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The New Spirit of Capitalism

A major new work examining network-based organizations and post-Fordist work structures.
Why is the critique of capitalism so ineffective today? In this major work, the sociologists Eve Chiapello and Luc Boltanski suggest that we should be addressing the crisis of anticapitalist critique by exploring its very roots.

Via an unprecedented analysis of management texts which influenced the thinking of employers and contributed to reorganization of companies over the last decades, the authors trace the contours of a new spirit of capitalism. From the middle of the 1970s onwards, capitalism abandoned the hierarchical Fordist work structure and developed a new network-based form of organization which was founded on employee initiative and relative work autonomy, but at the cost of material and psychological security.

This new spirit of capitalism triumphed thanks to a remarkable recuperation of the “artistic critique”—that which, after May 1968, attacked the alienation of everyday life by capitalism and bureaucracy. At the same time, the “social critique” was disarmed by the appearance of neocapitalism and remained fixated on the old schemas of hierarchical production.

This book, remarkable for its scope and ambition, seeks to lay the basis for a revival of these two complementary critiques.

Reviews

  • “A wide-ranging, nuanced sociological inquiry into the nature of contemporary work.”
  • “[A] vast and ambitious work, which is inscribed in a great tradition of theoretical and critical sociology.”
  • “This magnificent book [is] the sociology of a whole generation which capitalism caught on the wrong foot. In more than 800 pages which one devours like a great novel, the book furnishes new weapons for the renewal of the Left.”
  • “This book will no doubt come to be regarded as a contemporary classic of political economy and political sociology.”
  • “Ambitious and fascinating.”

Blog

  • The Critique of Critique: An interview with Luc Boltanski

    With two new books coming out, Luc Boltanski, author of the sweeping New Spirit of Capitalism, recently sat down for an interview with Books & Ideas to discuss the intellectual trajectory of his career and the possibilities of critique in contemporary society. Placing a particular emphasis on the two major preoccupations of his oeuvre, the sociology of critique and critical sociology, the interview goes on at length about his research with Bourdieu, social class as a viable theoretical concept, and the various presuppositions of his earlier writings.

    Pointedly, he highlights the importance of understanding the past political horizon for a cogent re-formulation of critical sociology in the present. Referring to the recent republication of an article he co-wrote with Bourdieu a few years after May 68, he notes that:

    it also struck me as useful to shed light on the political era in which we presently find ourselves. The texts that it analyzes-those of Giscard, Poniatowski, or of contemporary economists-lie at the frontier of two outlooks: between, on the one hand, what at the time was called "technocracy," which was still deeply statist, still deeply tied to the idea of economic planning, rationality, and industrialization; and, on the other, neoliberal forms of governance. It is very illuminating to return to the middle of the seventies if one wants to undertake the archaeology of the Sarkozian political universe, which has considerably expanded neoliberal policies while dressing them up, at times, in so-called "republican" rhetoric. 

    To say nothing of the larger trends dominating the rest of the Eurozone and the United States! To read the rest of the interview in full, please visit Books & Ideas.