Spirits of Late Capitalism

Theory, Culture and Society 24 (3):147-159 (2007)
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Abstract

Taking Max Weber's conception of the modern capitalist world system as a classical precedent, and with reference to a series of analytical schemas on capital formation, this essay takes three recent books as a starting point for examining the revival of critical theoretical attention to 'the new capitalism'. The Social Structures of the Economy by Pierre Bourdieu focuses on the erosion of the separation between business and household economies by providing a case study of the construction boom in single-family dwellings which replaced the public housing movement in 1980s France. Also concentrating on recent French history, Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, in their monumental book The New Spirit of Capitalism, argue that the post-industrial restructuring of 'formally free' labour was provoked by countercultural protest in the 1960s and further justified by managerial discourses advocating postmodern 'flexibilization' in the 1990s. Finally, Nigel Thrift's Knowing Capitalism enumerates recent examples demonstrating how the 'rational' accounting of economic capital is increasingly expanded and intensified by commodified cultural circuits which facilitate flows of information between business schools, management consultants and entrepreneurial gurus and in a variety of everyday spaces and ordinary practices. While each of these works convincingly projects the resurrection of 'the spirit of capitalism' on local and global scales, they have less to say about the underlying political dynamics or emerging alternatives to this process.

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