Luc Boltanski and Eva Chiapello The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso: London, 2005; 601 pp.: 9781844671656 24.99 [pounds sterling] (pbk)
By 1980, thematic capitalism had been pushed into the show case of history as an antithesis to Marxism. In the 1980s, references to capitalism were few and far between. Changes were being taken stock of by 'economic and technical necessity and local transformations affecting working conditions, unemployment, inequality, emotional and family life', etc. But all those discourses lacked a macro-sociological perspective that could enable a social scientist to understand and predict the phenomenon of change with the help of certain underlying values and principles. Such an enterprise would need to refer to capitalism, and this has prompted the authors of this book to seek to construct a framework that takes in capitalism via a sociology of critique, combining various approaches in terms of critical sociology against a backdrop of 'supra-individual entities' called capitalism.
The methodology adopted by the authors in the pursuit of a new spirit of capitalism is squarely heuristic by nature. The case studies used to strengthen the framework have been drawn from events that occurred in a limited locale, in this case France. Though the authors themselves admit the limitations of the approach, in no way does it cause major hindrance to the enterprise, because the 'normative exigencies' by which individual actions are claimed to be inspired are unique and kaleidoscopic, depending upon the politico-socioeconomic and cultural environment of a place where normative changes occur. This normative change can be understood and scaled by a systematic study of the orientation of a cluster of values embedded into a particular milieu. This orientation is again an off-set of this complex environment, with the authors in serious pursuit of the discovery of an underlying principle that can explain different normative exigencies and change. Only then can a 'macro-sociological perspective' be achieved. The temptation on the part of the authors to develop a 'macro-sociological perspective' could have been abandoned, in which case the book would have seemed post-modernist.
The critical sociological approach gains focus through the work of two important thinkers: Weber and Hirschman. While the former pleaded for capitalism's need for individual reasons, the later vouches for the common good of society at large. The authors of the book...