Critical approaches to capitalism

This interdisciplinary research group seek to understand capitalism from a critical perspective.

They examine the perpetual crises, conflicts and forms of resistance resulting from capitalist structures and capitalist restructuring, as well as the political ideologies, historical experiences and material compromises which conceal or rationalise systemic exploitation and forge temporary periods of stability. 

Political economies are in different stages of development, with various power relations inflecting the social contract between capital and labour. Trends under the microscope include the changing relationship between the public and private sector, fiscal austerity and monetary activism, labour market reform, the state, macroeconomic strategies of competitiveness, the relations of production, urban development, climate change, technological innovation, colonialism, financialisation, and economic transformation through activism and policy.

This group draw attention to the capitalist system’s inherent tendencies towards exploitation, injustice and instability from numerous disciplinary approaches. It is animated by divergent theoretical perspectives including Marxism, feminism, postcolonial theory, and green theory. It also draws upon methodological and empirical traditions from the disciplines of sociology, geography, cultural studies, international studies, development, social theory, politics, labour and welfare studies, economics, anthropology and law.

This research area is led by Dr Stuart Shields. Please contact him directly if you would like to join the group and/or be notified about relevant events.


  • Stuart Shields – Stuart’s research is concerned with regional development banks (particularly the intellectual and financial advice they provide to countries) and resistance to neoliberalism in Eastern Europe. Building on his empirical work on Poland, he is now interested in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Eastern Europe's regional development bank, as well as alternative discourses of radical politics.
  • Greig Charnock – Greig’s research is associated with the 'Open Marxism' approach to political economy. His critical engagement with this approach has been in two areas. First, he has extended its empirical focus into the politics of global competitiveness in the developing world and at the urban scale, and, more recently, into the European South in the context of the Eurozone crisis. Second, he has engaged the approach with theories of the 'production of space', pushing it into new and interdisciplinary areas of theoretical and empirical research in the process.
  • Ian Bruff – Ian’s research is founded upon a core interest in the materialities and experiences of living in capitalism. He focuses on a number of theoretical and empirical issues, including the rise of authoritarian neoliberalism, European political economy at a range of scales (EU, national, regional, etc.), critical social theory, uneven development and capitalist diversity.
  • Karel Williams – Karel’s research focuses on the entanglement of financialisation, elite power and the organisation of capital in contemporary political economies and their processes of change.
  • Julie Froud – Julie’s research interests include developing an understanding of financialisation as financial innovation, London as a city-state and the role of financial and other elites. Recent ongoing work covers rebalancing the economy and rethinking industrial policy for the foundational economy.
  • Dr Pritish Behuria has three main research projects. The first is a comparative examination of the politics of macro-economic strategy - primarily in relation to finance and industrial policy - across four countries: Rwanda, Ethiopia, Botswana and Mauritius. The second project is a study of domestic capitalist classes and state-business relations in African countries, with research conducted in eight countries: Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Botswana and Mauritius. The third project links his research on the challenges of promoting economic transformation to a key concern in the 21st century: addressing climate change. Since 2016, he has been researching India's solar energy sector, with several stints of fieldwork in India since then. Building on a recent World Development paper (2020) on India's solar energy sector, future research examines why industrial policy is so difficult in India's renewable energy sectors.
  • Penny Harvey – Penny’s interests lie in cross-section of politics, gender, history, language, and social anthropology. Recent publications have focused on the innovative collective responses to neoliberal statecraft and precarity in Latin America.
  • Erik Swyngedouw - Erik has a long-standing interest in understanding the political, economic, and environmental dynamics of capitalism and the social forces and practices that aim at its transformation towards a more genuinely humanising geography. His academic research interests include political-ecology; hydro-social conflict; urban governance and urban movements; democracy and political power; and the politics of globalisation.
  • Angela Dale – Angela’s research concentrates on ethnic differences in women’s participation in the labour market, and has conducted empirical investigations across the world.
  • Bina Agarwal – Bina’s research interest lies in the areas of poverty and inequality; food security; community forestry; small farmer cooperation; the political economy of gender.
  • Uma Kothari – Uma’s research is concentrated in two fields. The first is the critical analysis of histories, discourses and representations of international development, in which she challenges development discourse in the context of neoliberal globalisation and explores the historical, specifically colonial, the legacy of the workings of the post-independence international development aid industry. The second focuses on understanding the context, experiences and impact of historical and contemporary transnational movements of people.
  • Alan Warde – From a sociology perspective, Alan is interested in sustainable consumption, food and eating, social networks, social and cultural capital, and social stratification.
  • Jamie Doucette – A Human Geographer by trade, Jamie’s research is situated at the nexus between political, economic, and urban geography. The topic that has consumed much of his time recently is the restructuring of the East Asian "developmental state" model in the context of neoliberalism and democratisation. He has examined at this process primarily in South Korea but is sensitive to the wider regional and global scales of political-economic transformation.
  • Martin Hess – Martin’s interest firmly lies in the analysis of global production networks (GPNs) and regional development. In particular, he is interested in the embeddedness and power configurations of GPNs and their implications for development outcomes. Working conditions and workers’ rights in the Global South are a prime empirical focus, which he approaches from a cultural political economy perspective.
  • Harrison Ozanne – Based in the Economics department, Harrison criticises the neglect of power in neoclassical economics. His book, entitled "Power and Neoclassical Economics", was published in January 2016 and since he has sought to formalise his approach to modelling power relationships in a general equilibrium framework and apply these findings to analyses of agricultural development.