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Capitalism and the Public Good - SPY00043I

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  • Department: Social Policy and Social Work
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Kevin Farnsworth
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

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. But the reality is more complex than this.

In reality, governments and corporations harm as well as contribute to the public good; and private businesses depend on governments as much as citizens do. Studying this module, you will interrogate the basis of many of these assumptions and realities and explore the ways in which different forms of capitalism satisfy and balance the needs of businesses and citizens in different ways with a range of outcomes. Considering all of these factors you will develop answers to the question of whether, how and how far capitalism contributes to the public good.


The aims of this module are to:

  • Interrogate capitalism as an evolutionary and socially constructed economic system for organising the economy, political and social life

  • Evaluate the ways in which different types of capitalism might balance economic and social needs and, in particular, the competing needs of business and citizens

  • Foster a interdisciplinary approach to address pressing questions confronting capitalist nations today

  • Investigate the core structures and interests that shape contemporary capitalism

  • Examine the various methods of mitigating corporate harm from regulations to corporate social responsibility

  • Encourage independent learning and the pursuit of knowledge and presentation of ideas and data to answer specific social science questions

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • Utilise a range of concepts and theories in the analysis and examination of capitalism and contemporary capitalisms

  • Understand the ways in which social, political, economic and institutional interests shape the needs of people and businesses

  • Utilise appropriate 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 regimes and corporate social responsibility; and notions of the public good.

  • Draw on theories and empirical research relating to the the impact of markets and corporate behaviour 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 public and social policies in increasing or reducing corporate harm

Indicative assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay : Policy brief
N/A 50
Portfolio of critical summaries
N/A 50

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

The portfolio of critical summaries is five x 400 word summaries based on any five weeks throughout the module. For this work, students should summarise the readings and reflect on the discussions in class. Students should address the question set for that week of the class and should submit all of the summaries as one submission at the end of the module.

Indicative reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
N/A 50
Essay : Policy brief reassessment
N/A 50

Module feedback

Feedback will be given in accordance with the University Policy on feedback in the Guide to Assessment as well as in line with the School policy.

Indicative reading

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

Fraser, N. (2022) Cannibal Capitalism, How Our System Is Devouring Democracy, Care, and the Planet—and What We Can Do About It, London, Verso

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 constantly explores 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. In some instances it may be appropriate for the University to notify and consult with affected students about module changes in accordance with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.