Chapter 2 in Kennett, P., Lendvai-Bainton, N., (eds.), Handbook of European Social Policy, pp 29-44

This contribution introduces a distinctive approach to the critique of capitalism and, in this context, of recent economic and financial crises and crisis-management. Cultural political economy takes sense-making and meaning-making seriously in describing and explaining political economy without neglecting the historically specific properties, dynamic and crisis-tendencies of capitalist social formations. In this light, the chapter examines the economic and political imaginaries that shaped responses to the 1970s–1980s economic crisis, influenced the rise of neoliberalism, and guided approaches to more recent economic and fisco-financial crises. It also considers the discursive, structural, technological and agential mechanisms that select and retain some crisis construals and proposed solutions rather than others. Regarding the institutional dynamics of recent crises, it is argued that finance-dominated growth has a specific dynamic that reflects the significance of political policies and decisions in its emergence, the nature of its crisis tendencies, and its crisis management. Attention then turns to conjunctural policies of austerity, the neoliberal politics of austerity and a permanent state of austerity. These distinctions are then used to interpret ‘post-crisis’ welfare regimes, paying special attention to the features of the post-crisis austerity state in neo-liberal regimes and the European Union.