Reproduction of Capitalism in the 21st Century: Higher Education and Ecological Crisis

Toni Ruuska

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


In this thesis, the connection between capitalism, higher education, and ecological crisis is established and studied. It is presented, mainly theoretically, how capitalist socio-economic structure is reproduced, how higher education contributes to it, and how this is linked to the ongoing ecological crisis. As a part of the more general discussion on the reproduction of capitalism, higher education, and its ecological impacts, Finnish higher education is taken as a specific context to be discussed. In this regard, an empirical illustration is provided to strengthen the otherwise theoretical argument to portray how the purpose of higher education is perceived in Finnish education policy documents in the 21st century. Based on existing literature, theoretical argumentation, and empirical illustration, it is argued that, as the orientation of higher education has been reformulated during the last decades, one of the primary purposes of higher education in the 21st century is to reproduce capitalism and conditions for capital accumulation and economic growth. In principle, this means that aims and demands concerning higher education, especially coming from state administration, are closely coupled with the needs of the capitalist growth economy and transnational capital accumulation. This development has had a significant impact to higher education – one these developments being that higher education is increasingly expected to serve as a means to an end to achieve goals such as economic growth and regional competitiveness. Furthermore, these developments imply, among other things, that the higher education institution is increasingly functioning in an unsustainable fashion from an ecological perspective. This is due to the capitalist structure and processes of accumulation with which higher education is increasingly integrated and to which it contributes. This study makes two primary contributions to the existing literature. The first contribution is the overall updated reproduction theory of capitalism. The theory as whole seeks to complement the existing reproduction theories in Marxist education studies and, more generally, the understandings of socio-economic reproduction of liberal capitalist societies by adding a transnational element to the analysis. The second contribution of this study is the established link between capitalism, contemporary higher education, and ecological crisis, a notion which has not been thoroughly dealt with or theorised previously in the Marxist studies on education.
Translated title of the contributionKapitalismin uusintaminen 2000-luvulla: korkeakoulutus ja ekologinen kriisi
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Räsänen, Keijo, Supervising Professor
  • Järvensivu, Timo, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7442-9
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7441-2
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • capitalism
  • higher education
  • ecological crisis
  • marxism
  • reproduction
  • accumulation of capital
  • hegemony
  • ideolological state appratuses


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