The New Spirit of Capitalism: Roundtable Discussion on Luc Boltanski and Eve Chapello's Book

By Couldry, Nick; Gilbert, Jeremy et al. | Soundings, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

The New Spirit of Capitalism: Roundtable Discussion on Luc Boltanski and Eve Chapello's Book


Couldry, Nick, Gilbert, Jeremy, Hesmondhalgh, David, Nash, Kate, Soundings


Introduction

Jeremy Gilbert (with editorial input from David Hesmondhalgh)

Luc Boltanksi and Eve Chiapello's monumental work The New Spirit of Capitalism first appeared in French in 1999, but was only published in English in 2007, since when has become a key reference point in many discussions of the culture of contemporary capitalism and the politics of neoliberalism. At its heart is a study of the changing nature of management-theory discourse between the 1960s and the 1990s. It has become a commonplace in recent decades to observe the apparent resonance between the language and rhetorical priorities of some strands of the 'counterculture', and the forms of radicalism associated with '1968' and its aftermath, and the shift towards the celebration of creativity, worker autonomy, anti-bureaucracy and non-hierarchical and non-linear organisational systems in post-fordist management theory since around the middle of the 1980s. A key historical question which this raises is that of how far the expression of such sentiments by 'countercultural' figures was ever a genuine challenge to established relations of power, and how far it was merely an expression of the spontaneous ideology of the avant garde of capital itself.

Boltanski and Chiapello make a clear and extremely well documented case that, at least in the French instance, capital and its agents were relatively slow to adopt this language, and can be seen to have done so only in the face of the self-evident failure of attempts to meet the emergent demands of the new radicalism by other means, in particular by way of the continued extension and entrenchment of the post-war social democratic settlement. According to Boltanski and Chiapello, the refusal of a new generation of potential corporate cadres to accept the forms of life typical of the mid-twentieth-century bureaucratic corporation presented capitalism with a particular set of problems at this time.

In this, Boltanski and Chiapello draw directly on Weber's famous analysis in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Put very simply, Weber starts from the observation that engaging in long-term capital accumulation is a rather strange thing for anyone to do; having accumulated a fortune through commerce, why not simply spend it lavishly (as did the merchant princes of medieval Italy), rather than investing it in still further accumulation? The complexities of Weber's argument need not detain us here. Suffice to say that Weber argues persuasively that without some animating 'spirit'-an effective and inspiring group ideology-then the key class fractions responsible for managing and directing capital accumulation are unlikely to be motivated to carry out their task for long. This then is the key function which Boltanski and Chiapello attribute to the new spirit of post-fordist, creatively networked capitalism: that of mobilising and motivating a strategically crucial subset of the population towards their ongoing participation in its management. Although they do not operate within this theoretical register, they offer a classic analysis of the mechanics by which hegemony is exercised (in this case, essentially, the hegemony of the leading sections of international capital), demonstrating that this does not require that a majority of a given population embrace the ideological assumptions of the hegemonic groups with any enthusiasm, provided that strategically significant sections of the subaltern classes can be persuaded to do so.

One of the key issues with which the study is concerned is that of the relative political efficacy of 'critique', which they conceive of almost as a kind of autonomous subjective force. A large part of their historical argument depends upon their schematic distinction between two types of anti-capitalist critique with generally discontinuous histories: the 'social critique' and the 'artistic critique'. Put simply, the social critique-associated with the labour movement and the histories of socialism, communism, and social-democratic reformism-criticises capitalism for its tendency to generate social inequalities. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The New Spirit of Capitalism: Roundtable Discussion on Luc Boltanski and Eve Chapello's Book
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.