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3.0 out of 5 stars Not Very Engaging, 4 May 2010
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This review is from: The Culture of the New Capitalism (Castle Lecture Series in Ethics, Politics & Economics) (Castle Lectures Series in Ethics, Politics & Economics) (Paperback)
Richard Sennett's short book, The Culture of the New Capitalism is based on the Castle lectures in Ethics, Politics and Economics, delivered by him at Yale University in 2004. In putting the book together, Sennett was primarily responding to an invitation from Yale University to pull together his work over the past years in order to describe the culture of the new capitalism. In doing so Sennett admirably acknowledges the limitations of his, "particular craft and the frustrations of subjective investigations." In other words, the book takes on a subjective approach by speaking for people Sennett says he has interviewed over the years.

The book basically addresses three broad topics: "how institutions are changing; how fears about being made redundant or left behind are related to talent in the `skills society'; how consumption behaviour relates to political attitudes." Sennett argues against a school of thought that sees these three issues work, talent and consumption of the new capitalism amounting to "more freedom in modern society." It is important to understand that Sennet's opposition is not about whether these aspects of the new capitalism are real. Rather his argument against what he calls the "apostles of new capitalism" is that the change of an emphasis on work, talent and consumption has not "set people free". At this point I must nail my colours to the mast and say that I agree with Sennett.

However, my agreement with Sennett is based more on my own experience about people having more freedom from the demands of work under the new capitalism than with Sennett's arguments. That should not surprise anyone reading this book. As a book based on a series of lectures, I suppose it was inevitable that it would be slight in content and shallow in analysis. To some extent this made for an unappealing reading.

On a positive note, Sennett's style is clear as he avoids too many sociological jargon. This is helpful to anyone approaching these issues for the first time. So in the first and most substantial chapter, Bureaucracy, Sennett begins by looking at distinctive features of the old and new capitalism. He coins a term fresh-page thesis to identify those who take the view that capitalism has merely turned a page in its history rather than having gone through some major upheaval. The chapter effectively outlines the development of bureaucracy in organizations and its impact on people.

Despite the fact that I did not find the book very engaging, there are nonetheless some concepts that are arresting in their revelations. For example, the passages that deal directly with the impact of the new capitalism on individuals are powerful as the idea of how knowledge and power can render some individuals useless or confer ability on others under the guise of merit is unpacked. Another example is the notion of The Consuming Passion here a consuming passion: "can connote a passion that burns itself out by its own intensity; put in a less lurid form, in using things we use them up. Our desire for a dress may be ardent, but a few days after we actually buy and wear it, the garment arouses us less."

Although I did not find the book very engaging it still rang true with some telling home truths about the nature of the new capitalism. On that basis it is a book worth reading.
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