Political Economy of Labour and Work

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSGA1GS3014

Semester and Year Offered: 5th Semester, 3rd Year

Course Coordinator and Team: Kaustav Banerjee

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: The course is to be offered to BA fifth semester students and aims to introduce

political economic methods to understanding the global through a historical trace of labour and changing forms of work. Focusing on different forms of labour and work will help in understanding different schools of thought in political economy as well as to understand how production relations undergird the very idea of the global. From digital labour and digital work today to indentured labour in the past, from slavery in the past to modern forms of servitude, from labour camps in the past to global value chains of today, from plantation labour to fordist assembly lines – the course will offer students a smorgasboard of examples to understand how labour and work become crucial in understanding the world that we inhabit and the histories behind such arrangements. The course intends to cover 6 key concepts in political economy that deal with labour theory of value, surplus and surplus-value, modes of production and exploitation, historical materialism and alienation.

Course Outcomes:

  • Explore the various characteristics of how political economy defines global studies
  • Build historical and political-economic literacy amongst undergraduate students
  • Develop a critical appreciation of thinking globally and of globalization as a process
  • Foster an understanding of diverse global political–economic concerns from interdisciplinary perspectives
  • Impart an appreciation of interrelations and connectedness of situated processes and peoples across the globe.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. Different schools of Political Economy and contemporary global Labour questions – This module introduces how different schools of thought [Neoclassical, Institutionalist and Marxist] conceptualize the labour question and how this re/structures the global. In this module, we focus on the methods of political economy and the trajectories traversed by the discipline from its Classical origins to the periods between the World Wars, and the following periods right up to contemporary times.
  2. Slavery: Old and new forms - This module looks at old and new forms of slavery. This module introduces students to the specificities of Indenture, Contract, Extractive and Plantation based capitalism both historically and the contemporary forms that persist at present. It will explore the debates on Slavery from a standpoint of the global south.
  3. Feudalism and Transition - The module looks at the question of transition from the ancient world to feudalism and then to capitalism by focusing primarily on the agrarian roots of capitalism. This will help students develop an understanding for the way lives and livelihoods are structured for the majority of workers around the global economy. The divergence between various political economists (Ricardo, Marx) on the question of transition will be discussed.
  4. Asiatic Mode of production and Historical Materialism - This module introduces the two concepts of modes of production and historical materialism by looking at the ‘Asiatic mode of production’ from a standpoint of the global south. These two concepts, i.e. modes of production and historical materialism, would also be key threads in understanding labour and work across time and space.
  5. Trade and Merchant/commercial capitalism - This module deals with histories of commercial capital and how it shaped labour and work from the Arab trade-empire to company capitalism, from corporate capitalism to early forms of commerce. This will help in contextualizing the present workings of the financial system and the global economy.
  6. Factory system: Changing landscapes - This module deals with the creation of industrial capitalism, the coming in of the factory system, making of the working class, the degradation of work in the advances of capitalism especially the rise of global corporations in contemporary times as well as in the last few centuries. The module will also look at Fordism and Taylorism as ways of organizing work and labour in the modern capitalist economy. This will help in contrasting with the gig economy as it exists in contemporary times.
  7. Labour regimes and global value chains - This module analyses labour regimes by starting from labour camps in Nazi Germany and then goes on to discuss different such regimes in contemporary capitalism across different regions of the globe. The political economy of Fascism and its interlinkages with advanced capitalism is explored in detail.
  8. Digital labour and Digital Work - This module starts with introducing students to the contemporary forms of Labour and Work, namely digital labour and digital work, so as to contextualize the present. The module then revisits the subject matter of political economy and evaluate certain key concepts in the contemporary global context namely labour theory of value, surplus and surplus-value and alienation.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • Monthly Assessment (3X20% = 60%): Open book written assessment based on Units covered in a month.
  • Final examination (40%): essay-based final exam based on full semester syllabus

Reading List:

Essential readings:

  • Hunt, E.K. and Lautzenheiser, M (2011), Introduction, History of Economic Thought, Third Edition, M.E. Sharpe Inc., Armonk, New York
  • Lerche J. (2010) 'From ‘Rural Labour’ to ‘Classes of Labour’: Class Fragmentation, Caste and Class Struggle at the Bottom of the Indian Labour Hierarchy'. In: Harriss-White, Barbara and Heyer, Judith, (eds.), The Comparative Political Economy of Development of Africa and South Asia. London: Routledge, pp. 66-87.
  • North, D.C. (1990), Introduction in Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance, Cambridge University Press
  • Brandt, W. (2020) The Brandt Equation: 21st Century Blueprint for the New Global Economy, accessed from
  • Fine, B and Saad-Filho (2004), Commodity Production, Marx’s Capital, Fourth Edition, Pluto Press, London
  • Taussig, Michael T. (1980), Introduction, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, USA
  • Aston, T.H. & Philpin, C.H.E. (2005), Introduction, The Brenner Debate : Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre- Industrial Europe, Cambridge University Press, New Delhi.
  • Epstein, S.R. (2006), Rodney Hilton, Marxism and the Transition From Feudalism to Capitalism
  • Fine, B and Saad-Filho (2004), History and Method, Marx’s Capital, Fourth Edition, Pluto Press, London
  • Banaji, J. (2013), Theory as History, Essays on Modes of Production and Exploitation, Chapter 1 – Themes in Historical Materialism
  • Mies, M. (2007),Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale-revisited (Keynote lecture at the Green Economics Institute, Reading, 29 October 2005) published in International Journal of Green Economics, Vol 1, Nos. 3/4.
  • Banaji, J. (2013), Theory as History, Essays on Modes of Production and Exploitation, Chapter 9 – Islam, Mediterranean and the rise of Capitalism, Themes in Historical Materialism.
  • Hindess, B. & P.Q. Hirst, (1975), Introduction in Pre-capitalist Modes of Production, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London
  • Thomson, E.P. (1963), Introduction, The Making of the English Working Class, Vintage Books, New York.
  • Braverman, Harry (1974), Introduction, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  • Benner, A. & Louis Putterman (1998), Introduction, Economics, Values and Organization, Introduction, Cambridge University Press, New York
  • BuggeIn, M. (2009), Building to Death: Prisoner Forced Labour in the German War Economy — The Neuengamme Subcamps, 1942—1945, European History Quarterly 39(4), pp. 606-632.
  • Marcel van der Linden & Roth, K. H. (2014), Introduction, Beyond Marx: Theorising the Global Labor Relations of the Twenty-First Century, London, Brill.
  • Mezzadri A. (2017) Intoduction, The Sweatshop Regime: Labouring Bodies, Exploitation and Garments Made in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Fuchs, C and Sevignani, S (2013), What is Digital Labour? What is Digital Work? What’s their Difference? And why do these questions matter for understanding social media.
  • Engels, F. (1975), Anti-Dühring, Part II: Political Economy – Subject Matter and Method, Progress Publishers, Moscow
  • Marx, K. (1970), A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, The Method of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow