‘New’ Histories of (Australian) Capitalism

05 July 2021

In the decade since the Great Recession of 2007–08, ‘capitalism’ has re-emerged as a pervasive framework for understanding a world in momentous flux. Across the globe, a torrent of public-minded scholarship has debated the past, present, future and end of capitalism in an effort to grapple with the endemic challenges of poverty, automation, inqualities of wealth and ecological crisis. Historians have positioned themselves at the fore of these debates. In the United States, ‘new histories of capitalism’ are now the premise of a field of study with undergraduate courses, conferences, research centres and intitatives. In Britain, Germany and other European countries, scholars are adopting a ‘new materialism’, ‘material turn’ and ‘new labour history’ for their courses and publications. They are applying lessons from social and cultural history to business, labour and economic history’s traditional actors and topics. By cross-pollinating methodologies from the social sciences, these histories are ‘re-embedding’ economic relations and actors in structures of law, institutions, social norms, knowledge, and power. These trends have been put at the service of larger questions addressing three hundred years of economic transformations that have delivered immense prosperity but at unrivalled social and environmental cost.