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This seminar was founded to study the most compelling questions of the day which then related to the war in Southeast Asia, its causes, and consequences. Today the seminar continues to examine vital current issues with an emphasis on their economic, political, and philosophical dimensions. Such issues have included welfare policy, homeless­ness, and strains in multicultural democracies, and violent conflicts within and across nation-states. The underlying nature and structure of the political economy giving rise to these issues are also considered. In this regard, sessions have addressed the extension of democ­racy to economic enterprises, refashioning American government, developments in welfare states, and new principles of income distribution. Theories oriented to deepening democracy and realizing human rights both in the US and abroad are also an ongoing focus.


Professor Carol Gould

Professor Omar Dahbour

Marian Chia

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

11/07/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Mining, Meaning, and Memory: A Political Ecology of Extractivism in Bolivia
Tom Perreault, Syracuse University


Drawing on ethnographic research in the Bolivian Andes, this talk examines the ways mining is memorialised in monuments, murals and public discourse as central to the collective national experience. Memory is similarly important, though less public, for populations impacted by mine-related pollution and their demands for remediation and reparation. Such memory narratives are less important for what they tell us about the former landscapes – which were likely less pristine than reported – than what they tell us about contemporary conditions. The talk considers the potential and limitations of memory as a conceptual tool for envisioning environmentally just futures.

11/21/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:30 PM
Renewing Accumulation? Political Economies and Ecologies of Renewable Energy
James McCarthy, Clark University


A major global shift towards renewable energy is widely seen as an essential, if insufficient, response to the challenges of climate change and transition away from fossil fuels. Soaring investments in, and deployments and institutionalizations of, policies regarding renewable energy raise a host of questions central to political economy and political ecology: Can renewable energy provide a viable basis for the continued expansion of the capitalist economy, and if so, how and at what, and whose, expense? How will growing demands for land for renewable energy production fit into the contemporary land rush, and into deeper histories of the relationships between land, territory, and accumulation under capitalism? Does a major transition to renewable energy have the potential to alter dominant dynamics of the capitalist economy, or is it more likely to reinscribe them while extending the domain of commodification? This talk will explore these questions through analysis of recent examples of renewable energy initiatives from around the world, drawing from both current literature and original research.