RN Reports – RN06 Critical Political Economy
Angela Wigger, RN06 Coordinator 2017-2019
The Critical Political Economy Research Network (CPERN) and its Activities
The Critical Political Economy Research Network (CPERN) was established as Research Network (RN) 06 at the ESA Biennial Conference in Toruń, Poland in 2005. Ever since CPERN has become a major hub, for interdisciplinary exchange among critical scholars and activists, straddling the disciplines of political economy, sociology, politics and economics, but also reaching out to social geography, social policy, social movement studies and law.
CPERN is committed to reasserting the centrality of critical political economy perspectives, and promoting and facilitating cutting-edge research aimed at understanding (and subverting) recent transformations of capitalist societies. CPERN is a heterodox network in terms of theoretical orientation: whereas the prefix ‘critical’ once has been associated solely with Western Marxism, and in particular the Frankfurt School, the term critical no longer pertains to a single theoretical approach. In addition to a vast variety of (Marxist) historical materialist approaches, critical approaches also subsume feminist, reflexive, postcolonial or post-structuralist studies, and studies committed to a post-positivist epistemology more generally. CPERN is also heterodox in terms of its commitment to emancipatory research. In addition to critiquing existing structures of social inequality, be it alongside class, gender- and race-based forms of oppression within capitalist societies, CPERN seeks to provide a forum for the development and discussion of multiple visions for alternative futures, and to contribute actively to the politicisation and resilience of social struggles within and beyond academia. Last but not least, CPERN is also heterodox in its composition: activists, in addition to scholars and scholar activists, are always welcome to join workshops and conferences organised by CPERN. Moreover, at workshops and conferences CPERN seeks to ensure that panels take into account a gender and academic seniority balance, ruling out ‘All Male Panels’, or panels where PhD students are bundled together or where senior academics enjoy a privileged status.
CPERN consists of a lively community of scholars and activists in Europe and beyond and currently counts nearly 2.500 Facebook members, 1000 followers on Twitter and 1.300 subscribers to its mailing list. CPERN members can use the various social media channels for scholarly exchanges, announcing new articles and books, as well as calls for papers, job openings, PhD positions or research funding opportunities. The CPERN board seeks to keep the mailing list and Facebook postings as non-intrusive as possible by ensuring that social media is exclusively used for and by CPERN members, rather than commercial publishers or conference organisers.
CPERN’s main activities consist of facilitating scholarly and activist exchanges at conferences. Over the past 13 years, CPERN has organised numerous panels and semi-plenaries at the biennial ESA conferences, where both the number of panels and participants has been steadily increasing over time. In addition, CPERN has run well-established biennial workshops, which hitherto have been held in Amsterdam (2006), Oxford (2008), Frankfurt (2011), Barcelona (2012), Vienna (2014) and Ljubljana (2016). CPERN mid-term workshops are never held twice in the same country. Preferably the workshops include collaborations with scholars and institutes from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Southern Europe, in order to branch out to scholars in the periphery who tend to be more isolated and have less financial means to attend workshops and conferences in Europe’s core. The 2018 workshop, entitled “Gender, Race, Class and Ecology in and through Critical Political Economy”, will be held from 1 to 2 June in Lisbon, Portugal, hosted by the Instituto de História Contemporânea (IHC) at the Universidad Nova de Lisboa. The workshops usually last two full days, and attract around 60 to 80 scholars and activists. Whereas in the past, all participants used to attend all the panels and in this way could profit from on an ongoing and coherent discussion, due to the growing popularity of the mid-term workshops, parallel sessions had to be introduced. In order to avoid too much of a conference-style setting, and to maintain the intimacy that can be gained from a workshop format, CPERN also organises a joint dinner to foster a CPERN community spirit and, whenever possible also a public event where CPERN scholars and activists meet with representatives from local movements and groups to discuss pressing issues and enable the unification of theory and practice that takes centre-stage in critical research.
‘Mumble’ at the Critical European Studies Workshop 2014 in Amsterdam
The activities of CPERN also go far beyond the organisational setting of the ESA. For instance, we launched the annual Critical European Studies (CES) Workshops series in 2014. The CES seeks to challenge inconsistencies and blind spots that permeate the field of European Studies, and push the boundaries of the ‘critical’ in theoretical and empirical perspectives on the configuration of European capitalism, the European Union and political resistance. The CES also provides a forum for scholars and activists, and is unique insofar as it avoids the 'usual' conference structure with individual paper presentations. The format is as follows: there are thematic block sessions which each table a core text that all participants will have read beforehand. After a brief introduction, about six participants discuss the tabled paper from the angle of their own research/activism, followed by a ‘mumble’ – a technique borrowed from the Occupy Movement where all participants share their ideas in small groups. After the mumble the floor is opened for a plenary discussion and collective knowledge building. The CES Workshops hitherto have taken place in Amsterdam (2014), Barcelona (2015), London (2016), Frankfurt (2017), while the 2018 CES Workshop will be held in May in Budapest. The CES Workshops have in the meantime culminated in a collaborative effort by multiple organisations. In addition to different local organisers the CES involves the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in Berlin, Transform! Europe, the German Arbeitskreis für kritische Europaforschung (AkE), which forms part of the German Assoziation für kritische Gesellschaftsforschung (AkG) and the International Political Economy Group (IPEG) of the British International Studies Association (BISA).
In 2017 CPERN co-organised the Annual Conference in Political Economy together with the International Initiative for Political Economy (IIPPE) and the Berlin Institute for International Political Economy (IPE) in Berlin.
CPERN thrives through its active and inspiring community of scholars and activists, collaborations with other organisations and welcomes future cooperation with other ESA Research Networks.