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War Economies Roundtable: Introduction

[By Alfred T. Palmer, courtesy of Creative Commons] [By Alfred T. Palmer, courtesy of Creative Commons]

The concept of a war economy has varied considerably.  Historically, the term referred to a marshalling of national resources to support a state’s prosecution of war. Walter Oakes argued that “a war economy exists whenever the government’s expenditures for war (or ‘national defense’) become a legitimate and significant end-purpose of economic activity” (Oakes 1944: 12). Oakes and other scholars saw war economies as logical developments of capitalism in the core countries.

In the decades of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, the term has come to embrace a complex array of material exchange and political violence. These range from the international level down to individuals and communities. In this sense, war economies can be viewed as types of political economies, but ones hardly detached from dynamics of identity, culture, or social relations.  

Efforts to conceptualize war economies in the context of the modern Middle East have been almost singular (Steven Heydemann’s edited volume, War, Institutions and Social Change in the Middle East brought together contributions from social scientists and historians) and pre-date the last decades of metastasizing regional conflict. As such the Political Economy Project decided to invite several scholars of political economy to a virtual roundtable to explore these and many other issues.

The proposed roundtable seeks to examine current research on war economies. Some questions we wish to explore are: How should “war economies” be conceptualized or defined empirically? How do current processes of violence, accumulation and exchange in the Middle East today shed new light on the concept of “war economy?” In what ways are traditional approaches to understanding war economies useful or limiting to understanding the region today? What state, society, or transnational dynamics emerge? How are types of political violence and external intervention important?
This is the first of a five-part roundtable series. Read the articles of the roundtable here below:


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