Varieties of Socialism Working Group

Our working group aims to explore the ways in which political economies have been organized in societies that self-identified as “socialist”, and to analyse their historically specific mechanisms of production, exchange, and distribution. We try to develop “varieties of socialism” as an analytical framework that allows systematic comparisons between contexts as different as those of Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Angola, Cuba, Venezuela, China, Vietnam, Mongolia, and East-Central Europe. We are also interested in socialist projects that succeeded for a while at regional level within countries, especially in the tensions between national and local politics. We propose to analyse these contexts as historically specific regimes of accumulation and developmental projects, which were, at the same time, internally coherent and contradictory, just like “varieties of capitalism”. In the process, we intend to unpack and fully historicize political and epistemological categories like “the plan” and “the market”, which have been for too long taken for granted in many disciplinary arenas.  

This working group aims to critically engage with a wide range of topics linked to socio-economic transformations in socialist societies, including (but not limited to):

  • Planning mechanisms in socialist economies: planning ideologies and practices; material balances and monetary expressions; financialization; investment and banking; historical turning points in centrally-planned systems; theories of value; systemic contradictions of centrally-planned economies; centralization/ decentralization tensions; and knowledge production and allocation principles . 
  • (Longue-durée) backwardness and ‘catching-up’ efforts in socialist countries: models of growth; forms of primitive socialist accumulation; developmental logics; uneven and combined development; and articulations of capitalism with precapitalist modes of production. 
  • Industrial development: industrialization programmes in socialist countries; industrial regions; transformations in the labour process; shopfloor hierarchies and technocratic knowledge; workplace routines, rhythms, and cultures.
  • Agrarian change: tenure reform, collectivization, land (re)distribution, and land expropriation; the everyday functioning of collective, state farms, and cooperatives; taxation; urban/rural relations.  
  • Work and labour under socialist regimes: labour relations in the countryside; forms of exploitation in state socialism; work, labour, and the sphere of social reproduction. 
  • Class relations in state socialism: state as capital and manager; class as political and epistemic categories; class, gender, race, and ethnicity in socialism; class in urban and rural contexts; relations between peasants, petty-commodity producers, and proletarians. 
  • Entanglements with the capitalist world: economic relations between socialist and capitalist countries; trade on the world market; socialist economic agreements and blocs; competition, cooperation, and disruption.  

The group functions as a forum for social science and humanities scholars, whose work systematically engages with the conceptual apparatus and real-world concerns of political economy. We meet online monthly to share ideas, compile bibliographies, read, discuss work in progress, and receive feedback from their peers. We welcome suggestions for joint publications and research collaborations from members. In addition to taking part in the IIPPPE annual conference, we work towards organizing additional events and initiating panels at other conferences as part of the effort to promote political economy in our own disciplines.

To join the group and/or submit a proposal, please contact the working group coordinator: Alina-Sandra Cucu


Alina-Sandra Cucu

Fellow, Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Berlin


Alina is an interdisciplinary scholar in the field of global labour studies, focusing on Eastern and Central Europe, especially Romania. Her first book, Planning labour: Time and the foundations of industrial socialism in Romania, was published in 2019 and received the 2020 ASEEES Ed A. Hewett Book Prize for Outstanding Publication on the Political Economy of Russia, Eurasia, and/or Eastern Europe: Honourable Mention. Her latest publications include “Socialist accumulation and its “primitives” in Romania”“Going West: Socialist flexibility in the long 1970s”, and “Why hegemony was not born in the factory: Sciences of labour and politics of productivity from a Gramscian angle”

Luisa Steur

Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam


Luisa is Associate Professor at the Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam. She is also Lead Editor of Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology. She published the monograph “Indigenist Mobilization: Confronting Electoral Communism and Precarious Livelihoods in Post-reform Kerala” in 2017 with Berghahn Books. Her current research compares the changing everyday lives, economic dependencies, and political imaginings of ordinary workers in the South Indian state of Kerala (known for its living history of Communist political mobilisation and planning) with those of ordinary workers in post-Soviet Cuba. 

Aaron Kappeler

Department of Social Anthropology and International Development Programme, University of Edinburgh


Aaron Kappeler is Lecturer in Anthropology of Development and Admissions Director for the PhD in International Development at the University of Edinburgh. His work focuses on resource politics, energy, food, agriculture, and environmental struggles in Latin America. For the past fifteen years, he has carried out fieldwork in state enterprises and cooperatives in Venezuela. His latest project explores socialist calculation and social profit mechanisms in Venezuelan industry. Before joining the University of Edinburgh, he was Visiting Assistant Professor at Union College, Postdoctoral Fellow in the IAS at Central European University, and Instructor in Anthropology at the University of Toronto.

Goran Musić

The University of Vienna


Goran Musić is a social historian of labor in East-Central and Southeast Europe. He has researched, published, and taught on theoretical and methodological aspects of global labour history, 20th Century revolutions, social transformations in (post)socialism, workplace democracy, global value chains and East-South exchanges during the Cold War.  He is the author of Making and Breaking the Yugoslav Working Class: A Story of Two Self-Managed Factories (CEU Press) and is now leading the research project Sewing the Periphery Together: European Textile Production Subcontracting and the Transformation of Labor in the Balkans and Maghreb, which deals with the origins of outward processing production schemes in the textile industries, asking how have transformations of production processes in Western Europe influenced development polices, labor relations and gender roles among workers on its Eastern and Southern periphery.