The UCLA Center for Social Theory and Comparative History aims to encourage the development of social theory that is historically rooted and of comparative history that is theoretically informed.
The core of the Center's intellectual work is the biweekly colloquium series, which runs more or less every other Monday during the Winter and Spring quarters. Each year the colloquium series is organized around a single theme, with each session intended to build upon the previous one. The colloquia have, from the start, succeeded in attracting top scholars in the relevant fields from around the globe. In recent years, the colloquium series has focused on contemporary issues in historical context. Its themes have included: recent global social movements, the 2008 economic crisis and its after effects, and the evolving geopolitics of the post-Cold-War world.
Increasing numbers of analysts, both political economists and journalists, have noted the strong trend in recent years to concentration — the reduction of the number of firms in an ever increasing number of industries. They have remarked on the apparently close relationship between the increase in concentration and the rise of monopoly/oligopoly, which has opened the way in turn for firms to impose rising prices, take higher profits, and enjoy ascending equity values. What lies behind these tendencies? Our speakers will explore their causes, looking at the place of collaboration between companies in limiting competition and setting prices, and especially the growing part played by the government in protecting firms’ markets through public policy. The astounding level of profits routinely garnered by such firms as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google is a core feature of today’s economy. Is this understandable merely in terms of their extraordinary technology, or is it actually increasingly attributable to radically increased intellectual property rights, a central feature of still expanding neoliberalism?
The assault on the welfare state has defined the last forty years of US public policy, with health care and pensions among the highest value targets. Although the American citizenry identifies the availability and affordability of health care as its top priority, the private coverage at the heart of the system repeatedly returns the worst health outcomes at the highest cost in the advanced capitalist world, even with Obamacare reforms in place. Pensions are under threat across the board, sold off to Wall Street speculators like any other financial product, and Social Security could be next in line for privatization. Our speakers will lay bare the reasons for the underdeveloped state and rapid erosion of public provision in the US, exploring the best available alternatives—including single payer and single provider health care, defined benefit pensions, and forms of guaranteed annual income—and the most promising political strategies to bring them into being.
In recent years historians and economists have revived the long-standing debate on the relationship between capitalism and slavery, as well as the character of labor markets in the post-bellum South. The emerging literature has tended to focus on theoretical and definitional disputes. But behind the scenes, historians and social scientists have been accumulating new evidence that is transforming our understanding of both free and unfree labor in the United States in the 19th century. This colloquium will be devoted to exploring that new research and to questioning many long-held assumptions concerning productiveness of free and unfree labor, the origins of Southern backwardness, and the causes of the American Civil War.
At the end of 2017, long-simmering political frustrations in Iran erupted in a wave of militant mass protest of historic scope and depth. Protesters have taken aim not only at the current administration of Hassan Rouhani, but also its conservative predecessors, as well as its current reformist opponents. Factions in Iran’s political establishment have scrambled to respond, but the post-revolutionary social contract appears to have lost its legitimacy. Our speakers will consider the political conflicts riling the established regime and how those internal dissensions have helped prepare the ground for today’s challenge from below. They will ask if we are now seeing the fraying of the regime’s project for social and economic liberalization, what might be on the agenda to replace it, and how all this might affect prospects for rapprochement with the United States and peace in the region.