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Durham University

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Publication details

Hudson, R. (2012). Critical Political Economy and Material Transformation. New Political Economy 17(4): 373-397.

Author(s) from Durham


The starting point for this paper is that critical political economy needs to take up the challenge that originates in Marx's seminal contributions of conceptualising the economy as both processes of value creation and processes of material transformations. This is because, inter alia, the successful production of commodities requires knowledge of their constituent materials and their potential transformations and the ways in which these can be managed through the production process to allow the creation of surplus value and profits. Using the steel and automobile industries as an example, I show how a wide range of materials can be produced with a variety of desirable properties through careful control of the production process. Sophisticated management of the production process depends upon the knowledge of the properties of the materials and of the ways in which these can be combined and transformed to give types of steels with particular desired combination of properties. Capitalist interests have increasingly shaped the processes of R&D through which knowledge about the materials, their properties and their transformations has been developed and deployed to produce profits via producing steel and – inter alia – automobiles.