Spirited Away: When Political Economy Becomes Culturalized<sup>1</sup>…

Hugh Willmott

in New Spirits of Capitalism?

Published in print February 2013 | ISBN: 9780199595341
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191750755 | DOI:
Spirited Away: When Political Economy Becomes Culturalized1…

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The chapter explores a number of shortcomings in The New Spirit of Capitalism including the neglect of studies of management that are often more penetrating than literatures which are cited; the weak articulation, positioning and justification of Boltanski and Chiapello's theoretical stance; the confusing conception of `spirit’ in relation to the Weber's very different formulation of the same term; the omission of neo-liberalism and financialization when accounting for the most recent `connexionist’ phase of capitalism; and a failure to incorporate consideration of `ecological critique’. The most significant shortcoming of NSC, it is suggested, is the disinclination to situate the significance ascribed to `spirit’ in a discussion of political economy. How notions of autonomy, security and fairness, for example, serve to lubricate the reproduction of capitalism can be affirmed without overlooking how a secular devotion with what Weber identifies as the `calling to make money’ provides the most potent and enduring source of legitimacy. Boltanski and Chiapello's conception of capitalism is that of a disembedded and `absurd system’ governed by impersonal forces and (re)produced independently of the everyday relations and mundane practices that, arguably, make it (more or less) meaningful. Lacking this normative ballast, the `system’ is understood to require repeated injections of `spirit’ to remedy the deficiency. Contra Boltanski and Chiapello, it is necessary to situate the significance of `the cultural’ within the study of political economy in an integrated manner, and not to treat `the cultural’ — in the form of `spirit’ — as a discrete activity that accounts for the development of different phases of capitalism.

Keywords: political economy; secular devotion; Protestant Ethic; Weber; neo-liberalism financialization

Chapter.  11622 words. 

Subjects: Political Economy

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