81968 - Critical Theories of Contemporary Capitalism (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Decent work and economic growth Industry, innovation and infrastructure Reduced inequalities Sustainable cities

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

Through the critical review of classical theories of capitalism, students will be able to discuss both fixed and invariant elements in the development of modern capitalism and what makes peculiar its contemporary forms. They will acquire specific awareness of some of the most important concepts in present intellectual and political debate, such as globalization, financialization, etc.

Course contents

The course will start with a historical and theoretical framing of the question regarding the peculiarity of contemporary capitalism, briefly considering some of the most influential classical approaches to the study of capitalism. It will subsequently focus on more recent debates and will examine several proposals to conceptually grasp the specific capitalist formation that began to take shape in the early 1970s. Such concepts as flexible accumulation and late capitalism, the knowledge economy and neoliberalism, cognitive and postcolonial capitalism, Empire and postfordism, "racial capitalism" and feminist critique of political economy will be critically discussed. On the basis of this discussion the course will then focus on the so-called "platform capitalism." Taking platforms both as emerging business model and as a political form the course will investigate their origins in the intertwined domains of logistics and digitization. It will then focus on the operations of some of the most important platforms - from Uber to Amazon, from Deliveroo to Airbnb - and it will discuss their implications both for the transformation of urban spaces and for labor (introducing such notions as "algorithmic management" and "digital labor"). In general, platforms will be taken both as a specific research obeject and as a lens that allows discerning wider tendencies in the development of contemporary capitalism.

A detailed syllabus will be distributed at the beginning of the course.

The course will be connected with the research project PLUS (Platform Labour in Urban Spaces), funded by the European Union, (H2020 Research Programme H2020-SC6-TRANSFORMATIONS-2018; Grant Agreement No 822638): https://project-plus.eu/the-project/. Dr. Mattia Frapporti and Dr. Maurilio Pirone, researchers on the project, will actively participate in the course.


The main references for the course will be provided by the following books:

Mezzadra, Sandro and Brett Neilson, The Politics of Operations. Excavating Contemporary Capitalism. Durham, NC and London, Duke University Press, 2019.

Srnicek, Nick, Platform Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017.

Texts that will be discussed in class include:

Altenried, Moritz. The Digital Factory. The Human Labor of Automation, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2022.

Arrighi, Giovanni. Adam Smith in Beijing. Lineages of the Twenty-First Century. London – New York: Verso, 2007.

Arboleda, Martín. Planetary Mine: Territories of Extraction under Late Capitalism. London - New York: Verso, 2020.

Bohrer, Ashley J. Marxism and Intersectionality. Race, Gender, Class, and Sexuality Under Contemporary Capitalism. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2019.

Bratton, Benjamin H. The Stack. On Software and Sovereignty.Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015.

Campling, Liam and Alejandro Colás. Capitalism and the Sea. London – New York: Verso, 2021.

Cowen, Deborah. The Deadly Life of Logistics. Mapping Violence in Global Trade. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7. Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, London – Brooklyn: Verso, 2013.

Cultural Studies, 31 (2017), 2-3 (“Cultural Studies of Extraction,” edited by Laura Junka-Aikio & Catalina Cortes-Severino).

Delfanti, Alessandro. The Warehouse. Workers and Robots at Amazon. London: Pluto, 2021.

De Stefano, Valerio. The Rise of the “Just-In-Time Workforce”: On-Demand Work, Crowdwork, and Labour Protection in the “Gig Economy”, Condition of work and employment series, no. 71/2016, ILO, Geneve.

Easterling, Keller. Extrastatecraft. The Power of Infrastructure Space. London – Brooklyn: Verso, 2014.

Evans, Peter and Annabelle Gawer, The Rise of the Platform Enterprise: A Global Survey, Center for Global Enterprise, 2016.

Fraser, Nancy. ‘Behind Marx’s Hidden Abode. For an Expanded Conception of Capitalism’, New Left Review 86 (2014), pp. 55-72.

Fraser, Nancy and Rahel Jaeggi. Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018.

Fuchs, Christian. Digital Labor and Karl Marx. London: Routledge, 2014.

Hardt, Michael and Toni Negri, Assembly. Oxford – New York, Oxford University Press, 2017.

Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2005.

Harvey, David. Seventeenth Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, Oxford- New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Huws, Ursula. Labor in the Global Digital Economy. The Cybertariat Comes of Age. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2014.

Huws, Ursula. Reinventing the Welfare State. Digital Platforms and Public Policies, London: Pluto Press, 2020.

Lovink, Geert. Sad by Design. On Platform Nihilism. London: Pluto Press, 2019.

Marazzi, Christian, The Violence of Financial Capitalism. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010.

Mezzadra, Sandro. ‘What’s at stake in the Mobility of Labour? Borders, Migration, Contemporary Capitalism.’ Migration, Mobility, & displacement 2 (2015), 1: 30-43.

Mezzadra, Sandro and Neilson, Brett. Borders as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor. Duke: Duke University Press, 2013.

Mezzadra, Sandro and Neilson, Brett (eds.). 2015. Special Issue ‘Extraction, Logistics and Finance’, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 114 (2015):1.

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. Feminism Without Borders. Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, Durham – London: Duke University Press, 2003.

Ong, Aiwa. 2006. Neoliberalism as Exception. Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty, Durham, NC - London: Duke University Press, 2006.

Platform Urbanism and Its Discontents, ed. by H. Mooshammer and P. Mörtenböck, Rotterdam: nai010, 2021.

Rossiter, Ned. 2016. Software, Infrastructure, Labor. A Media Theory of Logistical Nightmares, New York – Oxon: Routledge, 2016.

Samaddar, Ranabir. 2015. ‘Zones, corridors, and postcolonial capitalism’, Postcolonial Studies, 18 (2015), 2: 208-221.

Sanyal, Kalyan. Rethinking Capitalist Development. Primitive Accumulation, Governmentality and Post-colonial Capitalism, London – New York – New Delhi: Routledge, 2007.

Sassen, Saskia. Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy. Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

Scholz, Trebor. Platform Cooperativism. Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy. 2016, available at http://www.rosalux-nyc.org/publications/#pdf_modal_7

Streeck, Wolfgang, ‘E Pluribus Unum? Varieties and Commonalities of Capitalism’, MPIfG Discussion Paper 10/12, 2010.

Tooze, Adam. Shutdown. How Covid Shook the World’s Economy. Dublin: Allen Lane, 2021.

Tsing, Anna. ‘Supply Chains and the Human Condition’, Rethinking Marxism 21 (2009), 2: pp. 148-176.

Tsing, Anna. ‘On Nonscalability. The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales’. Common Knowledge 18 (2012):3, pp. 505-524.

Van Dijck, Jesé, Poell, Thomas, e de Waal, Martijn. The Platform Society. Public Values in a Connective World. Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Woodcock, Jamie. The Fight Against Platform Capitalism: An Inquiry into the Global Struggles of the Gig Economy, London: University of Westmister Press, 2021.

Teaching methods


Lectures and discussion in class. At the beginning of the course a syllabus will be distributed: for each week specific readings will be suggested, to be discussed in the third hour of each class. Students are encouraged to present in class.

Assessment methods

Students who attend at least 75% of the lessons are considered to be attending.

Proper language and the ability to critically analyze relevant topics will lead to a good/excellent final grade

Acceptable language and the ability to resume relevant topics will lead to a sufficient/fair grade.

Insufficient linguistic proficiency and fragmentary knowledge of relevant topics will lead to a failure in passing the exam.

Students attending classwork will write a short "response paper" on one of the topic addressed in class (1000 words) and a final paper (no more than 4000 words) on a topic agreed with the instructor. The bibliography for the paper will be discussed with the instructor and will be based on the references listed in the reading list and/or additional texts proposed by students.The topics of the final papers will be collectively discussed in class. Personal engagement and initiative in proposing and articulating themes for discussion will be appreciated and positively evaluated.

Students who do not attend classwork will have to take an oral exam. They are required to read Mezzadra, Sandro and Brett Neilson, The Politics of Operations. Excavating Contemporary Capitalism. Durham, NC and London, Duke University Press, 2019 and Srnicek, Nick, Platform Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017.

Questions will be aimed at testing the student's ability in exposing with an appropriate language some of the topics tackled by the books, as well as his/her skills in making connections between different texts in order to build an argument.

In all cases, proper language, the ability to speak about the books' content, and to use information and examples articulating different texts with a critical approach will form part of the assessment.

More specifically, the assessment will examine the student’s:

  • Proper knowledge of the subject
  • Ability to summarise and analyse themes and concepts
  • Effective use of appropriate terminology

Teaching tools

Readings may be complemented with other sources, such as videos and images. Guest lecturers may be invited.

Links to further information


Office hours

See the website of Sandro Mezzadra