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

When you graduate, you need to find a job, a home, and a lifestyle. Unless you possess extraordinary independent wealth (congrats), none of these objectives are possible without dipping your toes into the icy waters of the capitalist system. This module can obviously not guarantee your future dreams, but it can equip you with the knowledge to better navigate a planet where politics and economics fuse and confuse. In designing this module, I follow the general principle, to paraphrase a famous quote, that the world economy is too important to be left to the economists. To make sense of political economy in toto we also need insights from political scientists, historians, geographers, sociologists, and anthropologists, among many others. Without fear or hindrance (leave them at the door as they are not needed), I encourage you to see and paint the kaleidoscopic colours of political economy.

Our journey moves through four stages. First, we ease our way in via some big scene setting questions. Second, I sharpen various conceptual tools for you to use and reuse, sourced from the workshops of liberalism, Marxism, gender analysis, and racial politics. Third, we explore how capitalism was built over the past half century, a story of bankers, bureaucrats, and barons who often made a mess of it. Fourth, all these insights are mobilised for dissecting hot current issues, such as the climate crisis (literally hot), the global financial crisis and its fallout, the politics of trade competition, socio-economic inequalities, technology debates, the politics of work, and macro conversations on the future of capitalism. Bonus features include: a field trip to the City of London, one of the finanical capitals of the world; a film screening; and social drinks (let’s extract SOAS resources for ourselves like true capitalists).

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: Capitalism 101
  • Why are Some People Better Off Than Others?
  • Is Cryptocurrency the Future of Money?
  • Where Did Capitalism Come From?
Part 2: Conceptual Toolkits (week 5 to 8)
  • Peace, Trade, and Everyone Shopping: The Liberal Tradition 
  • All's Fair in Love and Class War: The Marxist Legacy
  • Who's Doing the Cleaning?: Gender Analysis
  • Beyond Skin Deep: Racial Politics 
Part 3: The Historical Making of the World Economy since the 1970s (week 9 to 12)
  • How did the Bankers Become Powerful? Tricks of the Money Trade
  • All the World's an Amazon Warehouse: Trade Politics 
  • The Politics of Helping the Poor: The Rise of the Development Industry 
  • Energy and the Environment: The Struggle for Power 
Part 4: Contemporary Issues in Political Economy (week 13 to 20)
  • Anyone Got a Spare Planet?: The New Political Economy of Climate Change
  • Crashes, Manias, and Super Profits in the World of Finance
  • Reconfiguring World Trade: The WTO and Beyond
  • Elon Musk and his Disciples: The Politics of Global Inequalities 
  • Why am I addicted to My Phone?: The Political Economy of Technology 
  • Another Day, Another Dollar: The Political Economy of Work
  • Surely We Can Do Better Than This? Capitalism and its Alternatives
  • Conclusion and Exam Strategy

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)
  • Fulcher, J., Capitalism: A very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)
  • 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