The Culture of the New Capitalism

The Culture of the New Capitalism

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Culture of the New Capitalism
    Book Description:

    The distinguished sociologist Richard Sennett surveys major differences between earlier forms of industrial capitalism and the more global, more febrile, ever more mutable version of capitalism that is taking its place. He shows how these changes affect everyday life-how the work ethic is changing; how new beliefs about merit and talent displace old values of craftsmanship and achievement; how what Sennett calls "the specter of uselessness" haunts professionals as well as manual workers; how the boundary between consumption and politics is dissolving.

    In recent years, reformers of both private and public institutions have preached that flexible, global corporations provide a model of freedom for individuals, unlike the experience of fixed and static bureaucracies Max Weber once called an "iron cage." Sennett argues that, in banishing old ills, the new-economy model has created new social and emotional traumas. Only a certain kind of human being can prosper in unstable, fragmentary institutions: the culture of the new capitalism demands an ideal self oriented to the short term, focused on potential ability rather than accomplishment, willing to discount or abandon past experience. In a concluding section, Sennett examines a more durable form of self hood, and what practical initiatives could counter the pernicious effects of "reform."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12872-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Half a century ago, in the 1960s—that fabled era of free sex and free access to drugs—serious young radicals took aim at institutions, in particular big corporations and big government, whose size, complexity, and rigidity seemed to hold individuals in an iron grip. The Port Huron Statement, a founding document of the New Left in 1962, was equally hard on state socialism and multinational corporations; both regimes seemed bureaucratic prisons.

    History has partly granted the framers of the Port Huron Statement their wish. The socialist rule of fiveyear plans, of centralized economic control, is gone. So is the...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Bureaucracy
    (pp. 15-82)

    We best begin by giving some substance to the contrast between new and old, and at the very outset we are caught up short. “All that is solid melts into air,” Karl Marx famously wrote about capitalism—one hundred and sixty years ago.¹ His version of “liquid modernity” came from an idealized past. In part it reflected nostalgia for the age-old rhythms of the countryside, which Marx never knew firsthand. Similarly, he regretted the demise of premodern craft guilds and the settled life of burghers in cities, both of which would have spelled death to his own revolutionary project.


  6. CHAPTER TWO Talent and the Specter of Uselessness
    (pp. 83-130)

    A defining image of the Great Depression in the 1930s was photographs of men clustered outside the gates of shuttered factories, waiting for work despite the evidence before their eyes. Those photographs still disturb because the specter of uselessness has not ended; its context has changed. Large numbers of people in the rich economies of North America, Europe, and Japan want work but can’t find it.

    In the Great Depression individuals believed in a personal remedy for uselessness which transcended any government nostrum: their children should get an education and a special skill which would make the young always needed,...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Consuming Politics
    (pp. 131-178)

    Is the new economy breeding a new politics? In the past, inequality furnished the economic energy for politics; today inequality is being reconfigured both in terms of raw wealth and work experience.

    The generation of great wealth at the very top of the social order is notorious; more largely consequent may be the class divide between those who profit from the new economy and those in the middle who do not: the labor analyst Robert Reich speaks, for instance, of a “two-tier” society in which the “skills elite,” the “masters of information,” and the “symbolic analysts” cleave away from a...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Social Capitalism in Our Time
    (pp. 179-198)

    There were many foolish things about the New Left of my youth, fifty years ago, but in one way the movement was prescient beyond its years; the Port Huron Statement foresaw how state socialism could die from within. Socialism would suffocate under the weight of bureaucracy. Capitalism would remain, and remain the problem.

    As I’ve sought to show in these pages, big bureaucracy can bind as well as oppress. This has long been true of armies; Max Weber witnessed how in his time economic and civil society institutions mimicked the social structure of armies, in pursuit of social inclusion and...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 199-204)
  10. Index
    (pp. 205-214)