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.
The collapse of the U.S. housing market in 2008 shook the financial sector to its foundations and unleashed a cascading global economic crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression. Ten years later, thanks to a multi-trillion dollar bailout of the failing banks, accompanied by a rejection of parallel assistance to bankrupt homeowners, finance is still dominating the world economy. Our speakers will examine the transformations of the last decade at the national and international levels, and reveal how the Democratic and Republican Parties alike have driven the greatest upward distribution of income to the ultra-rich since the Gilded Age, enriching politicians, as well as top corporate managers. They will ask whether the skyrocketing financial bubble and stagnant real economy will combine to bring about a devastating crash accompanied by an historic depression.
The profound crisis of capitalist society today, along with the related breakdowns of interpersonal relations and the social safety net, have undermined the collective networks people have long counted on for their economic, social, and psychological support. As a result, many have been thrown back on their own resources, and have had no choice but to fashion individualist solutions to problems that previously were always dealt with by governments and social groups. On the other hand, some political thinkers and political organizations are making a virtue of necessity, and are proposing that a turn to self-help can actually be a positive way forward. The viability and desirability of self-help – and what are the alternatives – will be the subject of Professor Kelley’s presentation.
What are the distinguishing characteristics of the current world political-economy, and how are they related to the rapidly unfolding political formations of the right and left in the advanced capitalist world? Basing himself on his recent book The Structure of World History (2010; English translation 2014), Kojin Karatani will discuss the defining features of successive periods of capitalist development on a world scale, and the consequences for politics domestically in the United States, the UK and Japan. He will focus, in particular, on the persistence of stagnation and crisis over close to three decades in Japan, where the resurrection of ultra-nationalism threatens to transform the political landscape and upend the regional balance of power of East Asia. Are we on the verge of a return to militarism and imperialism in Japan, this time with the support of the US? The answer to this question could determine whether war or peace is on the agenda in the region.
Why are we witnessing today what looks like the re-emergence of the Cold War between Russia and the US at a time when the roots of the Cold War in these two countries’ competing social systems have long been effaced? Bill Clinton’s extension of US military-political alliances ever closer to Russia’s borders initially sharpened conflict in the 1990s. The rise of nationalism in Russia in response laid the basis for Vladimir Putin’s ascendancy and his effort to restore his country’s international status and power. Against the resulting background of mutual distrust, random and unconnected developments have combined to set the the two countries on a collision course: US intelligence agencies’ claims of Russian interference in the 2016 US elections; heightened conflict in the Middle East, driven by Putin’s alliance with Assad and America’s with Saudi Arabia; and Russian interventions in Crimea and Ukraine. A wholly avoidable conflict today threatens to spin out of control, risking a conflagration in no one’s interest.
What are the prospects for a new emancipatory politics that speaks to the needs of working people, at a time when the hardline neo-liberal leaderships of the Democrat and Republican parties and of the top financial and non-financial corporations have set themselves implacably against the populist and radical insurgencies that have recently shaken the American political order? Vivek Chibber will consider the political parties, organizations, mass movements, and ideologies – of both the right and the left – that are seeking to exploit the political openings that have emerged since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008. He is the author of Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (2013). Robert Brenner will trace the processes of American decline and global crisis that have driven the intensifying employers’ offensive and the profound plunge of mass living standards over the past four decades. He is the author of What’s Good for Goldman Sachs is Good for America (2009).
The speakers are the editors of the new political journal Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy.