in and through multiple inequalities.

Key issues

  • Inequalities
  • Centre-periphery relations
  • Intersectionality
  • Social reproduction

Required readings

These next two texts come together:

Bibliography