Photo of Dr Claes Belfrage

Dr Claes Belfrage BA, ESRC MA, Ph.D., PGCAP, ILM

Reader in Global Political Economy Work, Organisation and Management



I research the tensions and contradictions in the management of financialisation, as well as other transformative processes in the global political economy, including technological and climate change. In my research, I am inspired by a range of critical and heterodox approaches, concepts/notions and methods, including critical realism (as meta-theory), Regulation Theory, post-Keynesian theory, Frankfurt School Critical theory, hegemony, aestheticisation, semiosis, ethnography and quantitative analysis.

I conduct research on the financialisation of the Swedish model and the tensions and contradictions in the management of this process (partly with Markus Kallifatides, Stockholm School of Economics). I am currently based at the Center for Governance and Management Studies at the Stockholm School of Economics during a research leave.

I study the "imagined recovery" from the financial crisis in the micro economy of Iceland (with Eirikur Bergmann, Bifrost University, David Berry, University of Sussex, and Owen Worth, University of Limerick).

I pursue research on regional integration, both European and South American. I was until recently founding co-chair of the Council for European Studies’ research network “European Integration and Global Political Economy”. In relation to South America, I am researching the challenges facing emerging market economies (semi-periphery) in managing its particular insertion into world markets (with Johannes Jäger, University of Applied Sciences Vienna, Annina Kaltenbrunner, University of Leeds, Jan Grumuller, Austrian Foundation for Development Research, and Adriana Nilsson, University of Liverpool Management School). This work has partly been undertaken under a project commissioned by the British Embassy to Brazil, the financial conduct authority of Brazil (CVM) and the Brazilian Central Bank. This is also a shortlisted impact case study.

Meeting the Demands of Climate Change: The Political Economy of Material Degrowth

There is widespread agreement on that humanity is facing its greatest ever challenge during coming decades: how to forge a worldwide alliance committed to securing a socio-ecological equilibrium, that is a future in which social and ecological developments are not in conflict with one another. The social, economic and security consequences of the emerging ecological crisis are profoundly recognised not only by global civil society but also by leading US intelligence officials (Klare, 2019), global business communities (World Economic Forum, 2019) and our youth (e.g. United Nations 2019 Youth Climate Summit). Yet, global emissions of greenhouse gases are still rising. The 2015 Paris Agreement created an international commitment to adapting to and mitigating against resulting climate change. Three years after it entering into force, 187 out of the 197 states at the convention have ratified the Agreement. While this may suggest political resolve, reaching the objective of limiting temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial times, ideally 1.5 degrees, will be no mean political feat. While imperative for addressing climate change, this initial Agreement enjoys limited legitimacy. Indeed, it hinges on the current leaders of rich countries imposing severe policy constraints on their successors and the willingness of developing country leaders to accept that theirs would suffer considerable restraints on their ability to improve living standards of future generations. As with most international agreements, the enforceability of the Paris treaty is limited by the commitment of its most important signatories. However, the greatest emitter of CO2, the USA, took the first possible opportunity to withdraw from the accord on the 5th of November. Still, political commitment is not only crucial, it must be radical.

Many commentators, policy-makers and bystanders believe in the promises of “Green Growth”. This is before any Green Growth regime has been implemented. Indeed, Europe, where emissions are falling, does not prove that Green Growth exists and works. The reduction in Europe can largely be explained by the offshoring of their production to Asia (Financial Times, 24/10/2019). In fact, Green Growth will not arrive until the battle against climate change has already been lost; Green Growth strategies are decades away from generating the required outcomes. Expecting business to take the lead, as a matter of competition, by pursuing green technology, when the global economy remains profoundly powered by fossil fuels, is naive. Meanwhile, the transformation of the global socio-technological paradigm is rapid in what has been labelled the Fourth Industrial Revolution (World Economic Forum, 2016). The new technologies being implemented in business organisations worldwide accelerate production and stimulate consumption of goods primarily within, and not beyond, the global carbon economy. The global carbon economy continues to grow and with the vast majority of the global population yet to enjoy Western living standards, commitment to its rapid dismantling is hard to fathom, even less so politically engineer. As Sayer (2009: 351) proclaims: “the world cannot afford the rich”. Quite arguably, although few are willing to say it out loud out of fear of the electoral consequences, the rich of the world need to accept “Material Degrowth”. The challenge, as this proposed research suggests, is therefore how to articulate stable compromises, backed by what Amable et al. (2012: 1169) have called a dominant social bloc, that is a “social alliance whose interests are protected by the public policy and which is sufficiently strong to politically validate such a policy”.

The research to be undertaken focuses on Europe, as a strategic “most likely” space for the development of a Material Degrowth regime. It involves: 1) as the Chair of Renewables 21 Arthouros Zervos states (REN21, 2019: 15): “mobilising people to think critically about the energy sector, starting with making renewable energy relevant to decision makers both inside and outside of” it; 2) a critique of the wider institutional configuration serving to reproduce the socio-ecological non-equilibrium; 3) the identification of, and supported by concrete policy proposals, a social bloc capable of becoming dominant, and which can politically validate a regime of Material Degrowth. During the visiting Professorship, Claes Belfrage will, together with interested colleagues and doctoral researchers at Paris XIII: A) present a first draft paper exploring the perimeters of this three-pronged research programme; B) develop the research programme in further detail, including publication strategy; C) devise a supportive funding strategy

Supporting this research, I will be a visiting professor at University of Paris XIII during 2020/21

Critical Grounded Theory

I am engaged in methodological research, including most recently trying to develop a Critical Grounded Theory (with Felix Hauf, Goethe-University of Frankfurt).