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New Spirits of Capitalism?Crises, Justifications, and Dynamics$
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Paul du Gay and Glenn Morgan

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199595341

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199595341.001.0001

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Spirited Away: When Political Economy Becomes Culturalized 1 …

Spirited Away: When Political Economy Becomes Culturalized 1 …

(p.98) Chapter 5 Spirited Away: When Political Economy Becomes Culturalized1
New Spirits of Capitalism?

Hugh Willmott

Oxford University Press

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

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