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Diversify and decolonise your holiday reading list

Hunker down this winter with the D-Econ alternative economics reading list.

Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven Devika Dutt Surbhi Kesar
20 December 2019, 2.07pm
Image: congerdesign, CC by 2.0

This article is part of ourEconomy's 'Decolonising the economy' series.

As this year draws to a close, we take stock of the best books of the winter 2019. While mainstream economics publications (e.g. see the FT list or The Economist’s list) have been celebrating a very narrow range of authors and subjects (mostly white men based in the US and the UK, writing within mainstream economics), the Diversifying and decolonising economics initiative has put together a more diverse list in terms of background, training, and perspective.

This Alternative Economics list includes authors from across the world, with more varied backgrounds - and writing about more wide-ranging topics from a broader variety of perspectives. Our alternative list also reflects our belief that issues such as structural sexism, imperialism, and the politics of knowledge production are central to understanding economics.

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Due to institutional and language barriers we were unable to include as many scholars from the Global South as we would have liked. For example, we would love to read the new book L’Arme Invisible de la Françafrique by Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla on the how the CFA Franc continues to constrain the social, political and economic prospects of its member states, but we are still waiting for the English translation.

Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent
Priyamvada Gopal | 2019, Verso


The apologists of empire, akin to the now infamous article in Third World Quarterly making the case for colonialism, still uphold the benefits of imperialism in bringing ideas of modernity and enlightenment to their colonies. However, in this important new book, Priyamvada Gopal presents accounts of rebellions against British imperialism over a century and shows how the legacy of this dissent shaped the ideas that formed the resistance to empire in Britain. In general, this account allows us to rethink how we study contemporary processes of development, and how they are shaped by the legal origin of its institutions and the type of colonialism it was subject to. By contrast, institutions in former colonies may be shaped a lot more by ideas of freedom and self-sufficiency that developed as a resistance to empire. This is not the focus of the book, but an important connection that perhaps readers should make. Read more.

Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of Music
Gerald Horne | 2019, Monthly Review Press

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This book brings political economy and studies of racism and music together in a refreshing and insightful way. Through examining archives, oral history interviews, and secondary literature, Gerald Horne demonstrates how jazz flourished historically, despite rampant cultural exploitation. Horne also reconstructs the resistance of Black musicians to structural racism as it manifested itself in the entertainment industry. Particular attention is played to women artists such as Mary Lou Williams and Melba Liston, including how they dealt with the challenges of racism, sexism, and class exploitation. This book is an important contribution to our understanding of how racial capitalism shaped American music, and demonstrates how economics as a discipline can engage with the intersection of political economy, structural discrimination, and culture. Read more.

The Knowledge Economy
Roberto Mangabeira Unger | 2019, Verso


This book is an important and much-needed account of the historical, political and economic foundations of what has come to be known as the “knowledge economy”. Roberto Mangabeira Unger, who is a Brazilian philosopher and law professor, provides an interdisciplinary account of the shifts in economic structure since the industrial revolution, drawing on Adam Smith and Karl Marx’s understanding that the best way to make sense of an economy is to study the most advanced practices of production in that economy. Unger argues that the confinement of the knowledge economy to insular vanguards has become a driver of economic stagnation and inequality throughout the world, and that the shape of contemporary politics on both the left and the right reflects a failure to come to terms with this dilemma. Finally, Unger proposes the way to a knowledge economy for the many, which involves changes not just in economic institutions but also in education, culture, and politics. Read more.

The Afterlife of Reproductive Slavery: Biocapitalism and Black Feminism’s Philosophy of History
Alys Eve Weinbaum | 2019, Duke University Press

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This book investigates the continuing resonances of Atlantic slavery in the cultures and politics of human reproduction that characterize contemporary biocapitalism. Alys Eve Weinbaum outlines biocapitalism as a form of racial capitalism that relies on the commodification of the human reproductive body, which is dependent upon what Weinbaum calls the slave episteme. In addition to laying out how to conceptually think of this system, Weinbaum also demonstrates how slave epistemes shape the practice of reproduction today, for example through the use of biotechnology and surrogacy. Interestingly, Weinbaum also links her analysis to black feminist contributions from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, which she argues provide the means through which to understand how reproductive slavery haunts the present. Read more.

Decolonisation in Universities - The Politics of Knowledge
Jonathan D. Jansen (editor) | 2019, Wits University Press

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This is a very timely and interesting edited volume that brings together some of the most innovative thinking on decolonization of the curriculum and the university, with a focus on the African context, and South Africa in particular. Among the questions that are tackled in this volume are: is decolonisation simply a slogan for addressing other pressing concerns on campuses and in society? What is the colonial legacy with respect to curricula and can it be undone? How is the project of curricula decolonisation similar to or different from the quest for post-colonial knowledge, indigenous knowledge or a critical theory of knowledge? What does decolonisation mean in a digital age where relationships between knowledge and power are shifting? The editor of the book, Johnathan D. Jansen has brought together conceptual analyses with case studies from South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, and Mauritius. Read more.

Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto
by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser | 2019, Verso Books

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In this book, the authors, Cinzia Aruzza, Tithi Bhattcahrya, and Nancy Fraser, move away from the myopic view of feminism for a select few to focus on a universal idea of feminism. In their argument, the authors reposition capitalism as a central aspect for gender oppression, and argue that a global feminist movement needs to extend to an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, eco-socialist struggle. The book focuses on the revolutionary potential of feminist movements across the world and the challenge they pose to capitalism as a system. The focus of this ‘manifesto’ on ‘praxis’ makes it a much-needed and timely piece. Read more.

Value Chains: The New Economic Imperialism
by Intan Suwandi | 2019, Monthly Review Press


In this book, the author, Intan Suwandi, engages with the question of imperialism through the specific channel of Global Value Chains. Using a detailed empirical analysis and a set of case studies, the author explores the issue of unequal exchange between Global South and Global North and how value is transferred from the labour of the South to the capitalists of the North as well as to those in the South. Through this analysis, the book explores a new form of imperialism that manifests itself specifically through a transfer of value via Global Value Chains. Read more.

‘Capital' in the East: Reflections on Marx
Edited by Achin Chakraborty, Anjan Chakrabarti, Byasdeb Dasgupta, Samita Sen | 2019, Springer

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This edited volume presents a collection of articles that engage with various concepts from Marx’s Capital and Marxian theory in general, from a ‘Southern’ perspective. The book engages with four specific themes: “Reception of Capital in the East; Value, Commodity, Surplus Value and Capitalism; Population and Rent in Capital; and Issues Beyond Capital”. By analysing these concepts from the lens of the developing world in the current context, the collection attempts to present a non-Western / decolonised understanding of various ideas in Marxian theory, thereby making it more relevant for understanding contemporary processes in the developing economies. Read more.

Stolen: How to Save the World From Financialisation
Grace Blakely| 2019, Penguin-Random House


In this book, Blakely tells us a story of the class nature of capitalism, in which she centers the role of the financial sector and its rapid growth. She argues that the financial sector has played a role that stabilized neoliberal capitalism, and then destabilized it in 2008, in ways that are easily accessible to readers. This financial capitalism and the structures that allow it to thrive ensured that the recovery from the 2007-08 financial crisis only benefited the top 1%, with stagnating wages and productivity in all other sectors languishing. At the same time, she argues that financial capitalism has exacerbated problems such as climate change, and has not allowed resources to be used to address these urgent, potentially catastrophic, issues. In this book, Blakely also outlines a positive agenda out of this mess, and issues a call-to-arms to build a new democratic socialism towards this end. Read more.

The Cultural Economy of Land - Rural Bengal, Circa 1860-1940
Suhita Sinha Roy | 2019, Tulika Books

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This book provides important insights into agrarian history and the economic and cultural meanings associated with land. Suhita Sinha Roy, who taught at various institutions in India, demonstrates how land acquires various dimensions beyond property, tenure, revenue, and inheritance, if maps are connected with knowledge systems; land productivity with food habits, gender relations, and patterns of migration; landscapes with modes of irrigation and railroad construction; cropping patterns with festivals; village territoriality with social relations of power. By making these connections, Roy brings out a multilayered pattern of rural life-worlds by tracing on the one hand, major social and political changes, and, on the other hand, the everyday life of Birbhum district at a specific historical juncture. Read more.

This Alternative list was compiled by Devika Dutt, Surbhi Kesar and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven on behalf of Diversifying and Decolonising Economics (D-Econ). All the authors are part of the D-Econ Steering Group. For Economics books published in the first half of the year, see our Alternative Economics Summer Reading List for 2019.

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