Alami, I., Babić, M., Dixon, A.D., Liu, I. (2022) Special issue introduction: what is the new state capitalism? Contemporary Politics

This article introduces and lays the groundwork for this Contemporary Politics special issue on the ‘new’ state capitalism. We start by noting that the rubric state capitalism tends to elicit paradoxical responses, from uncritically embracing the term and overstretching its realms of application, to rejecting its validity altogether. We argue that the source of such ambivalence resides in issues of conceptual definition, which have led to a number of analytical impasses. We propose instead to construe state capitalism as a set of critical interrogations concerning the changing role of the state, thereby introducing a degree of plasticity in the use of the category. We call this the problématique of state capitalism. We subsequently identify three major themes that are explored in this dedicated issue, and that warrant further research in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, namely (1) its class underpinnings, (2) its global nature, and (3) its relational character.


Babić, M. (2021) State capital in a geoeconomic world: mapping state-led foreign investment in the global political economy. Review of International Political Economy.

What are the consequences of the rise of foreign state-led investment for international politics? Existing research oscillates between a ‘geopolitical’ and a ‘commercial’ logic driving this type of investment and remains inconclusive about its wider international reverberations. In this paper, I suggest going beyond this dichotomy by analyzing its systemic consequences. To do so, I conceptually delineate a geoeconomic approach that emphasizes the globalized nature of foreign state investment. I argue that foreign state investment creates system-level patterns, which can be studied by observing similar sectoral and geographic investment behavior. I map this phenomenon globally for the first time, drawing on the largest dataset on foreign state investment. Empirically, I show how foreign state investment is highly concentrated in Europe, North America and East Asia, and is owned by a handful of dominant states. It is especially European geo-industrial clusters that represent the hotspots of such concentration. The findings also suggest that three global industries – energy production, high-tech manufacturing, and transportation and logistics – form the key areas for current and future state-led investment concentration. With these contributions, the paper illuminates the increasing presence of states as owners in the global political economy, and facilitates its study as a geoeconomic phenomenon.
Increasing Chinese investment has raised the spectre of strategic state influence in Europe, yet the transformative potential of state capital as a global phenomenon remains under-explored. This article sheds light on the dual imperatives of transnationalizing state capital wherein the movement of capital entails both profit maximization and the extra-profit interests of the state. State-capitalist entities such as sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) are both market-facing and politically driven, disrupting ideological norms surrounding the strictly safe-keeper role of the state in private capital accumulation. The authors draw on the case of the China Investment Corporation, China’s premier SWF, to argue that the transnationalization of state capital is a process deeply embedded in the liberal international order, and that it signals the metamorphosis of global capitalism in palimpsest-like ways. The global financial professions, namely investment banking, corporate law and management consulting along with other advisory services, have legitimated state capital by normalizing its political origins through technocratic, expert-driven practice to the effect that it is treated as no different from private capital in global capital networks. The article identifies three logics of practice by which professionals legitimate state capital: adoption, alliance and recreation of financial practices that have facilitated the embeddedness of state capital in global markets.

Alami, I., and Dixon, A.D. (2021) Uneven and combined state capitalism. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space.

This article contributes to the development of state capitalism as a reflexively critical project focusing on the morphology of present-day capitalism, and particularly on the changing role of the state. We bring analytical clarity to state capitalism studies by offering a rigorous definition of its object of investigation, and by demonstrating how the category state capitalism can be productively construed as a means of problematising the current aggregate expansion of the state’s role as promoter, supervisor and owner of capital across the world economy. Noting some of the geographical shortcomings of the field, we outline an alternative research agenda ‘uneven and combined state capitalist development’ which aims at spatialising the study of state capitalism and revitalising systemic explanations of the phenomenon. Rather than the negation of an abstract model of free-market capitalism, or the rise of a nationally scaled variant of capitalism, we posit contemporary state capitalism as a global process of restructuring of the capitalist state (including in its liberal form) underpinned by secular transformations in the materiality of surplus-value production, such as the consolidation of new international divisions of labour driven by automation and labour-saving technologies. The political mediation of these transformations results in the combined expansion of state-capital hybrids and of muscular forms of statism, which develop in inter-referential and cumulative forms across territory, producing further state capitalist modalities. This is a particularly potent dynamic in contemporary state capitalism, and its tendency to develop in a spiral that both shapes and is shaped by world capitalist development.

Ilias Alami, Adam D Dixon, Ruben Gonzalez-Vicente, Milan Babic, Seung-Ook Lee, Ingrid A. Medby & Nana de Graaff (2021) Geopolitics and the ‘New’ State Capitalism, Geopolitics.

We may be witnessing the emergence of a new ‘state capitalist’ normal, a term this Forum proposes to problematise in its geopolitical dimensions. The growing prevalence of state-sponsored entities (encompassing state enterprises, policy banks, and sovereign wealth funds) as leading vehicles of economic activity is a defining feature of our times. This reassertion of state authority is altering configurations of state and corporate power across the world economy while generating a multiplicity of geopolitical tensions. This Forum reflects upon what it means, theoretically, methodologically, and politically, to articulate a geopolitics of contemporary state capitalism. It brings together interventions which draw on various theoretical approaches, including critical political geography, historical materialism, geographical political economy, and power structure research, in order to probe into the multiple spatialities at the core of contemporary state capitalism. The contributions aim to destabilise the assumptions and taken-for-granted ideas which have largely framed the debate thus far, including problematic binaries such as liberal/illiberal, state/market, commercial/geopolitical logics, and realist narratives of interstate power-maximising behaviour. Studying the (geo)political re-organisation of global capitalism requires moving beyond the castigation of a ‘rogue’ state capitalism as well as narratives of a clash between rival political-economic models, and disassembling the category state capitalism.

Babić, M. (2021) The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Crisis of the Liberal International Order: Geopolitical Fissures and Pathways to Change. Global Perspectives 2(1), 24051. [Link to file]

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerates and exacerbates many preexisting tendencies in the global political economy. Consequently, the crisis of the liberal international order (LIO), which has been ongoing for several years, is also being affected by the pandemic. These effects are, however, not uniform: some aspects of the crisis of the LIO, as a multidimensional phenomenon, are under more pressure than others. In this article, I detail these varied effects with a specific focus on questions of geopolitics and hegemonic change. I argue that especially the societal level, where socioeconomic distortions and popular discontent are long-existing drivers of crisis, will be severely hit by the social and economic fallout of the pandemic. I conclude by suggesting a set of hypotheses regarding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the crisis of the LIO that can be tested once more data becomes available.

Alami, I., Dixon, A.D., E. Mawdsley (2021) State Capitalism and the New Global D/development RegimeAntipode

Official discourses of Development are being redefined. If the key geopolitical contexts shaping the post‐war Development project were decolonisation and the Cold War, the defining world‐historical transformations shaping the emerging vision of Development are the expansion of state capitalism and the rise of China. The IMF, the World Bank, the OECD, the G20, other multilaterals, and bilateral partners are increasingly taking stock of the rise of state capitalism, and acting as ideational vectors of this emerging regime. However, this new “state capitalist normal” is also portrayed as carrying risks. There is anxiety regarding the direction the political form of global capital accumulation is heading: with the unchecked proliferation of state capitalism possibly blunting competition, politicising economic relations, and intensifying geoeconomic tensions. This anxiety underwrites the current re‐articulation of Development, one which embraces the state as promoter, supervisor, and owner of capital; even as it critiques China’s use of similar instruments.

Dixon, A.D., (2020) The Strategic Logics of State Investment Funds in Asia: Beyond FinancialisationJournal of Contemporary Asia.

Financialisation presents a constraint on state power. It also offers opportunities. State-led development, with the Asian experience at the forefront, is increasingly operationalised through different forms of state investment funds. Some of these funds have a strategic development mandate underwritten by a shareholder-value logic. While financialisation as a concept gives meaning to the embrace of the shareholder value model to explain the convergence of sovereign funds with operational practices and guiding norms of conventional financial market actors, it is insufficient in explaining how and why state investment funds differ from conventional financial actors and the underlying political dynamics that drive their emergence and evolution. To address this gap, this article advances three strategic logics: a developmental logic, a logic of regime maintenance, and a geo-political legitimacy logic. Reference to these logics provides a more nuanced understanding of state financialisation, avoiding a potentially narrow reading presented by the convergence dynamics inherent in the adoption of conventional financial practices. As such, this article contributes to emerging debates in political economy on the employment of financial logics in the pursuit of economic and political statecraft. The argument is developed empirically through an analysis of strategic investment funds in Singapore, Malaysia and Kazakhstan.

Alami, I. and Dixon, A.D., (2020) The strange geographies of the ‘new’ state capitalismPolitical Geography.

The recent polymorphism of state intervention and attendant political geographies have been interpreted as a return of state capitalism. While commentators across the social sciences have offered competing characterizations of the new state capitalism, little attention has been dedicated to how narratives and geographical imaginaries of the new state capitalism operate as a form of geopolitical knowledge and practice. Drawing upon critical geopolitics, we make three main arguments. First, we examine the context of wider geopolitical and geo-economic shifts in which the social construction of the geo-category has happened. We contend that the emerging new spatiality of the global economy has prompted the need for new discursive frames and geopolitical lines of reasoning. Second, we argue that this need is fulfilled by the geo-category state capitalism, which acts as a powerful tool in categorizing and hierarchizing the spaces of world politics. It does so by reinstituting a simple narrative of competition between two easily identifiable protagonists – (Western) democratic free-market capitalism and its deviant ‘other’, (Eastern) authoritarian state capitalism – and by reactivating older geopolitical grand narratives. Third, the geo-category state capitalism discursively enables Western business and state actors to justify tougher policy stances in three areas: foreign policy; trade, technology, and investment regulation; and international development.

Alami, I. and Dixon, A.D., (2020) State capitalism(s) redux? Theories, tensions, controversies, Competition & Change, 24(1), 70-94.

This article interrogates the notion of state capitalism, exploring the contributions and limits of the concept as a means of theorizing the more visible role of the state across the world capitalist economy. We critically synthesize the key arguments, outlining commonly cited properties and practices of state capitalism, in three bodies of literature: strategic management, comparative capitalism and global political economy. We find that the term not only lacks a unified definition, but actually refers to an extremely wide array of policy instruments, strategic objectives, institutional forms and networks, that involve the state to different degrees. For this proliferation of competing usages to be productive and not lead to analytical impasses, we argue that there is a need for a heightened level of reflexive scrutiny of state capitalism as a category of analysis. In that spirit, we identify three issues that the literature must further grapple with for the term to be analytically meaningful, that is, capable of rendering (state)capitalist diversity amenable to analysis and critique: (1) the ‘missing link’ of a theory of the capitalist state, (2) the time horizons of state capitalism, or the question of ‘periodization’, (3) territorial considerations or the question of ‘locating’ state capitalism.