Conference: Frontiers of Accumulation

For decades, scholars studying global capitalism often chose “the market” as their central organizing principle and theoretical framework. In the past few years, however, a growing cadre of historians, sociologists, anthropologists and geographers have begun to shift their attention away from “the market” and back towards capital and the social processes through which it is accumulated. In this conference we would like to continue this conversation in an interdisciplinary and global setting.

Rather than focus on exchange, we will take a closer look at investment. Rather than emphasize the circulation of money or trade, we will explore the formation of capital and the amassing of wealth. Rather than seek to unpack processes of commodification, we will try to better understand processes of capitalization and financialization in which various elements of life – be they slaves, nature, culture, nation-states or scientific developments - are transformed not only into exchangeable goods but income-generating assets.

We hope to examine these issues through detailed empirically grounded studies with strong theoretical focus to examine the concrete and the abstract, the material and the ideological edifice of the global frontiers of accumulation. What is more, we are interested in revealing the contingent and contested nature of such processes of capitalization and investment, the role of the state in their development, and the various forms of resistance and unintended consequences that emerge in its wake. Finally, the conference will try and place a special emphasis on the spatial or territorial aspects of capital investment.




Professor Beckert researches and teaches the history of the United States in the nineteenth century, with a particular emphasis on the history of capitalism, including its economic, social, political and transnational dimensions. He just published Empire of Cotton: A Global History, the first global history of the nineteenth century’s most important commodity. The book won the Bancroft Award, The Philip Taft Award, the Cundill Recognition for Excellence and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The New York Times named it one of the ten most important books of 2015. His other publications have focused on the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, on labor, on democracy, on global history and on the connections between slavery and capitalism. Currently he is at work on a history of capitalism. Beckert teaches courses on the political economy of modern capitalism, the history of American capitalism, Gilded Age America, labor history, global capitalism and the history of European capitalism. Together with a group of students he has also worked on the historical connections between Harvard and slavery and published Harvard and Slavery: Seeking a Forgotten History.

Beckert is co-chair of the Program on the Study of Capitalism at Harvard University , and co-chair of the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History (WIGH). Beyond Harvard, he co-chairs an international study group on global history, is co-editor of a series of books at Princeton University Press on “America in the World,” and has co-organized a series of conferences on the history of capitalism. He is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow. He also directs the Harvard College Europe Program.

Date: 14th May 2019

Time: 11.00 – 12.15 

Place: Udvalgsværelse 3, Nørregade 10







May 13

09:30 - 09:45 Welcome
09:45 - 11:00

Keynote 1

Indrani Chatterjee, University of Texas, Austin
Decolonizing “Primary Accumulation” from the histories of the Global South

11:00 - 11:30 Break
11:30 - 13:00

Panel 1: Human Capital

Andrés Dapuez, CONICET, Argentina
Human Capital Accumulations and Reservoirs in the 21st century global economies

Charles Petersen. Harvard University
Capitalizing Humans in Postwar America

Mohammed Tareq Hasan, University of Dhaka
Manufacturing ‘Neoliberal’ Model Citizens in Bangladesh: Inside Stories of a ‘Frontier’ Market

Stephanie Santos. Rice University
Our Best Assets”: Capitalizing on Filipina Women

Panel 2: Hi-Tech Capital

Dana McLachlin. University of Amsterdam
Return on Investment: Class, Gender, and the Politics of Start-Up Culture in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Jai Bhatia, SOAS at University of London
Crime in the Air: Wealth Creation and the System of Accumulation in the Indian Telecommunications Sector

William Stafford. University of California, Berkeley
Space as a Communicative Infrastructure of Accumulation: Plotting Point to-Point Transport With the Meter, the Interface, and the App

Kevin P. Donovan. University of Edinburgh
Capitalizing on Data and Debt in Contemporary Kenya

13:00 - 14:15 Lunch
14:15 - 15:45

Panel 3: Capitalism of Everyday India

Tarini Bedi and Aditi Aggarwal. University of Illinois at Chicago
Dhandha and the Embodied Labors of Kinship and Accumulation in contemporary Mumbai

Janaki Srinivasan. Panjab University
Rights-based Legislations and the Logics of Accumulation: A Study of Social Movements in Contemporary India

Navyug Gill, William Paterson University
Accumulation without Dispossession: Land, Caste and the Rule of Capital in Colonial Panjab

Aditi Saraf. Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München
Financial Superstitions: Credit, corruption and ‘hawala’ in the Indian political discourse

Panel 4: The Culture and Politics of Accumulation

Dara Orenstein. George Washington University
Stock Photography

Lukas Rieppel. Brown University
On the Very Idea of a Permanent Collection

Jakob Rigi, Bergen University
The political economy of luxury, stardom, Marxian law of value and accumulation of capital’’

Lerna K. Yanik. Kidir Has University, Istanbul
Debt, Dispossession and Diplomacy, or; what can a merchant who died in a train accident in 1920 tell us about practices of capital accumulation and wealth creation in modern Turkey?

15:45 - 16:00 Break
16:00 - 17:30

Panel 5: Resistance

Rishi Jha. Lund University
Mumbai’s Lifeline and Pipeline: Narratives of Accumulation,
Dispossession and Resistance

Rama Salla Dieng. University of Edinburgh
The land rush and political economy of new frontiers of accumulation in Northern Senegal (2006-2017)

Henry Kam Kah. University of Buea, Cameroon
Slave Trade, Capital Accumulation and Resistance in Cameroon c. 1600-1850

Lalitha Kamath
Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. “The 'urban sea' as site of accumulation: Fisher resistance against capitalisation of life in Mumbai

Panel 6: Rent, Land and Real-Estate

Faisal Chaudhry. University of Dayton
Property as Rent

Sushmita Pati. Azim Premji University, Bangalore
Anxieties of Belongingness: How Urban Rent Shapes Our Cities

Jesper Willaing Zeuthen & Thomas Skov Lauridsen. Aalborg Universitet
Trading China’s Authority

May 14

09:00 - 10:30

Panel 7: Ecologies of Capital

Tanya Matthan. University of California, Los Angeles
Cultivating Risk: Agricultural Insurance in Central India

Gauri Sanjeev Pathak. Aarhus University
Permeable Selves and Plastic Packaging in India: From Biomoral Substance Exchange to Chemotoxic Transmission

Jordan Howell. Harvard University
Red Earth to Bauxite: How the Caribbean Became a Mineral Frontier, 1944-1952

Arne Harms. Universität Leipzig, Germany
Carbon Orchards: State and market relations at India’s forested frontiers of capital

Panel 8: Debt, Money and Financialization

Marie Kolling, Danish Institute for International Studies
Accumulations of new credit and debt among the urban poor in Brazil

Conrad Jacober. Johns Hopkins University
Bringing the Banks Back In Credit Cards, Consumer Debt, and the Origins of Financialization

Benjamin Braun. Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne
Capital abundance and asset manager capitalism

Andrew Edwards, Oxford University
Empire/Money/Capitalism – Making Money for a Global Eighteenth Century

10:30 - 11:00 Break
11:00 - 12:15

Keynote 2

Sven Beckert, Harvard University
Capitailsm and Violence: A Short History

12:15 - 13:30 Lunch
13:30 - 15:00

Panel 9: Global Commodity Frontiers

Subir Sinha. SOAS
Of Commodities and Frontiers: Looking for ‘Capitalism’ on the Margins of the Indian Colonies

Olisa Godson. University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Colonial Africa and the Worldwide Process of Capital Accumulation

Amit Kumar. University of Delhi
Nature and the sources of Capital in the 20th century Kashmiri textile industry

Serena S. Stein. Princeton University
Failure to Accumulate: Foreign Investors, Land Grabs and ‘Resistance’ on an African Agro-energy Frontier

Panel 10: Capital Cities

Brandon Finn. Harvard University
Extractive African Urbanization: Copperbelt Urbanization and Artisanal Mining in Global Perspective

Aminata Seck. Columbia University
Re-scripting of Tokyo

Meisen Wong, Technische Universitat, Berlin
Future, Interrupted: The Political Economy of
Chinese Ghost Cities

Lisa Bjorkman, Louisville University
Bombay Brokers: urban ethnography in the global

15:00 - 15:30 Break
15:30 - 17:00 The Future of Capitalism’s Past
17:30 - 18:00 Drinks

The conference is part of the Emerging Worlds research program funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research – Humanities. It is located at the University of Copenhagen.

The conference is organized jointly by the Centre of Global South Asian Studies, Dept. of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies and Asian Dynamics Initiative