Academic journal article Capital & Class

Varieties of Capitalism or Varieties of Relationships of Forces? Outlines of a Historical Materialist Policy Analysis

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Varieties of Capitalism or Varieties of Relationships of Forces? Outlines of a Historical Materialist Policy Analysis

Article excerpt


In recent years, there has been increased mutual interest and dialogue between institutionalist or comparative capitalisms approaches (CC) and historical materialist theories of state and political economy (Bruff & Horn 2012; Bruff et al. 2013). While historical materialist theories began to recognise an 'institution-gap' within their approaches (Hirsch 1994), CC scholars acknowledge that, given the deep structural crisis of capitalism since 2007, 'bringing capitalism back in' is essential (Streeck 2011:138). We situate our contribution within this dialogue; however, it is neither possible nor productive to simply integrate CC and historical materialist approaches. For this, the epistemological and analytical presuppositions and, above all, the (mostly implicit) political aims are too different. After all, historical materialist theory starts from the contradictory social foundations of institutions (Bruff 2011: 490), because such an understanding may contribute to its fundamental project of a radical, anti-capitalist, emancipatory transformation of society. In contrast, CC approaches aim in show that due to existing institutional configurations and path-dependencies, national economies have different institutional advantages in which broadly social-democratic, Keynesian, non-neoliberal policies can produce successful political economies (cf. Radice 2000: 721; Jackson & Deeg 2008).

Keeping these differences in mind, we focus on a question that is at the core of both approaches: What is an appropriate 'capitalist theory of institutions' (Bruff & Horn 2012: 163)? Or, in other words: What is an appropriate theory of institutions in capitalism? How can we conceptualise institutions in relation in the fundamental contradictions and power relations of capitalism (see also Wohl & Gallas in this special issue; McDonough 2013)? Starting from the social foundations of institutions, our central aim is in show how institutional complementarity and institutional change can be explained through analysing shifting relationships of social forces. More precisely, we ask how an empirical investigation of relationships of forces can be operationalised. To this end, we propose a 'historical materialist policy analysis' (HMPA) approach, in which we have integrated insights of CC approaches, and which we will briefly illustrate later in the paper by analysing the constellation of forces ill the current Euro crisis.

Varieties of capitalism or varieties of relationships of forces?

Since its emergence more than a decade ago, the varieties of capitalism approach (VoC) has been at the centre of the CC literatures (see Hall & Soskice 2001). Even from a Marxist perspective, this approach has its merits since it helps us to understand that institutional varieties are an important factor in the emergence and reproduction of quite different types of capitalisms. Nevertheless, in the last decade severe criticisms have been directed against the CC literature and especially the 'capital letter' VoC approach. The critique from within the neo-institutionalist paradigm has focused on the number and shape of different types of capitalisms, the domains that defined a type, the dimensions along which institutions are compared, and the meaning of path-dependence (Jackson & Deeg 2008; see Deeg & Jackson 2007; Drahokoupil & Myant 2013; see also Coates's first paper in this special issue).

Scholars working within a historical materialist framework have criticised CC approaches in a more fundamental way (Bruff & Horn 2012; Jessop 2012; Coates 2005; numerous papers in this special issue). There are at least three crucial lines of critique. First, CC, and VoC especially, ignores the fundamentally conflictual and antagonistic nature of capitalist societies and the capitalist world system, and thus the capitalist 'elephant in the room' (Bruff 2011). This problem leads to the second central weakness: the difficulty in explaining institutional change; and, thus, to the assumption that the 'emergence of labour-inclusive political economies does not require worker mobilization let alone class struggle' (Bohle & Greskowits 2009: 362-3). …

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