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Now that the 'Varieties of Capitalism' hype has passed, students of capitalist diversity are searching for new directions. This book presents the first sustained dialogue between institutionalist 'post-VoC' and more critical, global approaches, thus contributing to the development of a new generation of Comparative Capitalisms scholarship.




Introduction: Comparative Capitalisms Research and the Emergence of Critical, Global Perspectives

This volume’s title centrally alludes to ‘new directions’ in Comparative Capitalisms (CC) research and thus sets the collective agenda for the multiple and diverse contributions it comprises. The shared point of departure across the chapters in this book is the observation that the CC field, which is centrally concerned with studying the differences, institutional and otherwise, between different localized ‘models’ or ‘varieties’ of capitalism, is going through several interwoven processes of rapid and consequential change: The dominance of Peter Hall and David Soskice’s Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) approach, which occupied the centre of the broad CC field for almost a decade after its publication (Hall and Soskice, 2001) has gradually eroded in recent years, as a combined result of internal (intra-CC) and external critiques. Some of the most important criticisms concern VoC’s underestimation of the really existing diversity of contemporary capitalism, its bias towards thinking in static terms and its economistic and functionalist predispositions (see, for example, Bruff and Ebenau, 2014b; Streeck, 2010). While this perspective is still influential, inspiring a ‘second generation’ of research projects framed in VoC terms, it has undoubtedly lost the dominant position it once held in CC debates.The latter has now passed to a broad, heterogeneous and rapidly evolving group of ‘post-VoC’ perspectives. These generally remain within the paradigmatic boundaries of neoinstitutionalism, the longstanding theoretical underpinning of CC research. Nevertheless, their proponents see the analytical problems which the dynamic ‘VoC debate’ unearthed during the 2000s as too relevant and too deeply rooted to be resolved through limited modifications or extensions of this approach’s ‘relational view of the firm’. Rather, they turn (back) to the wider neoinstitutionalist paradigm, including its historical, sociological, discursive and statist variants for analytical guidance and, on this basis, elaborate new and innovative approaches for analysing the diversity of contemporary capitalism through a focus on institutions (see, for example, Becker, 2009; Crouch, 2005; Streeck, 2012). At the same time, neoinstitutionalist CC scholarship is increasingly being challenged by proponents of critical political economy (often Marxist) perspectives. These scholars argue that it is necessary to more fundamentally shift the coordinates of CC research if we are to make sense of the manifold forms in which we encounter contemporary capitalism around the globe and, crucially, of the huge and persistent social and economic inequalities which stretch across different ‘types’ of capitalism (see, for example, Albo, 2005; Bruff, 2011; Radice, 2000).This theoretical debate is accompanied — and, to a considerable degree, driven — by an expansion of the geographical scope of CC research, a process which may be described as an incipient ‘globalization’ of the field. Thus, more and more world regions, including Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and, more recently, China, are coming into the horizon of CC scholars, while at the same time regional specialists increasingly draw on CC perspectives for enriching their own approaches (see, for example, Bohle and Greskovits, 2012; Huang, 2008; Schneider, 2013). This is certainly a welcome development, since it helps to bring down unhelpful disciplinary barriers to, among others, development and transition studies, but as with the wider field it is pervaded by intense debate on the best way forward in globalizing CC research.

Matthias Ebenau, Ian Bruff, Christian May

Comparing Capitalisms in the Global Political Economy


1. Varieties of Capitalism and ‘the Great Moderation’

When Peter Hall and David Soskice wrote their introduction to the now widely cited collection of essays they published in 2001 under the title Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundation of Comparative Advantage, they could hardly have known how important in the history of comparative political economy that introduction was going to be. True, they saw their own work as an important attempt to shift the goal posts — as ‘a new approach to the comparison of national economies’ — one that was capable in their mind of going beyond the ‘three perspectives on institutional variation that [had] dominated the study of comparative capitalisms [CC] in the preceding thirty years’ (Hall and Soskice, 2001, pp. v, 2). They saw themselves, that is, as challengers to the dominant approaches of the day in comparative political economy — challengers to the modernization paradigm, the neo-corporatism framework and the social systems of production approach. What they presumably did not see, as they drafted that introductory chapter, was the speed with which their approach would replace those three in dominance. This chapter, which draws heavily on correspondence with many of the key players involved, has been written to explain this unexpected rise to dominance and to evaluate the significance of its subsequent erosion (see also Bruff et al., in this volume).

David Coates

2. Fault and Fracture? The Impact of New Directions in Comparative Capitalisms Research on the Wider Field

As David Coates notes in the previous chapter, we are currently in a paradoxical period. Peter Hall and David Soskice’s (2001) Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) approach dominated the Comparative Capitalisms (CC) landscape for at least a decade after its 2001 publication, but is clearly the product of a period in time which is now in the past. Nevertheless, the earlier dominance may well ensure that it is even more widely cited in the coming years. In this chapter, we wish to broaden the scope of critique to encompass the CC field, within which the VoC approach sits. This is because (to quote Coates) the ‘indirect source of legitimation’ now provided by the VoC approach is, in our view, strongly tied to its innovative and creative reworking of the neoinstitutionalist paradigm which came to the fore in the 1980s and 1990s. In other words, although the specific form of rationalist neoinstitutionalism embodied in VoC is no longer at the cutting edge of CC research, the neoinstitutionalist paradigm more generally has remained relatively dominant in scholarship on capitalist diversity. However, this ought not to be the end of the story for the CC field, for many of the limitations inherent to the VoC approach characterize neoinstitutionalist CC scholarship more broadly. Thus, there is a need to develop more fundamentally ‘new directions’ in research on capitalist diversity.

Ian Bruff, Matthias Ebenau, Christian May

3. Directions and Debates in the Globalization of Comparative Capitalisms Research

This chapter reviews a number of recent attempts to geographically expand the Comparative Capitalisms (CC) agenda. Its point of departure is the observation that CC — traditionally focused on some so-called ‘advanced’ capitalist countries — has begun to broaden its horizon to include other world regions, in particular Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and Latin America. As in the wider CC literature, it is useful to divide the approaches associated with this intellectual process into three broad groups or — to stick with the metaphor in this book’s title — ‘directions’. The first group refers affirmatively to the emblematic Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) perspective and, consequently, seeks to broaden its scope of application; the second, more diverse set of alternative (‘post-VoC’) perspectives partly distance themselves from VoC but remain within the frame of the wider neoinstitutionalist paradigm; and, finally, the third, smaller group of approaches draws principally on the critical-materialist paradigm and thus begins to introduce imperialism and dependency approaches, among others, into the CC canon.

Matthias Ebenau

Critical Perspectives and Debates


4. Comparative Capitalisms and/or Variegated Capitalism

This quotation from a lecture in 1847 by Marx on free trade will frame my critical appreciation of the Comparative Capitalisms (CC) literatures. I argue that it knows less about the present than about the past of capitalism — and is even less insightful about its future. This is because CC tends to adopt a disaggregative approach to diversity in the world market. This is useful for some theoretical and practical purposes and provides one possible ‘first cut’ analysis of the overall diversity of the capitalist landscape. But it marginalizes the emerging logic and constraining power of a world market that is becoming more tightly integrated through differential accumulation and the relative success of specific strategic initiatives. Some of my earlier contributions to the critique of political economy shared these problems (Jessop and Sum, 2006), and, in response, I have recommended taking variegated capitalism in the world market as an alternative ‘first cut’ entry-point.

Bob Jessop

5. Critical Institutionalism in Studies of Comparative Capitalisms: Conceptual Considerations and Research Programme

Despite the criticisms to which institutionalist approaches in Comparative Capitalisms research (CC) have been exposed in recent years (see Coates and Bruff et al., in this volume), it would be unfortunate, in our view, to discard them altogether for the comparative analysis of capitalism. Instead of ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’, we suggest that building upon established concepts within institutional research and further developing them in a critical spirit is a fruitful way of finding ‘new directions’ for CC scholarship. To argue this point, and to show how it might be accomplished, is the purpose of this chapter.

Christian May, Andreas Nölke

6. Gender Inequalities in the Crisis of Capitalism: Spain and France Compared

In times of crisis, certain characteristics of the capitalist mode of production, social reproduction1 and the symbolic realm of societal formation become more clearly visible than would otherwise be the case. Capitalism’s inherent contradictions come to the fore and constructions of social norms that serve to reproduce the capitalist order may be rearranged or deepened. Additionally, ‘[o]nce a crisis strikes, inequalities are reinforced as the ability to respond to the shock differs between more powerful and weaker players’ (Fukuda-Parr et al., 2013, p. 15). This includes the power asymmetries between capital and labour, as well as inequalities of gender and ethnicity. In the post-2007 world of crisis, it is therefore even more surprising that theoretical approaches in Comparative Capitalisms (CC) research continue to exclude the social construction of gender, ethnicity and gender inequality. Even though gender is sometimes part of the analysis, broader questions of social reproduction, the hegemonic gender order of states and societies and their interplay with firm-centred decisions, are not related to one another.

Julia Lux, Stefanie Wöhl

7. Social Structures of Accumulation: A Marxist Comparison of Capitalisms?

This chapter will examine whether a dialogue with the Marxist tradition of historical capitalist stages can serve to address a number of shortcomings in the Comparative Capitalisms (CC) literatures. In order to do so, I will first return to some common criticisms of the standard approaches to capitalist variation, which are particularly relevant for such a dialogue. Subsequently, the Social Structure of Accumulation (SSA) framework will be described. Thereby, an argument will be made that the SSA framework develops an institutional approach which avoids the previously identified problems, partially because it emphasizes variation across time as well as variation across space. The strengths of the approach will be illustrated by a brief study of the recent economic development of Ireland before concluding.

Terrence McDonough

8. Entangled Modernity and the Study of Variegated Capitalism: Some Suggestions for a Postcolonial Research Agenda

Industrial capitalism, right from its beginnings in Southern Lancashire and Northern Cheshire at the end of the 18th century, has been characterized by its expansive and tendentially global character. Yet, apart from a few exceptions, the (post-)Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) and Comparative Capitalisms (CC) literatures have mainly produced a large variety of national case studies, ‘typically framed in “horizontal” comparisons with other national models’ (Zhang and Peck, 2014, p. 3). Whereas the Triad has ceased to be the only reference point, in particular for a new generation of scholars, this geographical expansion (or ‘globalization’) of CC research has not overcome some of the central methodological shortcomings. For example, by focusing on supposedly national production and regulation regimes, most of the current research turns a blind eye to the conceptual challenge of analysing capitalism as a variegated but interconnected global system, characterized by power asymmetries, conflicts and contradictions (see also Jessop, in this volume). The relational character of capitalism — that is, the fact that national forms of production and social regulation are influenced by international competition, predominant (global) modes of capital accumulation and transnational (inter-)dependencies — remains largely under-theorized.

Ingrid Wehr

Global Perspectives and Debates


9. Putting Comparative Capitalisms Research in Its Place: Varieties of Capitalism in Transition Economies

This chapter introduces an approach to capitalist variety in transition economies in order to make a renewed case for typological theories of economic performance. We argue that Comparative Capitalisms (CC) research, the Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) approach in particular, was a victim of its success. The debate it triggered has made many of its weak points apparent (see also Bruff et al., in this volume), but the added value of the perspectives were lost in a discussion that often blamed the VoC approach for failing to deliver on agendas that were beyond its original aims. Against this background, we argue that the underlying analytical assumptions of the CC literatures remain useful and appropriate for understanding the diversity of economic and political outcomes. Many of the assumptions of the VoC approach proved problematic, but it remains exemplary in pursuing a clearly delimited explanatory agenda. This aim, unfortunately, was obscured in many contributions — from both institutionalist CC and critical perspectives — that aimed to provide more appropriate and comprehensive frameworks for understanding contemporary political economies. We thus make a case for a more sympathetic reading of the VoC contributions. In particular, we consider developing typological theories — that is, using typologies as explanatory tools (cf. George and Bennett, 2005) — the main added value of CC research.

Jan Drahokoupil, Martin Myant

10. State-Business-Labour Relations and Patterns of Development in Latin America

Following the broader trend towards a ‘globalization’ of the Comparative Capitalisms (CC) field (see also Bruff et al. and Ebenau, in this volume), this chapter introduces Latin America into the examination of different types of capitalism. In particular, we propose to analyse the institutional settings of the political economies of Latin America in terms of their relevance for the definition and implementation of different development strategies. We argue that now, more than ever, it is necessary to question the ubiquitous neoliberal convergence discourse and to reassert the national and regional dimensions of analysing contemporary capitalism. In this vein, the global capitalist crisis and the recuperation of the state as a key economic player jointly constitute a window of opportunity for reconsidering capitalist diversity and the associated diversity of development trajectories.

Flavio Gaitán, Renato Boschi

11. All Varieties Are Equal… Contributions from Dependency Approaches to Critical Comparative Capitalisms Research

In-depth analyses of the realities of capitalism in different parts of the world presuppose interrogating the multiplicity of factors that affect the economic, social and political development trajectories, which unfold in different, relatively distinct space economies. In this regard, the Comparative Capitalisms (CC) literatures currently constitute one of the most dynamic scholarly fields with respect to both theoretical debate and the systematization of empirical knowledge. Over recent years, Latin America, among other non-core world regions, has increasingly come to the attention of comparativists; conversely, many scholars established in the region have begun to draw on theoretical approaches from the CC field. This chapter inscribes itself into this development, but where others have been primarily concerned with importing and/or adapting theoretical perspectives originated in other contexts, we make a case for reconsidering the virtues of a fundamentally Latin American line of politico-economic thought: the radical dependency tradition founded in the 1960s. Re-interpreting CC’s trademark enterprise of analysing locally distinctive configurations of capitalism through dependency lenses can, we maintain, provide an essential corrective to a number of shortcomings identified for the neoinstitutionalist approaches which currently predominate in the field.

Lucía Suau Arinci, Nadia Pessina, Matthias Ebenau

12. Decolonizing the Study of Capitalist Diversity: Epistemic Disruption and the Varied Geographies of Coloniality

The nation-as-method approach of Comparative Capitalisms (CC) scholarship has generally taken differential economic growth outcomes between national settings as a core explanandum. The widening of this scholarship beyond its original concern for the Triad nations of Western Europe, North America and Japan draws in countries from across a much greater disparity in economic performance (see also Ebenau, in this volume). This ‘globalizing’ CC work therefore more intently confronts the problematic of how the material conditions of people have improved more rapidly and inclusively in some countries than in others, and it is here that CC scholarship begins to more closely resemble strands of development studies. It is also at this juncture that more statist CC scholars have imported the idea of the developmental state, as the literature surrounding this concept shares the interest of the capitalist diversity field in examining relations between degrees of state-strategic coordination and economic performance (see Storz et al., 2013, p. 219; Gaitán and Boschi, in this volume). But in the pursuit of an institutional formula for wealth creation, this CC work and cognate scholarship on the developmental state overlook the prospect that poverty creation (on which see Blaney and Inayatullah, 2010, p. 2) might actually be constitutive of such a process.

Lisa Tilley

Conclusion: Towards a Critical, Global Comparative Political Economy

The chapters in this volume are the results and elements of a lively debate among a diverse group of political economists about the state and purpose of Comparative Capitalisms (CC) research. The arguments they make, including their agreements and divergences, reflect a certain moment in the development of this academic field and of the political conjunctures that in one way or another impact upon it. Of course, as editors we would like to see this volume become a point of reference in this discussion. But — perhaps counterintuitively — we also hope for it to become quickly outdated, for in this case its principal utility would lie in helping to shift the fundamental coordinates of CC theory and empirical research by strengthening the various ‘new directions’ alluded to throughout the different chapters. After all, contemporary CC, like capitalism, is a dynamic field and things change fast.

Christian May, Matthias Ebenau, Ian Bruff


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