Department of Political Economy Seminar Series

Semester 2, 2016

Thursday 14 July 2016, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Simon Springer
University of Victoria
Title: Neoliberalism and discourse: politics between poststructuralism and political economy
Abstract: This talk explores the internal workings of capitalism’s most infamous contemporary offspring by unpacking the diverse interpretations of neoliberalism that have been advanced in academia. Advancing a discursive understanding wherein political economic approaches to neoliberalism are sutured together with poststructuralist interpretations offers a path in overcoming the ongoing ideological impasse. Reading neoliberalism as a discourse better equips us to understand the power of this variegated economic formation as an expansive process of social-spatial transformation that is intimately bound up with the production of poverty, inequality, and violence all across the globe. In examining how imaginative geographies are employed to discursively bind neoliberalism’s attendant violence to particular places and thereby blame its victims, reading neoliberalism through the lens of discourse reveals the concealment of an inherently bloodthirsty character to an ever-mutating entity that simply refuses to die.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 4 August 2016, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Jacqui True
Monash University
Title: The political economy of women's participation in peace and security
Abstract: Post-conflict and political transitions are major opportunities for advancing women’s rights and participation. Yet structural inequalities and discrimination against women often hinder these opportunities once armed conflict is stabilised or regime change is achieved. The significance of economic structures, reforms and reconstruction policies and their effects on women’s participation in peace and security and the sustainability of the post-conflict peace are particularly under-explored in the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the scholarship pertaining to it. The research presented in this paper based on several cases (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Philippines) examines the ways in which post-conflict and transitional political economies set within a broader global political economy constrain women's participation in the rebuilding of peaceful societies.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 18 August 2016, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Ariel Salleh
Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney
Title: Climate, Water, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Can a post-development political ecology do better?
Abstract: In 2015, the United Nations launched its Sustainable Development Goals described as a universal plan of action to prevent further environmental degradation and overcome poverty by the year 2030. The SDGs build on an earlier set of Millennium Development Goals. However, these were unsuccessful, leading veteran Caribbean feminist Peggy Antrobus to dismiss the acronym MDG as 'Most Distracting Gimmick’. Certainly, the SDGs reinforce the old eurocentric hegemony of humanity over nature - and the contradictory logic of capitalism. In fact, the UN has become a public-private partnership … Reliant on market strategies, SDGs for climate lock movements for ecology and justice into carbon reductionism and debates over arithmetic. SDGs for water are premised on transnational corporate delivery. Can 'the new water paradigm' open the way to an holistic alternative; a political ecology integrating climate regulation, water security, and sustainable development, while creating jobs that enjoin people's sovereign intelligence?
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 22 September 2016, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Joseph Collins
University of Sydney
Title: Possession vis-à-vis power: Toward a socially significant theory of mineral-rent in Australia
Abstract: The mining tax in Australia was a short-lived and impotent affair. Its second coming portends a contentious fate for the elections in Western Australia scheduled for March 2017. Brendon Grylls’ proposal to raise the production rental fee on iron ore to $5 per tonne from its current level of $0.25 has focused the minds of the politicians involved while stoking the ire of BHPB and Rio Tinto. Will this initiative fail as did the last attempt to claw back resource revenues from the mining giants? Probably. This episode does, however, present an opportunity to reflect critically upon why resource rent taxation seems to be a quagmire of ineffective policy and inept economics. Perhaps the problem with debates on this issue is the narrow scope of rent theory which underpins parliamentary-political machinations and public discussion. This seminar paper brings rent theory in for a critical reappraisal. It contends that orthodox rent theory is deficient in its refusal to accept the active role of modern landed property in conditioning the rent relation. Beginning with the Physiocrats and going through Ricardo and the Marginalists, this analysis concludes that rent theory today must integrate a historically specific theory of property in land to begin to understand the social relations which constrain subsequent policy debates around resource rent taxation.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Tuesday 4 October 2016, 12:00 - 1:30pm Joint seminar with Government and International Relations
Presenter/Affiliation: Andrew Hindmoor
University of Sheffield and University of Queensland
Title: Through the looking glass: Austerity and the left in Britain
Abstract: Our sense of history defines how we think about who we are. The left has a pretty clear sense of Britain’s recent history. It is the history of austerity. The Conservatives returned to office in 2010 and reverted to type. They cut taxes and slashed public expenditure and brushed aside anyone who dared suggest any economic alternatives. The costs of austerity were loaded on to the poor. Labour lost in 2015 because it failed to challenge the Conservatives and instead offered the electorate austerity-light. I think this history is wrong. Austerity is one part of a larger story. The left holds to a remorselessly bleak view of British political history – one in which Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979 marked the start of a still-continuing decline and fall marked by inequality, social decay, rampant individualism, political failure and, above all, the triumph of a free-market neoliberal ideology. This is wrong because Britain has in many respects become a much more politically progressive country over the last four decades.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 6 October 2016, 4:00-5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Jaivir Singh
Jawaharlal Nehru University
Title: Law, Skills and the Creation of Jobs as ‘Contract’ Work in India
Abstract: There is a large literature (and policy suggestions drawing from this discussion) that states that Indian labour laws stifle employment and output. There is however, some cause to take a more nuanced view of the problems generated by the labour laws. It is of course true that while these stringent laws cover regular workers, sizeable sections of the workforce working in the formal manufacturing sector are not subject to the labour laws. Over the last decade or so there has been a change in the law – in that the Indian Supreme Court has interpreted legislation governing contract labour (labour not directly employed but through a labour contractor, referred to in other parts of the world as agency work) to say that employers have no obligation to offer regular terms of employment to contract labour. This has resulted in an expansion in the employment of this category of labour and a jump in the numbers of ‘contract labour’ can be dated from the judgment. The paper throws up the question as to whether this is an appropriate direction for labour law reform. In this context we invoke the incomplete contracts framework to approach the problem, particularly because the analysis is sensitive not just to employment expansion but incorporates questions of skill. Broadly following these motivations the paper is divided into four parts. In the first part we review the changes in law that have enabled the large-scale use of contract labour, and the questions that this form of employment generates. We go on to describe some of the recent attempts by some Indian states to change labour laws in a manner that leads to lower legal coverage of the workforce. We also note the explicit attempts made by recent legislation to change section of the Apprentice Act to encourage the growth of skills among the labour force. In the second part we use information gathered from a survey of manufacturing firms from Haryana, alongside with some qualitative (case study) information to make inferences on the use of contract labour, skills and investment in the job by workers. In the third part of we outline the broad theoretical thinking behind the incomplete contract model particularly as it pertains to important questions raised in relation to labour market and follow it up with suggestions for meaningful labour law reform that enhance the productive relationship between employer and employee.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 13 October 2016, 3:00-4:30pm Joint seminar with Anthropology
Presenter/Affiliation: Sujatha Fernandes
University of Sydney
Title: Curated stories: How storytelling is hindering social change
Abstract: In the contemporary era we have seen a proliferation of storytelling activities, from the phenomenon of TED talks and Humans of New York to a plethora of story-coaching agencies and consultants. My talk, based on my forthcoming book, seeks to understand the rise of this storytelling culture alongside a broader shift to neoliberal free market economies. Suturing together a Foucaultian account of neoliberal reason with Marxian and Gramscian accounts of class formation, I develop a concept of the political economy of storytelling. I discuss how in the turn to free market orders, stories have been reconfigured to promote entrepreneurial self-making and are restructured as easily digestible soundbites mobilized toward utilitarian ends. In my talk, I examine an online women's creative writing project sponsored by the US State Department in Afghanistan as an example of how stories can be drawn into soft power strategies of imperial statecraft in the context of military intervention. But I also conclude with some reflections on how we can find a way beyond curated storytelling, with a discussion of the Mision Cultura storytelling workshops in Venezuela.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 3 November 2016, 4:00-5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Luis Angosto Ferrandez
University of Sydney
Title: Modern accumulation
Abstract: The Marxian conceptualisation of primitive accumulation has been revitalised in a wide range of analysis of contemporary capitalism, including anthropological ones. While it contributes to study and theorise some mechanisms of capitalist expansion and readjustment, it is inadequate to explain others that equally translate in forms of dispossession and/or proletarianization. Here, the concept of modern accumulation is developed to facilitate the theorisation of these latter mechanisms. This concept addresses a distinctive dynamic of capitalist expansion distinguishable from primitive accumulation and expanded reproduction and characterised by three main interrelated features: first, it is (generally) undertaken by subjects belonging to groups whose social identities are partially defined by historical exposition to processes of dispossession and proletarianization (e.g. indigenous people); second, it involves forms of commodification and propertisation that discursively entail a de-fetishising move: the commodity brought into the cycle of capital is presented as a product of the past collective labour of a particular social group; third, in this form of accumulation the figure of producer of commodities is replaced by that of conserver of commodities: holders (or claimants) of property rights largely derive their legitimacy and legal position from their responsibility in the conservation of a given commodified thing
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Monday 28 November 2016, 4:00-5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Alan Knight
Oxford University (in association with the Institute of Latin American Studies, La Trobe University)
Title: The dreat depression in Latin America, 1930-1940
Abstract: This paper analyses the impact, character and consequences of the Great Depression of the 1930s in Latin America, with a particular emphasis on Mexico. It covers economic, political and social history, noting how the external shock of the Depression had a varied impact on Latin American countries – depending on the ‘commodity lottery’, the ‘subsistence cushion’ and processes of industrialization – and then explores the divergent political and social responses which ensued. Offering comparisons with other region and other global depressions, it concludes that the Latin American experience of the 1930s was – compared, say, to Europe in that decade, or even Latin America in the 1980s – positive and creative, the source of symbols and policies that would endure for decades.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Semester 1, 2016

Thursday 3 March 2016, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Bruno Tinel
Universite Paris
Title: Creating a political economic community in France
Abstract: The precondition for a political economy community to exist inside the academic system is that political economists have to be able to enter the higher education and research system. This is not only an intellectual issue because institutions play a very important role. The French Association of Political Economy is trying to build such an area in France through the creation of a new academic department/discipline called "Economy and Society" which the orthodoxy is opposing.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 24 March 2016, 4:00-5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Donna Baines
McMaster University (CA)
Title: Moral Projects and Compromise Resistance: Resisting Uncaring in Nonprofit Care Work
Abstract: Debates on workplace resistance and dissent are a central aspect of Labour Process Theory, an important indicator of changing workplace relations, and a growing dynamic within restructured, contracted-out state services. This paper focuses on care work in the nonprofit social services and argues that resistance in the nonprofit/community sector is a series of compromises and moral projects. The nonprofit sector is a highly gendered sector with women comprising the majority of low pay workers, struggling service users and unpaid volunteers. Resistance in highly gendered contexts often contains aspects that differ from resistance in other, less gendered contexts. For example, resistance in the nonprofit sector often reflects the altruistic values-base of those working in the sector and resistance often targets a larger, uncaring society and government, in addition to employers as the focus of frustrations. Mirroring the contradictory relations of the contracted-out state that funds most nonprofit care, workplace resistance and dissent is an unstable equilibrium which can legitimize austerity, act as a catalyst to undermine it or both. Therefore, analysis of resistance and dissent in care work needs to be highly attuned to the finer points of gendered work and workplaces, the managerialism accompanying state funding contracts and the shifting impacts of what some now call ‘eternal austerity’. With the objective of extending Labour Process Theory and developing insights into the complexity of resistance in care work, the article draws on qualitative data collected in four nonprofit care workplaces and Ackroyd and Thompson’s three part Labour Process analytic frame to more fully explore these gendered dynamics.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 7 April 2016, 4:00-5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Rodrigo Acuña
Department of International Studies, Macquarie University
Title: Venezuelan Foreign Policy & Latin American Unification: Pushing back the Pink Tide
Abstract: During the last decade new regional institutions have appeared in the Americas challenging the historic role of U.S.-led bodies like the Organization of American States (OAS). Behind these new blocs, like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), has been an active diplomacy on the part of Venezuela, Brazil and other countries often coined the ‘Pink Tide’. With a return of the political right in Argentina though, and the low price for commodities like oil, Latin America’s push for greater economic and political independence from the U.S. is in jeopardy. Discussing these developments, Dr. Rodrigo Acuña will analysis the achievements and setbacks of bodied like UNASUR as well their possible continuation in future years.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 21 April 2016, 4:00-5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Yulia Maleta
Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney
Title: Advocating an ecofeminist sociopolitical economic model
Abstract: I aim to articulate a robust (eco)feminist sociopolitical economic model, pertaining to empowering women-led strategies, as a viable contender to decision-making platforms within global environmental movements. (This seminar also provides a platform to the finalization of my book- based on my PhD interviews with Australian women environmentalists). In relation to my interviews with Australian women members of eNGOs, the Greens party, grassroots organisations and academic institutions, my feminist methodological framework intersects hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity within an alternative empowering (eco)feminist sociopolitical model. Concerning hegemonic masculinity, women comment on the ‘aggressiveness’, ‘competitiveness’ and ‘hierarchical’ approach of some men in eNGOs and Parliament; however, they recognise and accommodate emphasized femininity through empowering women-led strategies, described as ‘more consensus-based’, ‘collaborative’, and ‘less hierarchical’. Through my participant’s critique of male centrism in the environmental movement and the unsustainability of current socioeconomic political structures, I illustrate women’s leadership and advocacy of sustainable solutions (in organisations, society and political contexts), in which they strive for more of a decision-making capacity to initiate reforms.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 5 May 2016, 4:30-6:00pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Elizabeth Humphrys
Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney
Title: Australia under the Accord (1983–1996): Simultaneously Deepening Corporatism and Advancing Neoliberalism
Abstract: The ALP and ACTU Accord (1983–1986) is usually understood as a corporatist project in conflict with, or opposition to, the advance of neoliberalism in Australia. This paper examines the relationship of the social contract to the vanguard period of neoliberal reform in Australia, focusing on the consensual incorporation of organised labour into a state-centred political project to revive capital accumulation after the economic crisis of the 1970s. It develops a theoretical framework regarding the state–civil society relationship, utilising the perspectives of Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci and Leo Panitch. The paper argues that Gramsci’s insights around the integral state can help us theoretically extend Panitch’s account of corporatism—allowing us to better delineate how, under capitalism, the political enwraps and overdetermines social developments. The paper argues the Accord and vanguard neoliberalism were internally-related elements of class rule, challenging the predominant view that they were distinct or competing policy frameworks. The coterminal relationship is described as simultaneously deepening corporatism and advancing neoliberalism. The paper argues this provides a more compelling account of the origins of vanguard neoliberalism in Australia, and the trajectory of the Accord, than presently exists in the scholarly literature.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 19 May 2016, 4:00-5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Robert Austin
Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney
Title: Rise and Demise: Latin American and Hispanic Studies in Australasia, from post boom to postmodernity

A spectre is haunting Latin American and Hispanic Studies (LAHS). Their Australasian elite has made it possible, as Marx once said of Napoleon, for “a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part”. Whilst this demise has its roots in the malaise of the late capitalist academy, LAHS’ path from rebelliousness and integration with the Left intelligentsia to a comfortable chair at the summit of the new conformism also has unique characteristics, which explain the paradox of its once-unthinkable subordination to the corporate managerial model.


Replete with elements of philanthropic interventionism and cultural imperialism, presumptions about the deaths of Marxism and the emancipatory metanarrative, as well as the exoticisation of Latin America as a laboratory at the service of stellar Western careers, the elite’s de-coupling of intellectual work from international solidarity work has been accompanied by direct collaboration among the LAHS elite with the dual projects of imperialism in Latin America and neo-colonialism at home. Whilst we agree with E.P. Thompson that there is never a Book of Answers, this study offers some modest insights into this rise and demise, and explores where the discipline might begin to recover its academic autonomy and develop an intellectual practice which confronts capitalist globalisation, rather than meekly acceding to TINA dictates and proliferating a springtime for sycophants.


Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 26 May 2016, 4:00-5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya
Social Sciences, University of the Philippines
Title: Libya as a Template for Syria
Abstract: It is no coincidence that the themes of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and humanitarian were motifs in the discourse(s) about Libya and Syria at the dawn of the Arab Spring. What happened to Libyan society is the future that was intended for the Syrian state and its society. The war and regime change project against the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in 2011 were the model for regime change in the Syrian Arab Republic. The opening salvos of both conflicts were launched by media campaigns aimed at justifying foreign intervention. The peaceful civilian protesters that the US and NATO intervened to supposedly protect in Libya were predominately armed rebels who had been preparing an insurgency before any reports about protests had emerged and the Transitional National Council (TNC) was formally established.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 2 June 2016, 4:00-5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Phil Toner and Mike Rafferty
Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney
Title: Financialisation of the Australian Construction Industry
Abstract: Over the last three decades the Australian construction industry, especially major head contractors and large private sector clients, have been increasingly influenced by financialisation. Three key drivers of financialisation in the industry are identified: innovation in financial instruments especially securitisation; construction principals and head contractors substantially divesting themselves of construction expertise to focus on financial management and a large decline in public sector share of construction investment and employment which has expanded the scope for private investment and construction firms. The principal effect of financialisation identified in the paper is to reinforce well-established tendencies towards risk shifting, especially through intensified use of non-standard forms of employment and subcontracting. Risk is shifted down the construction contractual chain onto parties that are least able to control and manage the multiple risks inherent to the construction process. This risk shifting generates contradictions which constrain productivity enhancing investment in the construction industry in workforce training, capital equipment and R&D. However, these contradictions and constraints on productivity growth do not necessarily under-mine long-run sustainability of this production model as financialisation opens up new sources of profit, notably for the finance sector, developers and head contractors.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]