For some time now, in scientific as well as in political discussions, the word 'capitalism' has been used in a relaxed manner. The reasons for this are multifaceted. They lie in part in developments within the subject area of international political economy (IPE) and in the public debate over the causes and implications of the financial crisis. They also lie in the fact that the term 'capitalism' is no longer automatically associated, for example, with a socio- and system-critical Marxist analysis in connection with a socialist economic programme. In the last few years, many authors have more or less explicitly allied themselves with the 'varieties of capitalism' (VoC) approach (cf. Hall and Soskice 2001). That is to say, they have oriented themselves to an analytical perspective that is not a priori categorised as critical of capitalism, but rather, which claims that the existence of different national models of capitalism is fundamentally given, though it is institutionally and regulatorily manageable as long as the model's international competitiveness is not impaired.
The conditionality of international competitiveness means that the VoC approach has admittedly contributed substantially to the revival of theoretical discussions of capitalism (see also Hartmann in this special issue on competition). However, given the primacy of economic performance, it was only to a limited extent able to account for exploitation mechanisms, power relations, conflicts and contradictions; in short, for the social character of specific capitalist formations. This point is further strengthened by the fact that VoC is marked by a very 'lean' societal theory and a deficient politico-economic analytical framework. Above all, the dimensions that national capitalist models have in common (cf. Streeck 2010; Bruff 2011), or the patterns of transnational reproduction that structure or mesh the development of national models with one another (cf. Bohle and Greskovits 2009; Bellofiore et al. 2011) are not adequately considered. With regard to this, a post-VoC discussion in the broader comparative capitalisms (CC) literature has begun to unfold, which goes beyond the static design and methodological nationalism that can be found in a strictly comparative and institutionalist discussion of capitalism.
Despite an expanded research agenda and due to persistent institutional restrictions, the post-VoC discussion is barely able to address important politico-economic and societal themes and issues (Jessop 2013). For the most part, assertions about time-diagnostic characterisations of the current state of capitalism, the causes and processes of specific crisis dynamics inherent to this current form of capitalism, and the asymmetrical forms of international networks or formative transnational power relations remain weak or chaotic. In order to overcome these existing deficiencies, this paper will argue from an analytical perspective that situates itself in regulation theory and allows itself to be characterised as an extended neo-Gramscian IPE approach. Before the central reflections and the fundamental assumptions of regulation theory and the neo-Gramscian extension and reformulation are posed, the development and the current state of the comparative and institutionalist discussions of capitalism will be outlined.
Trajectories of comparative and institutionalist analysis of capitalism: From the VoC approach to the post-VoC discussion
The VoC approach addresses the situation that, regardless of globalisation, different forms of national capitalist models continue to reproduce themselves. The beginnings of these 'models' go far into the past: indeed, the initial stages of the Industrial Revolution and the accompanying political and institutional conflicts shaped their central characteristics significantly. Thus it is not surprising that specific conceptions of comparative political economy should have begun to develop in the early times of capitalism. …