Multitudes 4 on the New Spirit of Capitalism

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* Article: Nouvel Ere du Capitalism. By Boltanski and Chiapello. Special Issue of Multitudes #4.


The authors wrote a book together, Le Nouvel Esprit du Capitalisme, the 'New Spirit of Capitalism'.


Michel Bauwens, 2004:

Article 1

The authors identify a new 'spirit' of capitalism, centered around the 3 axes of enthusiasm, security, and justice, which has incorporated the 'artist criticism' of capitalism, which was expressed in the 1960s, but not the 'social criticism' of capitalism, which it had disabled in the 1990s. This critique is now resurging because the new model only answered the autonomy/creative requirements of the new cognitive classes, but not the demands for security and justice. And capitalism cannot exist without justifications. The lack of such justification shows the transitoryness of the current model.

A note on the events of 1968: 1968 was an exceptional event because it combined both the social and artistic movements and their separate critiques of capitalism. But today, after a 'system without alternatives' was dominant in the 1990s, the social critique has been re-invigorated, with an adaptation to the network. For example, the concept of 'exclusion' is a typical network concept. But where is the exploitation that causes the new social misery ? The differentiation is now between the succesful and the excluded, and is derived from the concept of mobility or adaptability, including at the psychic level.

Article 2: Maurizio Lazzarato on 'government by individuation'

This is an article about a new form of governance which analyzes problems, and their solutions, as related to the characteristic lifestyle of the individual, who is therefore categorized, controlled and 'responsibilized' (workfare). This is an attempt by the private sector to tie the social to work and efficiency/profit related criteria, so that they can take control of it.

Against these attempts, the authors states that social risk lies only marginally with such individuals, but on the contrary, it is the world of industry itself which has now life and death effects on 'society as a whole' (instead of on groups of exploited workers, as in early capitalism). These forms of democracy which rely on state-business-union partnerships are no longer adequate.

Article 3: The society of risk

Other articles continue in the same vein: they describe the transition towards a society of risk, tied to the individual, and managed by private insurances, which transform risk into a profitable resource. If aid is to be given, then this is no longer a collective righ, but an individual contract, aiming to re-insert the individual in the world of work. This is the essence of the 'Refondation Sociale" proposed by Ewald Kessler for the Medef employer's organization in France. There is a constant erosion of collective rights, replaced by contracts, conditions and control, which pressure the individual. Since the eighties, it is understood that insurance will cover the strong, while public assistance will only cover the weak, the unemployed.

Article 4: Grumback interview

In an interview, T. Grumback explains how industrial capital was in a minority vis a vis the land-owning class, who, following the French Revolution's abolition of collective rights and corporations, only wanted to recognize individual contracs It is the massification of industrial accidents in the late 19th cy which led to a reformist debate on the issue. The ensuing reforms will 'socialize the risk' of accidents through insurance.

In the 1980s, legal protections were eroded by allowing 'negotiated exceptions', and collective bargaining broke down at the sectoral level, replaced by groups of entreprises. This gave rise to a differentiation between 'protected core workers' and marginalized temporary workers. Flexible collective contracts became the dominant new norm, over and above the law. At the same time, 'unemployability' came to be recognized as a systemic risk. Thus, funding is necessary to obtain social pacification, but with this demand: that unions become 'partners' in rationally calculated world, which precludes the progress that can result from conflict.

Article 5: A. Corsani on the new salariat

Corsani talks about the 'salariat of the 2nd generation':

   - "Le salariat de la deuxième génération a les caractéristiques du travailleur indépendant mais à l'intérieur de la relation de travail et dans le cadre du contrat de travail.".

This means that these workers are salaried, they have gained a measure of control over the time and manner of their work. Today, in France, only 50% of workers receive a regular monthly wage. All of this means that the traditional demand for less working hours is no longer operative.

A. Corsani:

- "La rémunération va dépendre de l'engagement subjectif de la personne dans la recherche des solutions les plus efficaces aux problèmes de la production et du marché. La rémunération est fonction de la disponibilité du salarié à assumer la responsabilité du risque. Il ne met plus à disposition du temps, mais sa propre subjectivité, son intelligence, sa capacité de gestion, d'organisation de la coopération, sa capacité de réguler les espaces et les temps de sa vie, en fonction des objectifs de l'entreprise."

Article 6: Chakrabarty's Provincialising Europe

Until now, the history of capital and the history of Europe coincided, and mediated the rest of the world's history, but paradoxically, now that there is no more exterior, Europe will provincialize. This is so because historical difference and social multiplicity are continuously re-emerging, and it is the task of the historical to highlight these, against any homogenising and eurocentric tendencies.

C. argues gainst histocicism, i.e. seeing history as developing in temporal staes, which seeing the other as backward, for example, seeing spirit worship as pre-modern.

C. argues that since these are contemporaneous with secularism, both are equally modern and we need conceptions that do not judge the other as anachronisms. Europe should not be seen as a yardstic. Thus, he in fact refuses any integrating vision. In the 2nd part, he uses the example of Bengali history, in order to stress the differences.

Capital imposes a uniform time on society and creates a 'history 1' which logically leads to its domination and continuously tries to dominate a differentiated 'history 2'.

Since Empire, the 2nd half of the 20th cy, the history of capital no longer coincides with the history of Europe, from it which it has emancipated.

Article 7: The Geopolitics of Knowledge

This is an article critical of two great narratives:

   - The 'western civilization' story, mostly philosophical and dominant in western europe
   - The 'modern world' story, mostly present in the social sciences, and US centril

The concept of modernity used in literature and philosophy, does not equal the modern world system concept as used in the social sciences. White the first is focused on temporal patterns, seeing the developments from its origins in Greece; the latter is more focused on spatial patterns, starting in the XVth cy only; the first one is mono-topical; the later is pluri-topical, since it involves coloniality.

This coloniality (a cultural aspect to be distinguished from colonialism) is a derived function from modernity, starting their narrative in the XVIIIth cy (cfr Quijano and Dussel)

   - 'Ils ont rendu possible de concevoir que le systeme monde moderne (colonia) soit decrit en conjonction avec le commercie triangulaire, et que cela soit lie aux differences coloniales. Cette derniere mets en avant une histoire humaine differencie et occulte par les discours centre sur la modernite."

The author Mignolo further distinguishes 'dependency theory', which explained the position of colonial countries and suggested forms of political action; from world systems theory, which concerns a change in methodology in the social sciences, and thus action in the academic world.

Fals Borda, in "Ciencia Propria y Colonialismo Intelectual", was the first to denounce a cultural imperialism which only saw solutions coming from the horizon of "European possibilities". Bordas argued that traditional indigenous knowledge was just as important. It is this project that Dussel wants to continue. Modernity should also be seen from the point of view of the enslaved Africans, the exterminated Indians, and the emergence of creole consciousness. Cited are Franz Fanon, Rigobertu Mencuu, Globria Anzalduce, Subramani, Abdelkebir Khatika, and Edouard Glissant as initiatiors of such non-Eurocentric philosophies. Such a new philosophy cannot be a continuity of western thinking, and needs awareness of the geopolitics of knowledge.

In this context: "Fanon est l'equivalentde Kant, comme Guaman Poma de Ayola, dans le Perou colonial, peut-etre considere comme l'equivalent d'Aristote en tant que reference obligatoire de la pensee."

Thus, Mignolo and Dussel critique even 'western critical philosophers', such as Foucault, as Eurocentric. Others, such as Vine Deloria ("God is Red"), build a philosophy on radically different premises, from the rediscovery of their own tradition of colonial difference.

Philosophy must go beyond a critique of modernity (as in Vattimo's critique of instrumental reason, itself criticized for staying eurocentric): colonized philosophies must appropriate modernity, go to a transmodernity, and offer a philosophy of liberation that can take the two camps forward. The same must happen in the social sciences, where one has to start to look from capitalism's outside (what Wallterstein has not done, says Mignolo).

Coloniality, for Quijano, is constitutive of the modern world-system, not a consequence of it. Colonialism for modernity, where racism and universalism were its basis; and coloniality which creates a world-system that is integrated, for post-modernity.

An example of such work is Greece. It is not constitutive of Europe, which only started at the Rennaissance, but has multiple ramifications for other parts of the world, which independently digested its heritage.

   - "Une des consequence de cette perspective serait la diversite comme projet universel, plutot que la formulation d'un nouveau projet abstrait universel."