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Capitalism Studies: A Manifesto

It seems odd now to recall that up until a few years ago, the concept of capitalism largely had fallen out of favor as a subject of academic inquiry and critique. Most scholars in the humanities and social sciences regarded the term as too broad, too vague, too encumbered by associations with either Marxism or laissez-faire. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, capitalism could be taken for granted, it seemed. No person or nation could escape the discipline of efficient, spontaneous, self-regulating, globalizing markets.

Economists cut economies loose from society, institutions, culture, and history. They repositioned their discipline upon models that assumed that rational, utility-maximizing individual parts represented and explained the behavior of the economy-as-a-whole. Many social scientists — especially in political science — embraced these rational-actor models. Others joined historians and humanities scholars in the “cultural turn.” …


Top 10 List of Best American Historical Writing

Recently the net has seen various ten best lists of works in American history. I’d like to propose one of my own, but first I want to explain my rationale. American historical writing was transformed in the 1960s by two things: the realization that slavery and racism were the foundations of American history and the enormous achievements of such Marxist historians and social thinkers as Eric Hobsbawm, EP Thompson and Immanuel Wallerstein. Works produced during and after the sixties have given us a dramatically new picture of the country and my list reflects this. In addition, I choose works that look at American capitalism as a whole, not works that narrowly confine themselves to particular “fields,” like political history, economic history and so forth. Finally, I have chosen works that help us to see the United States in a global perspective even if the works are not themselves comparative or transnational. Here is my list: …

EssaysTheory & Practice

Remembering Janet Lippman Abu-Lughod

Twenty-thirteen is a sad year for the social sciences and history. With the death of Janet Lippman Abu-Lughod (b. 1928) last Saturday, the best of academic learning has suffered another blow. Her passing joins the recent loss of her New School colleagues Eric Hobsbawm, Aristide Zolberg and Charles Tilly. Each in his way enriched the historically oriented social study of the modern world. Among them, known for their dedication to intellectual excellence, as well as versatility and originality, Abu-Lughod distinguished herself as a very rare scholar who could range across centuries and continents, from the thirteenth century to the current moment, from the North Africa and the Middle East to Central Asia and North America. She was to the end a Chicago School urbanist whose methodological approach combined a unique ability to expand its scope into comparative studies that brought a needed political dimension.

Upon her arrival to the New School for Social Research in 1987, she had already achieved a phenomenal output of well over a hundred articles and more than thirteen books…

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Remembering Eric Hobsbawm on Oct. 25th, 2013

As the current Chair of the Historical Studies Department at the New School, in which Eric Hobsbawm taught for nearly a decade, I approached his memorial with a sense of both excitement and obligation. Institutions define themselves by legacies of excellence, and Hobsbawm embodied, all his own, such a legacy for the New School. His titanic intellect defined a whole era of the New School, and I was eager to hear more about the cause of our collective pride. …

EssaysTheory & Practice

Hobsbawm’s 20th Century: Closing Comments

Plus remembrances of former New School students of Eric Hobsbawm

I am honored to have been asked to offer closing words for this memorial event celebrating the life and work of Eric Hobsbawm. This is a New School event, and not by coincidence. As Dean of The New School for Social Research, I want first to thank Ira Katznelson, for bringing Eric Hobsbawm to us when Ira was Dean here years ago. Eric’s legacy will always be part of ours. He was our own too.

I want now to speak about the legacy of Eric Hobsbawm at the NSSR, both about how his presence in these halls strengthened us at the time, and how today it challenges us as our unique graduate faculty of social sciences moves ahead in this strange 21st century.

I was lucky to sit on a few dissertation committees with Eric, so I had a chance to watch his great mind at work and to observe up close his supervisory style. Perhaps not surprisingly, he liked supervising students in economics, my own discipline. My recollection is of someone who showed great joy in helping young scholars and mentoring in the best sense of the word — that is, not dictating answers and methods, but by taking the students’ work very seriously, posing detailed questions, and listening carefully to the answers. Students felt respected and challenged at the same time – just the right combination needed to nurture serious and engaged scholarship from an advanced graduate student preparing to enter the world of ideas as a professional…