Labour History

Putting Capitalism in Its Place: Economies of Worth and the Practice of Australian History

Labour History (2021), 121, (1), 195–217.

Abstract

Writing histories of capitalism involves making decisions about how to contextualise the wider non-capitalist formations that underpin and sustain capitalist processes. This article introduces Boltanski and Thévenot’s economies of worth (EW) framework as a tool and stimulus for historians to historicise capitalism as a social order while simultaneously avoiding the determinism of concepts such as commodification and capitalist accumulation. The article identifies four dominant approaches to contextualisation of capitalism in Australia in the past: economic history, radical nationalism, the New Left and settler capitalism. It then introduces EW, a repertoire of competing conceptions of the common good that, we argue, offers a framework for systematically drawing contested, hybrid and co-existent forms of capitalist and non-capitalist value, or “worth,” into view across multiple temporal and spatial scales. The potential usefulness of this framework is illustrated through a discussion of recent scholarship in the history of capitalism in Australia.

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Author details

Flanagan, Frances

Huf, Ben