Course Meeting Times

Lectures/Discussions: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session




As we live in the aftermath of the Financial Crisis of 2008, there are renewed questions about how we think about nature of the economic system—capitalism—within which we live. What are its benefits and drawbacks? Why does it garner both so much opposition and support? What are its moral, economic, social and political implications? Is it even a "system"? How has capitalism played out in different historical moments and regions of the world?

This class addresses the question "what is capitalism?" from a broader social scientific point of view (rather than a narrower classical economic one) and in a variety of ways.

First, it explores the work of a range of social theorists who have written classic accounts of the nature of capitalism. We will consider the historical contexts in which these views emerged and whether or not we find them useful in the contemporary moment.

Second, this class offers an "anthropological" take on capitalism, meaning that we will read a range of ethnographic studies of how capitalism plays out in everyday life in particular settings. Such studies consider how capitalism plays out among investment bankers on Wall Street, autoworkers in the U.S. Midwest, and state officials in China, among other groups.

We will also use the Financial Crisis of 2008 as an ethnographic "case study" writ large to explore some of these questions.


First Writing Assignment 20
Second Writing Assignment 20
Final Writing Assignment 40
Oral Presentation and Participation in Class Discussion 20

It is possible to get extensions on writing assignments if needed, however, you need to do so at least 24 hours before the due date. Otherwise, late papers will be downgraded a ½ grade for each day overdue.

Class Computer Policy

This class is conducted as a seminar. Since computer use can be disruptive of class conversation, computers will generally not be used during the class. If anyone has difficulty taking notes except on a computer, please speak to the professor personally regarding the possibility of individual permission.