Conference Report: The ‘Critical’ in Critical Political Economy

The conference entitled “The ‘Critical’ in Critical Political Economy” was organized by the Critical Political Economy Research Network (CPERN) of the European Sociological Association and took place in Barcelona at the University Pompeu Fabra on 21 and 22 September 2012. transform! europe was invited to the conference.

The CPERN aims at promoting critical and emancipatory scholarship in order to facilitate understanding of the recent transformation of capitalism and capitalist societies. With a non-restrictive focus on Europe it is a hub of interdisciplinary exchange between sociology, politics, economics, geography and the law. It relies on a prestigious advisory board of critical scholars and is chaired by Ian Bruff (Lougbrough University) and Laura Horn (Roskilde University, Denmark). It was its secretary, Mònica Clua-Losada, who kindly hosted the conference in Barcelona at the Pompeu Fabra University, with the critical support of the key-note speaker of the conference, Vicenç Navarro, one of the most outstanding critical intellectuals of the country.

The conference took place under the impact of the huge recent mobilisations in Barcelona against the crisis and with a nationalistic wave which brought together independentists from the Right and the Left to take the streets. transform! europe was asked to present its Akademia project which aims to propose different ways in which researchers from all Europe can interact and work together through a collaborative on-line platform.

The overall impression was one of extremely serious work done by the presenters who were a wise mix of young scholars and doctoral researchers from European universities. This ensured that there was a high level of debate with relevant research being carried out in topics which are of central interest for the working programme of transform! europe, in particular European public policies, not just economic policies but also on the fields of higher education and health (session 3). The scope of the approaches was very comprehensive ranging from a variety of critiques of political economy (session 1) to legal studies (session 5), social analysis (session 6) and event history and theory (session 8).

The discussion was frank, constructive and to the point so that doctoral and collective research projects received insights and proposals for improving or changing their on-going designs. In this sense, the network fulfilled its fundamental task of articulating critical research from individual or collective projects in order to make them relevant to understanding fundamental questions on critical theory(ies) and practice(s). If the general atmosphere was one of “sine ira et cum studio” (except perhaps when talking about neo-Gramscian theories), the temperature rose by several degrees when Vicenç Navarro delivered a lecture which put forward the fundamental need of critical thought, in particular class analysis, so that people are able to understand not just the crisis in Europe and Spain but also to find alternatives. Coming from a senior scholar like him, who was a professor in exile in several European countries and the US, the lecture gave an excellent example of “transmission of the fire” to other generations. This was important because, as he pointed out, all those present were perfectly aware of the difficulties for critical researchers to find institutional spaces in the increasingly competitive and conformist places the universities are becoming in their new role of factories of the knowledge-based economy. In this sense, also, the network carried out its mission of enhancing mutual knowledge and solidarity between critical scholars from all parts of Europe which were represented there (Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Ireland) even when there was a clear majority of scholars coming from English-speaking countries, or based in the UK.

As there is not yet Transform! UK, it may be interesting to associate critical scholars from this network through the new Akademia project encouraging those scholars ready to join the network to make available their work and possibly its practical implications for transform!’s programmes and projects. Indeed, this is a challenge for both sides: for transform! to maintain an eye on what “basic researchers” in universities are doing while at the same time making sure that they are integrating their own strategic analysis and policy-recommendations to social movements and political quarters.

The programme of this conference (also available on the right) and the future development of this network, can be consulted at: