As part of the lecture series "Global Cotton. One University - one Book - one City" Frank Nullmeier and Dieter Wolf presented their thoughts on what social policy research can learn from Sven Beckert's book "Empire of Cotton".
Based on years of research, historian Beckert tells the story of global capitalism using one product as an example: cotton. Through production, processing and trade, the natural fibre has linked the most diverse regions of the world.
After Dieter Wolf had discussed two of Beckert's key points (1, "The triangular trade between Europe, Africa and Latin America was based on violence and a manifestation of war capitalism" and 2, "The British banned slavery when industrial production based on wage labour became more profitable than the old model"), Frank Nullmeier raised the question of what modern social policy research can learn from Sven Beckert's approach and methodology. Nullmeier named three main points:
1) Transnationality. National historiography is no longer sufficient to explain the dynamics of social policy decisions. Due to the integration into the global economic and financial system, the effects of migration and global communication systems, decisions on social policy no longer result solely from national factors. Social policy research must therefore be expanded into a history of transnational links across continents, similar to Beckert's history of cotton cultivation and trade and its effects.
2) Political economy. Beckert did not see global cotton trade purely as a result of the interplay between supply and demand. It results (to this day) to a considerable extent from the balance of power and violence between the participating countries and empires. The same applies to social policy: the economy as a central influencing factor cannot be adequately explained without the political sphere, including the balance of law, regulations, power and violence.
3) Analysis of causal chains: In his book, Beckert uses many examples to show how an entire cascade of events and reactions to them had many different effects in different places around the world. Social policy research should also pursue such long causal chains and reconstruct complex causal networks in order to understand the emergence and change of social policies.
The lecture series "Global Cotton. One university - one book - one city" runs until the end of the year.
Prof. Dr. Frank Nullmeier
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Phone: +49 421 218-58576