The political economy of the Weinstein scandal

This blog series introduces some preliminary research from SPERI’s PREPPE programme, a project that asks: What can political economy tell us about the Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement? And what can the Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement teach us about political economy?

The Weinstein scandal is well known: An initial exposure of the systematic sexual violence of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein paved the way for an unprecedented number of actors, celebrities, and other public figures to publicly share their stories of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence. In the wake of these revelations, the #MeToo movement gathered growing momentum. Led by survivors, the movement sought to break the silence around sexual harassment and violence on an unprecedented scale. The effects of this were global – albeit unevenly so – with similar scandals and movements in India, Japan, and China. The main consequence is a high profile public conversation about gender, sexual consent, harassment, and violence.

The Weinstein case might usually be seen as relating to media, celebrity, and predatory men before it is seen as an economic issue. However, our project is motivated by the intuition that political economy has something to say about this, and indeed that the scandal can also tell us something about political economy.

For example, one of the odd and noteworthy dynamics of the scandal is how the revelations about sexual violence were simultaneously shocking and unsurprising. On the one hand, the exposures were shocking enough to constantly generate the most very high profile news headlines and public debate (‘no one knew’). Yet, on the other hand, the notion that sexual violence proliferates in the workplace is hardly news to the many victims that have shared their stories (‘everyone knew’). Rather, what is new here is that the exposure – the scandal – has destabilised the boundaries of the permissible by making public the ostensibly private

We wonder what this might tell us about the way in which society typically imagines the operation of contemporary capitalism: workplace sexual violence as aberration rather than normality; a pressure to keep violent sexual interactions private and secret; and the deeply gendered character of the contemporary workplace. In this way, the Weinstein case sheds light on some of the interconnections between consent, violence, gender, power, and labour initially in the Hollywood film industry – but quickly became relevant to global labour markets more broadly.

This blog series will share new blogs by postgraduate students who are participating in the PREPPE programme. They present preliminary research into the political economy of the Weinstein scandal. Over the next few days the blogs will discuss a range of questions and issues that have emerged from the scandal including: whether conventional economic reasoning can grasp the ‘costs’ of sexual harassment, why we need a political economy of the body, what we can learn about how and why ‘scandals’ emerge, and whether #MeToo will be transformative in changing power structures in society that enable sexual violence to occur.