A major outcome of the 2008 financial crisis has been a growing public conversation on the future of capitalism. Invariably, this conversation has had as one of its major axes the waning of European and U.S. economic power, and the rise of so-called BRICS nations to global prominence. This way of looking at things is predicated on the assumption that capitalism has historically had a center, and that this center has been the U.S. and Western Europe. Historians of the global south have had a long and varied tradition of contesting this center of gravity, proposing alternative viewpoints to any singular genitive account of what capitalism is, where it is located, and what exactly makes it global.
Our conference aims to address the one-sidedness of the recent European and U.S. historiographic turn to the “history of capitalism” by providing one of the first venues to direct comparative investigations of emergent scholarship on the history of capital in the non-west. Our conference assembles a range of scholars from across areas of study including Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Collectively, these projects attempt a reorientation to the study of capital in the non-west from earlier analyses that have focused on the extractive and destabilizing processes of accumulation within the antinomial framing of capitalism/empire and culture/community, to critical analyses that highlight the dynamic and contradictory reconfigurations of social and cultural practices in the non-west in and as a history of capitalism.
A central intellectual question framing the intervention of this conference is the status of political economy as a method for doing global history. Although the history of capitalism has animated many debates by scholars working in the global south, it was precisely earlier iterations of this history that gave rise to the postcolonial critique of political economy as an historical method. Our conference works substantively within the far-reaching implications of this critique, but seeks renewed interpretative engagement with political economy as a means of addressing historical questions raised by the political, economic and ecological crises of our present. If capital or capitalism can be used to describe or contextualize a broad range of phenomena from Accra to the Hejaz to Tokyo, we suggest there must be productive ground to explain the historically specific connections, structures and forms of social practice that render capital a relevant analytic of historical inquiry in the non-west. Here, we aim to locate the sustained relevance of categories such as the “global south” and the “non-west” not in preconceived geographies of difference, but as meaningful realities produced within the forms of order, patterns of accumulation and histories of domination integral to modern capitalism.