Capitalism in Context: Sources, Trajectories and Alternatives

Thesis Eleven 66 (1):99-125 (2001)
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The recognition of capitalism as a core component of modernity has often led to conflation of the two categories; this happens to critics as well as defenders of capitalism, and it reflects their shared but only partly acknowledged premises. A tendency to interpret capitalism as a self-contained system has strongly affected the debate on its historical significance; this reductionistic approach could be adapted to different ideological stances as well as to changing views of capitalism's long-term trajectory. The notion of a `spirit of capitalism', in the sense of cultural sources essential to the constitution (and arguably also to the continuity) of the capitalist order, has been one of the most important correctives to economic determinism and reductionism, but it has proved difficult to link this dimension to other aspects of the problematic. The article surveys the contributions of Weber, Sombart, Castoriadis and - most recently - Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello to this debate. The last section then discusses the work of Fernand Braudel and suggests that it could serve to reformulate the problematic of capitalism in more multidimensional terms



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