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Capitalism and the Public Good - SPS00006I

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  • Department: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Kevin Farnsworth
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Module summary

Capitalism takes many forms, but in each variety, there is ongoing debate about the proper role of the state versus the market. This debate often gets reduced to crude assumptions: markets are efficient, governments are inefficient; citizens need the (welfare) state, private businesses need to be left alone. The reality is more complex than this. Different forms of capitalism satisfy and balance the needs of citizens in different ways and to different extents. This module asks “which variety of capitalism does best in meeting the public good?”.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2021-22 to Summer Term 2021-22

Module aims

In this interdisciplinary module, students will draw on the broad on politics, sociology and social policy to acquire knowledge and understanding about different forms of capitalism and the way in which the needs and interests of different groups are met (or left unmet). In term one we will explore, theoretically and empirically, the impact of work, welfare, production and consumption on people and the economy. In Term Two students will investigate, in an extended essay, one or more themes or issues raised in Term One. They will propose an area for further study and will carry out an independent study of this area under the guidance of an allocated supervisor.


The aims of this module are to:

  • Develop knowledge and awareness of different varieties of capitalism
  • Evaluate the ways in which different types of capitalism balance economy and society and the competing needs of busines and citizens
  • Develop and apply developing research skills through analysis of a specific issue or topic of interest to the student
  • Foster a interdisciplinary approach to address pressing questions confronting capitalist nations today
  • Encourage independent learning and the pursuit of knowledge and presentation of ideas and data to answer specific social science questions

Module learning outcomes

At the end of this module students will be able to: 

  • Utilise appropriately key concepts and tools of analysis to aid understanding of the business-society nexus, including but not limited to: power; alienation; exploitation; efficiency; commodification and decommodification; production regime.

  • Critically reflect on what contemporary capitalism is, how it operates, and alternative methods of organising the economy

  • Understand the ways in which social, political, economic and institutional interests shape the conceptualisation of human and business needs

  • Critical awareness of how corporate behaviour impacts on citizens as workers and consumers, as well as on local communities, public services and political institutions

  • Understand and critically analyse the role and function of the welfare state for different parts of society and the economy

  • Work independently to investigate, analyse and articulate solutions to social problems

  • Communicate knowledge and ideas effectively using a range of written presentation techniques



Module content

Indicative Content


Semester 1: Theories and Issues (delivered through weekly lectures/seminars)

What is capitalism?

Varieties of capitalism

What is meant by ‘public good’?

Whose benefit? Social and corporate welfare.

The needs of citizens versus the needs of capital

Welfare in work and welfare to work

Anti-social policy

Investors or predators? TNCs and footloose capital

Big business and poor peoples: looking at the Global South

Giving and taking: corporate social responsibility, philanthropy and taxation

Have we reached peak capitalism?


Semester 2: Extended essay

Topic is introduced and discussed over first 3 weeks (1 hour lectures and seminars).

Following the introductory lecture, students will undertake an extended essay in a topic of their choice. One-to-one supervision of 3 hours will be provided. 



Task Length % of module mark
Coursework - extensions not feasible/practicable
Portfolio: Five Critical Summaries
N/A 40
Independent enquiry project
N/A 60

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work is embedded in the small group teaching where students actively discuss and reflect on their completed summaries, giving and receiving peer and tutor feedback.

The Term 1 Portfolio is made up of short summaries/reflections based on allocated readings (assigned each week). This is worth 40% of the final mark.

The summaries will be submitted and assessed throughout the term in order to provide regular and useful summative feedback. Students will be asked to submit up to 9 summaries in total per term. They must submit a minimum of 5.

The overall mark for the portfolio will be calculated as an average of the highest five marks. Non-submissions will be awarded a mark of zero. 

Because the summaries will inform the discussion in the seminars, and because feedback from that week's summary will be provided by the tutor, all summaries have to be completed in advance of the relevant seminar. To ensure equity and to prevent unfair advantage to any students, extensions to deadlines thus cannot be granted. However, there will be five recovery opportunities built into the assessment to enable students to achieve the required minimum number of submissions.     

Students who fail to achieve a passing mark for the module as a whole would have to complete an alternative assessed piece of work (a replacement essay as set out below). In all instances, students are able to apply to the relevant Departmental ECC if their circumstances warrant it.  

The Extended Essay will be based on a topic that will be agreed with the allocated supervisor. Regular informal feedback will be offered on the project, method of enquiry, and writing. Supervisors will be able to comment on short drafts, up to 1/5th of the esay (1000 words).    


Task Length % of module mark
Coursework - extensions not feasible/practicable
Portfolio: Five Critical Summaries
N/A 40
Independent enquiry project
N/A 60

Module feedback

Feedback will be provided on summaries via Turnitin Grademark.

For other components, feedback will be provided to students using a standard marking and feedback matrix.

All work will be returned within the University Turnaround Time policy (although feedback on the summaries will usually be speedier in order to increase learning opportunities, especially in term 1). 

Generic feedback is also provided in the weekly classes. Students are also given the opportunity to discuss assessment performance through arrangements for academic supervision.

Indicative reading

Farnsworth, K. (2012). Social versus Corporate Welfare: Competing Needs and Interests within the Welfare State. London, Palgrave.

Fooks G, G. A., Collin J, Holden C, Lee K. (2013). "The Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility: Techniques of Neutralization, Stakeholder Management and Political CSR." Journal of Business Ethics Jan(112(2)): 283-299.

Gough, I. (2000). Global Capital, Human Needs and Social Policies. Basingstoke, Palgrave.

Streeck, W. (2017). How Will Capitalism End? London, Verso.

Hall, P. A. and D. Soskice, Eds. (2001). Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Hills, J. 2014. Good Times, Bad Times: The Welfare Myth of Them and Us. Bristol: Policy Press    

Madely, J. (2006). Big Business, Poor Peoples: The Impact of Transnational Corporations on the World's Poor. Second Edition. London, Zed Books.

Squires, P. (1990). Anti-Social Policy. Welfare, Ideology and the Disciplinary State. London, Harvester Wheatsheaf.


The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.