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The New Spirit of Capitalism Paperback – 1 Sep 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (1 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844671658
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844671656
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.4 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 329,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A vast and ambitious work, which is inscribed in a great tradition of theoretical and critical sociology." - Le Monde "This magnificent book [is] the sociology of a whole generation which capitalism caught on the wrong foot... The book furnishes new weapons for the renewal of the Left." - Liberation "Extremely well-written and well-argued...(A) major contribution to the literature in the field..." - Times Higher Education Supplement"

About the Author

Luc Boltanski teaches sociology at the EHESS, Paris and is the author of The Making of Class. Eve Chiapello teaches at the HEC School of Management, Paris and is the author of Artistes versus Managers.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Archie B. Manvell on 19 July 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a superb introduction to the way capitalism has reordered itself in the workplace in the neo-liberal era.As such it gives useful insights into the growth of network capitalism and the delayering of bureaucratic structures. However its most useful insights concern the way this was sold to people who were disenchanted with old style bureaucracies and their lack of freeedom. These resentments were played on via the redeploying of an originally leftist critique of alienation to serve the interests of capital. Thus desires for freedom, flexibility, autonomy and greater responsibility were used to convince people of the validity of the project. Here is the books great value for the left as it points towards some of the reasons right wing thinking has made such great strides in the last three decades; it also points towards the necessity of an non statist left response something left politicians have been astonishingly slow to come to terms with.
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful
Read This Alongside Karatani's "Transcritique" 13 Oct. 2009
By Nin Chan - Published on
Format: Paperback
Luc Boltanski & Eve Chiapello- "The New Spirit Of Capitalism"

I am not usually given to hyperbole, but I am tempted to say that this is one of the most crucial studies to have emerged from the Left in many years. It is certainly the most significant work of radical sociology to have appeared in recent years, and it should really be read alongside the likes of Karatani's "Transcritique", Laclau/Mouffe, Balibar/Wallerstein, Hardt/Negri, Zizek and Badiou as a strategic intervention in a complex conjuncture. It is no secret that many of us, as aspiring `professional intellectuals', haven't a clue about the actual relations of labor that structure the postmodern world. One does not necessarily have to be a militant to be a Marxist today. In fact, these terms can, in some cases, be mutually exclusive. `Cultural studies', for example, often reduces Marxism to nothing more than a hermetic practice, an interpretive strategy that decodes ideological signals in cultural phenomena. The political currency of this, as much as we would like to protest to the contrary, is scant indeed.

In contradistinction to `armchair Marxism', Boltanski and Chiapello attempt to facilitate real interventions by identifying points of fracture in today's capitalistic fabric. In this regard, it is a veritable gift to activists of all stripes, from no-border networks to immigrant labor activists. The prose is rather clinical and anodyne, averting the ludic feints of post-structuralist theory, but it is eminently readable. The book sets out to achieve three things:
1. It echoes Hardt & Negri by undoing the totalization of `Capitalism'. The unary signifier `capitalism' obscures the fact that it has undergone several epochal shifts in the course of its history. This history is not one of linear development, but rupture and discontinuity. As Althusser has told us, revolution is conceivable when a series of overdetermined contradictions `condense' and converge. This is the passage from Sartrean seriality to `group-in-fusion', where the partitions that divide the social body collapse and a revolutionary subject is formed from heterogeneous parts. Just as Alain Badiou has attempted, in the face of revisionist historiography, to distil the evental force of St Paul, the pre-Thermidorean Jacobins and the Long March, Boltanski & Chiapello initiate a radical recovery of May 1968. In their estimation, May 1968 marks the closure of an era, revealing as it does the decrepitude of a doddering market model. Slavoj Zizek exhorts us to remember that May 1968 was not merely the dream of a few bored petit-bourgeois students, an epiphenomenon of the hippie Sixties, but a truly transversal event where students and intellectuals deserted their university posts to occupy the factories. By standing alongside the proletariat in a united refusal, the students incarnated an implacable demand that capitalism was no longer equipped to handle. The decade that followed 1968 involved a consummate revolution in capitalist organization, marking the shift from Taylorism to global/late capital.
2. It presents a dramatic re-orientation of a dubious Marxist category, that of `ideology'. What, in fact, is the `spirit of capitalism'? Capitalism, in itself, is an impersonal, inhuman process with no regard for its effective agents- it desires nothing other than its own valorization and proliferation. If capitalism, as Deleuze & Guattari suggest, is nothing but a skeletal, axiomatic structure ("An axiomatic presentation consists, on the basis of non-defined terms, in prescribing the rule for their manipulation" [Alain Badiou]) that has no intrinsic moral content, how does this process substantiate itself to its operators? The Gramscian question retains all of its force today- how is hegemony constructed? Clearly, capitalism requires, as its social precondition, a justificatory base, a morality that is grafted upon it as a foundational supplement. This morality is the `human face' affixed to an inhuman process. However, while acknowledging Althusser's point that the elaboration of ideology is continuous and incarnated in material practices, they sidestep Althusser's conception of capitalism as a `process without subject'. To their credit, Boltanski and Chiapello hold fast to an unfashionable position, retaining as they do the importance of human agency. Ideology is not some sort of mandate legislated from above, it must be actively endorsed by its addressees. When capitalism speaks about security, liberty and self-expression, it must deliver on these claims, or risk the revocation of this endorsement. When endorsement is withdrawn and capitalism is called to account for its betrayals, it is in crisis.
3. It delineates, in precise form, what I would like to call the `morality of mobility'. Capitalism in its contemporary form is what Trotsky would call a `permanent revolution'- globalization and the intensification of corporate competition oblige it to transform itself on a continuous basis. Globalization is profoundly ontogenetic in the Foucauldian sense- it has generated a new regime of cosmopolitan mandarins, a new breed of elites. Today's cosmopolitan, jet-setting executive is Deleuze's schizophrenic-nomad in the flesh, a footloose mercenary who has cut the umbilical cord that binds him to a Heideggerean `world'. Yet, for all of its celebratory rhapsodies to creativity, mobility and dynamism, the `worldlessness' (Badiou) of contemporary capitalism is, in fact, profoundly anxiety-inducing. Wherefore this anxiety? Boltanski & Chiapello are right in proposing that these attributes are no longer `qualities' that distinguish one worker from another, marks of individual distinction and excellence, but pre-requisites for a constantly evolving work world. The worker today is required to acquire a variety of skills that were irrelevant in prior epochs- he is enjoined to transform himself on a perpetual basis through learning, training programs, etcetera. This is the shift from a Spinozist-Deleuzian ethics ("Movement is good/gladdening, inertia is bad/saddening") to a Kantian categorical imperative ("Move, or perish!") Remaining stationary is to commit social suicide, to be left behind by the mobile, shifting networks that constitute contemporary work.

The merits of this book are many, and I have merely attempted to give a brief sketch of its central tropes. It is also exemplary in its identification of tightened control techniques (updating Marx's famous analyses of wages in Das Kapital Volume 1) and its discussion of exclusory employment mechanisms (in its ongoing discussion of `tests' and their correlation to justice). Most importantly, it should serve as a revelatory wake-up call to narcoleptics ensconced in their post-structuralist slumber, drunk on romantic reveries. Essentially, The New Spirit of Capitalism is the history of a perilous dialectic, the dangerous Hegelian dance of critique and capitalism. Capitalism has, more often than not, exhibited a near-limitless capacity to absorb and mobilize even the most devastating critiques, integrating them into its chain of command. This, as we know, has led to the Bataillean jaundice of Baudrillard, the mawkish self-flagellation of Vattimo and the hysterical outbursts of Virilio. Perhaps the first task of today's Left is, as Badiou has said, to free ourselves from any historicist eschatology (messianic hopes have been betrayed! History is a sham!) and in so doing, emancipate ourselves from the tired tragedy of finitude, disappointment and lamentation. This book should be prefaced with a Dantean injunction: "Abandon all pretensions, all ye who enter here." Many of our most intimate intellectual presuppositions are challenged here, and any reader who holds, uncritically, to fashionable philosophies of difference will have to re-evaluate many of his/her critical postulates.
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