SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Introduction to Political Economy

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

This module offers an introduction to the multidisciplinary field of political economy. The examination of political economy is important for how it sheds light on the complexity of international capitalism, including its structures, processes, and outcomes. To accomplish this objective, insights from across the social sciences are needed. In other words, to paraphrase a famous quote, the world economy is too important to be left to the economists. The module is organised around debates in four areas: (1) a set of scene setting questions to introduce the material; (2) conceptual frameworks, derived from the scholarly tradition of political economy and world politics, including liberalism, Marxism, gender-based approaches, and racial capitalism; (3) the post-WWII history of governing the capitalist system, including attention to finance, trade, development, and energy and the environment; and (4) contemporary issues transfixing the world economy, including the global ecological crisis, the global financial crisis and its fallout, the politics of trade regulation, socio-economic inequalities, new concerns around technology, the political economy of work, and macro debates on capitalism and its possible futures. Students are asked to think critically about how the politics of the economy is conceived, governed, and experienced, in particular through evaluating dynamics of power. There are two main questions addressed throughout the module: (1) why and how does political economy take its current forms?; and how do practices of political economy create uneven consequences between particular social agents, including countries, classes, and other groups and identities? A field trip to the City of London will be conducted (restricted to around 20 participants), along with two film screenings and other social drinks.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate detailed knowledge of debates within field of political economy, including relevant conceptual frameworks, the international institutional history of the world economy, and major contemporary problems in key issue areas
  • Demonstrate the ability to articulate one’s own normative and political positions on questions concerning the capitalist system
  • Enhance effective communication in speech and writing
  • Work independently and with peers to achieve common goals


1 hour lecture per week

1 hour tutorial per week

Scope and syllabus

Part 1: Scene Setting (week 1 to 4)
  • Introduction
  • Why are Some People Better Off Than Others?
  • What is Money?
  • Where Did Capitalism Come From?
Part 2: Conceptual Frameworks (week 5 to 8)
  • The Liberal Tradition
  • The Marxist Legacy
  • Gender Analysis
  • Racial Analysis
Part 3: Post-WWII History of Governing the World Economy (week 9 to 12)
  • Money: From Bretton Woods to Private Finance
  • Trade: From the GATT to the WTO
  • Development and its Discontents
  • The Struggle for Power: Energy and the Environment
Part 4: Contemporary Issues in Political Economy (week 13 to 20)
  • The Planetary Emergency: The New Political Economy of Climate Change
  • The Global Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences
  • Reconfiguring World Trade: The WTO and Beyond
  • Global Inequalities: From the Super-Rich to the Extreme Poor
  • Data Rules: The Political Economy of Technology
  • Another Day, Another Dollar: The Political Economy of Work
  • Capitalism and its Alternatives
  • Conclusion

Method of assessment

Assessment is 50% coursework (one 2500 word essay and one 2500 word essay), 50% unseen examination (3 hours).


Suggested reading

  • Eagleton-Pierce, M., Neoliberalism: The Key Concepts (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016)
  • Hobsbawm, E., Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century: 1914-1991 (London: Penguin Books, 1994)
  • Ravenhill, J. (ed.), Global Political Economy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017)
  • Stanford, J., Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism (London: Pluto Press, 2015)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules