Professor Massimo De Angelis
Professor of Political Economy and Social Change
Massimo De Angelis is Professor of Political Economy and Social Change and co-director of the Centre for Social Justice and Change. He has a degree in Political Sciences (Milan, 1985) and a PhD in Economics (Salt Lake City, 1995). His current research is on Commons as social systems, their design, resilience, sustainability and strategy of development within the context of multimodal crises of contemporary neoliberal capitalism.
When I joined UEL in 1994, I was finalising my PhD thesis on the development of post-WWII economic modelling. I was arguing that Keynesian economic theory does not develop simply as accumulation of insights, but as a result of the pressures put on governments by strong social movements since the 1920s. My economics thesis was then my first interdisciplinary research, and became a book in 2000 (Keynesianism, Political Economy and Social Conflict, Macmillan). Since then my work focused on theories and dynamics of contemporary neoliberal capitalism in all its facets, including the numerous moments of rupture and alternatives brought by social movements worldwide. Reflecting on strategies of Structural Adjustment Policies both in the Global South and, perhaps in different forms, in the Global North, in the late 1990s I revisited Marx's understanding of "primitive" or "original accumulation" that is, the state and capital strategies of enclosure or expropriation of resources used by communities as commons, for the purpose of commodify them. Against the grain of standard radical political economy, and inspired by the work of the North American Journal Midnight Notes, I argued that enclosures do not only happen before the establishment of capitalism, but that variegated strategies of enclosures occurred also within contemporary capitalism, as cut in welfare services and entitlements or land grabs for all sort of export oriented development projects. The study of enclosures occurred at the time in which the alterglobalisation movement was exploding worldwide. The horizon of the movement was not simply that of a protest movement, but it expressed a drive to posit alternatives. "One no, many yesses" was one of its slogans. I started wondering what would alternatives look like not in an utopian future but here and now in our contemporary world, and I begun working on the commons. In 2001 I founded and edited a web journal (www.thecommoner.org), that for 11 years explored through numerous contributions, different facets of the problem of alternatives within the context of neoliberal capitalism. In 2007 I felt I could challenge the spirit of the "end of history" that pervaded our times -- the idea that we had reached the apex of historical evolution -- and published a book titled "The Beginning of History. Value Struggles and Global Capital" (Pluto). In this book I reinterpreted the globalisation literature to reveal the hidden dynamics of global flows as connected to social conflict, and neoliberal governance as a way to regulate and channel social conflict and turn it paradoxically into its own engine of development. But the simple insights that really struck me was that any moment of struggle is grounded on a moment of socialisation and commons, where communities in struggles - whether in defence against plans to build a dam in India, or Chinese workers on strike, pull their resources, time and collective intelligence together, and form a commons. Commons thus are not isolated systems, or a particular spheres of life, they are part and parcel of the vey social fabric, both in moments of social reproduction and struggles. However, in this book my encounter with the commons were the result of my looking critically at contemporary capitalist processes, they were in other words in the background. I spent thus the next 10 years trying to put them in the foreground, while still maintaining my critical analysis of capitalist systems. Thus, several trips later (South Africa, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Italy, France, Greece, Spain...) and several papers later, my latest Omnia Sunt Communia: On the Commons and the Transformation to PostCapitalism (Zed Books) was finally published in 2017. Here, using a mix of autonomism Marxism, eco feminism, evolutionary biology, system and complexity theory, I understand commons not just as resource in commons, but as social systems, interacting in their environment with other systems like companies, state, other commons and social movements with which commons relate to. How are these relations governed? And to what extent are the commons channelled and co-opted? Do the commons address the grave challenges of contemporary world? How can they sustain their autonomy and self determination? And what about scaling? And finally, are they really the cell form of a new mode of production? I guess the best thing is that you read my book.
My research has covered several areas: from the theory of political economy, to the political economy of contemporary global capitalism and crises; social movements and commons. I use an interdisciplinary approach following a practice of bricolage, meshing Marxist theory and eco-feminism, with second order complexity theory and whatever I found useful to answer the questions that my insatiable curiosity make me raise.
Anthropocene: Victims, Narrators, and Revolutionaries
Armiero, M. De Angelis, M. . 2017. South Atlantic Quarterly. pp.345-362.
Omnia Sunt Communia. On the Commons and the Transformation to Postcapitalism.
De Angelis, M.. 2017. Zed Books. 436 pp..
The Commons: A Brief Life Journey
De Angelis, M. . 2014. Community Development Journal. pp. i68-i80..
Social Revolution and the Commons
De Angelis, M.. 2014. South Atlantic Quarterly. pp. 299-311..
Crisis and Commons Today
De Angelis, M.. 2014. in Shannon Brincat (ed.) Communism in the 21st Century, Vol. 3. Santa Barbara: Praeger .
I try to play jazz piano, love long walks immersed in nature, and relaxed conversations.
I am module leader of a third year undergraduate module called Global Crises (AI6211), where students learn about the interconnection between Economic, Environmental and Food crises and explore the horizons and possible strategies to find solutions. I am also the module leader of a postgraduate module within the MSc on NGO and Development Management called Sustainability and the Commons (AI7203). In this module students learn the theory of the commons and encounter many real cases in which communities around the world came together to solve their problems by sharing resources, governing them collectively in a participatory and sustainable way, and giving rise to innovative systems of production, governance, solidarity and mutual aid. I also contribute to the teaching of other modules with several lectures in Introduction of Political Economy (AI4202), Introduction to Development Studies (AI4201), and Inequalities, Social Development, and Livelihoods (AI5330). I also supervise undergraduate, postgraduate, and PhD students.