The new spirit of capitalism

Roundtable discussion on Luc Boltanski and Eve Chapello's book.






Publication: Soundings
Author: Couldry, Nick
Date published: July 1, 2010

Introduction

Jeremy Gilbert (with editorial input from David Hesmondhalgh)

Luc Boltanksi and Eve Chiapello's monumental work The New Spirit of Capitalism first appeared in French in 1999, but was only published in English in 2007, since when has become a key reference point in many discussions of the culture of contemporary capitalism and the politics of neoliberalism. At its heart is a study of the changing nature of management-theory discourse between the 1960s and the 1990s. It has become a commonplace in recent decades to observe the apparent resonance between the language and rhetorical priorities of some strands of the 'counterculture', and the forms of radicalism associated with T 968' and its aftermath, and the shift towards the celebration of creativity, worker autonomy, antibureaucracy and non-hierarchical and non-linear organisational systems in postfordist management theory since around the middle of the 1980s. A key historical question which this raises is that of how far the expression of such sentiments by 'countercultural' figures was ever a genuine challenge to established relations of power, and how far it was merely an expression of the spontaneous ideology of the avant garde of capital itself.

Boltanski and Chiapello make a clear and extremely well documented case that, at least in the French instance, capital and its agents were relatively slow to adopt this language, and can be seen to have done so only in the face of the self-evident failure of attempts to meet the emergent demands of the new radicalism by other means, in particular by way of the continued extension and entrenchment of the post-war social democratic settlement. According to Boltanski and Chiapello, the refusal of a new generation of potential corporate cadres to accept the forms of life typical of the mid-twentieth-century bureaucratic corporation presented capitalism with a particular set of problems at this time.

In this, Boltanski and Chiapello draw directly on Weber's famous analysis in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit oj Capitalism. Put very simply, Weber starts from the observation that engaging in long-term capital accumulation is a rather strange thing for anyone to do; having accumulated a fortune through commerce, why not simply spend it lavishly (as did the merchant princes of medieval Italy), rather than investing it in still further accumulation? The complexities of Weber's argument need not detain us here. Suffice to say that Weber argues persuasively that without some animating 'spirit' - an effective and inspiring group ideology - then the key class fractions responsible for managing and directing capital accumulation are unlikely to be motivated to carry out their task for long. This then is the key function which Boltanski and Chiapello attribute to the new spirit of post-fordist, creatively networked capitalism: that of mobilising and motivating a strategically crucial subset of the population towards their ongoing participation in its management. Although they do not operate within this theoretical register, they offer a classic analysis of the mechanics by which hegemony is exercised (in this case, essentially, the hegemony of the leading sections of international capital), demonstrating that this does not require that a majority of a given population embrace the ideological assumptions of the hegemonic groups with any enthusiasm, provided that strategically significant sections of the subaltern classes can be persuaded to do so.

One of the key issues with which the study is concerned is that of the relative political efficacy of 'critique', which they conceive of almost as a kind of autonomous subjective force. A large part of their historical argument depends upon their schematic distinction between two types of anti-capitalist critique with generally discontinuous histories: the 'social critique' and the 'artistic critique'. Put simply, the social critique - associated with the labour movement and the histories of socialism, communism, and social-democratic reformism - criticises capitalism for its tendency to generate social inequalities. The artistic critique - associated essentially with all forms of bohemianism - objects to capitalism's cultural tendencies to encourage philislinism, tedium, conformism or general crassness. '1968' is understood by Boltanski and Chiapello as characterised by an intensification of the social critique (as demands from workers and other constituencies for social equality reached new levels), but most strikingly by an irruption and widespread diffusion of a renewed artistic critique.

In perhaps the central section of the book, Boltanski and Chiapello chart the attempts by governments and capital in the 1970s to continue the social-democratic project of meeting the demands made by the social critique, before abandoning the attempt and relying instead on post-fordism and consumerist neoliberalism for the fulfilment of key demands of the artistic critique for key privileged sections, making available to them lor the first time a new life of personal and sexual freedom, and high levels of specialised consumption. The applicability of this narrative to the UK and US cases can be seen quite easily, if we contrast attempts to shore up the welfare state by Heath, Wilson, Ford and Carter with the later importance of a small but significant number of aspirational, libertarian consumers to the success of the coalitions supporting Thatcher and Reagan at the end of the 1970s.

Part of Boltanski and Chiapellos political project is to revive the tradition of social critique, which they see as re-emerging in France with the union-led anti-neoliberal protests of the mid-1990s, after many years during which radical discourse was apparently dominated by identity politics and cultural politics, informed more directly by the artistic critique. Radical political theorist Maurizio Lazzarato (in his 2009 book Experimentations Politiques) has heavily criticised this distinction between artistic and social critiques, detecting a powerful moralism at work, and insisting that the most radical forms of political organisation, currently and historically, are typified by a critique of capitalism which is irreducibly both artistic and social in nature. This criticism does point to a real danger inherent in the distinction, although it is not clear that it fairly applies to Boltanski and Chiapellos use of it as a descriptive tool. They themselves acknowledge the potency and significance of those historical moments when artistic and social critique are brought together, and would seem to imply that any effective radicalism has to work to bring about such moments.

Boltanski and Chiapello make a major contribution to the analysis of contemporary capitalist culture, particularly to the extent that they go beyond the tendency to understand its predominant social logic in terms of processes of individualisation. Whereas a range of commentators, from Robert Putnam to Zygmunt Bauman, have understood the breakdown of all forms of communitarian existence as the leitmotif of contemporary social relations, Boltanski and Chiapello stress the particular forms of sociality which post-fordist capitalism requires. In particular, the key figure which emerges as the embodiment of the new spirit of capitalism is the networker, an individual defined by their constantly shifting network of contacts, gregarious in all of the ways necessary to make them, ruthless in the termination of no-longer-profitable relationships, constantly assessing and monitoring relationships for their relative profitability, and able to move in and out of small-team situations with ease and without causing friction. One of the most potent insights here is that the networkers' relationships come to be defined not by institutional, communitarian or biographical ties but purely by the timelimited projects which they sustain. When considering this picture of a world of highly complex, interconnected, but ultimately attenuated and easily-terminable relationships, it is worth reflecting that the world of social media was almost a decade away when Boltanski and Chiapello first conceived it.

The tentative, intriguing, never-quite-satisfying conclusion to the book includes some efforts to formulate possible proposals and demands for a revived social critique which could be as appropriate to the 'projective city' (Boltanski and Chiapello's rather obscure term for the hypothetical moral regime animated by the 'new spirit of capitalism') as was the welfare state to the world of fordist mass production. These ideas are not very fully formulated, but they remain intriguing and persuasive, particularly regarding the need to create forms of social insurance and protection which accept fully the fact that so much work is now short-term and uncertain in its regularity. It is striking to note the similarity between these ideas and some of those that circulated in the early days of New Labour in British social-democratic circles, but this does nothing to undermine their potential validity: it was precisely ideas such as these - which might have ultimately made labour organisation in the UK easier and more effective than it is now, by giving workers effective protections and effective sets of demands which could prove effective in the twenty-first century - which were pushed aside in the drive to adopt uncritical neoliberalism as the paradigm for New Labour in power.

Discussion

Jeremy Let's begin by discussing the things in the book that have particularly interested and inspired us.

Nick 1 was excited by this book because it seemed to combine a radical approach to social theory - exploring what a theoretical approach to analysing the social world could do - with a serious attempt to reground a critique of the worst aspects of contemporary capitalism. The other thing that interested me was its attention to working conditions, and the absolute levels of impoverishment and injustice and alienation that are now being normalised. And that combination for me was quite unusual.

Kate I'm interested in the way the group of which Boltanski and Chiapello are part (the Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris) are trying to work with and beyond the Nietschzean/ Foucauldian/Deleuzian position - that social life is all ultimately relations of force - and the understanding that normativity is part of social life as such: norms of justice are relevant to social action in our everyday lives, and to political decisionmaking amongst elites. I think this is what Boltanski and Chiapello are trying to do in this book in terms of their project of critique. They trace the grain of how the radical critiques of the 1960s have directly, and tragically entered into management discourses and practices in a way that goes beyond the will of its originators - and possibly of any particular social actors - but does depend nevertheless on action, judgement, and the incorporation of new ethical norms into social life (in this case into corporations and the working life of 'cadres'). In my view this is exemplary of 'pragmatic sociology' at its best: showing how action and structures are interrelated in ways that depend on, but also escape, the intentions of social actors who are engaged in interpreting 'how to go on' in the world. At the same time, I think they're also trying to get at how critique can be renewed - as norms are inherent to social life - using the theoretical toolkit of pragmatic sociology. On the one hand the book is very pessimistic, suggesting that 1960s critique did nothing ultimately to challenge 'the system'. On the other hand, if we understand that social life necessarily engages 'ethical substance', that norms are not just epiphenomenal to structures of markets, the state, etc, this opens up the possibility of identifying norms and 'tests of reality' that can lead to the renewal of radical critique. And, importantly 1 think, the argument must be that this critique has at least a good chance of being popular; while it may depend initially on the insights of a small number of radical thinkers and activists, eventually, it will make sense to most people because it emerges out of shared understandings of everyday life and is based on re-thinking and re -judging the norms within which it's lived.

Nick If they're offering a radically different way of doing critical sociology - or as they call it sociology of critique - then that's important to build from, even if we don't agree with the solutions or the projections that they come out with. What they seem to do is to rule absolutely out of court an approach (with which they obviously identify Bourdieu, though they don't always name him as the father under attack) that imagines that there is a point above social space from which one can judge both the materiality of what's going on and the illusions that enable people to go on in that world. (I think they see Bourdieu's theory of habitus as an attempt to re-read human action from a sort of God's eye viewpoint.) They argue that there is no such point, and that the language of social description and critique has to start from the everyday languages of evaluation. Now, that in itself could be consistent with a straightforward and rather bland, liberal view - common in a certain type of American cultural sociology - which wouldn't get us anywhere. But what seems to me original, at least as a starting point, is that they also argue that we've got to pay attention to the reflexivity that people have within their every-day spaces of action and evaluation. And that may or may not be different from Bourdieu, but it's certainly different from the bland type of liberalism for which they could be mistaken. Secondly, they insist that they are trying to be critical, but they're seeking to rebuild critique from a different place. Here again I think their target is Bourdieu, and his - from their point of view - very crude attack on neoliberalism as basically an ideology of the market. Fm not so sure whether that's fair to Bourdieu, or whether what they offer is really very different from Bourdieu - in part this depends on how you see their view of ideology. In Boltanski 's earlier book with Thevenot, On Justification, they say there that they're not interested in legitimation, whereas the whole of the later book is about legitimation. There seems to have been a shift to build a non-controversial platform from which to launch a controversial critique - which is, in itself, an interesting move. But I'm not sure that what they offer us is particularly original as a theory about ideology. It's not a Marxist theory of ideology obviously. At times it sounds rather like an embedded notion of ideology, which works with categories that are embodied in various ways, which again is paradoxical (and not so different from Bourdieu - they deny that but share Durkheimian roots with Bourdieu). So, I think the original move is their combination of critique, a determination to carry on critique, and yet also a sort of value pluralism.

David I'm not really sure if ideology is what this is about. I think what they're really dealing with here is legitimation, motivation. And we're also dealing with constraint, with critique as a potential constraint on unfettered capitalism. There's no doubt that critique for them is forged out of ordinary human experience. It starts off with indignation, and then people reflect on that and theorise it, and build arguments out of it. One of the things that I found most interesting was the emphasis on the way that critique can be recuperated. But we're not in the dreamland of the autonomist Marxists here. Though critique is constantly in danger of being appropriated, it's definitely a motor in bringing about social change. So, there's a really strong emphasis on agency, I think. And there are some real strengths there, though there are also some problems, which I will come back to later.

Jeremy I found the book important for thinking about the relationship between capitalism and a whole range of social and cultural developments that you might call 'postmodernity', and that you might associate with post-fordism. I think it's very much in the spirit of Cultural Studies, insofar as it aspires toward conjunctural analysis, and a proper analysis of the social relations obtaining in a given situation - in contrast to so many traditional Marxist commentators, for whom pretty much everything after the late 1960s was seen as a disaster, a dead loss - the new social movements were nothing but a distraction from long-term class struggle. Boltanski and Chiapello don't agree with that position, but they don't replace it with a simplistic narrative that says: 'it's all been progress and liberalisation and democratic revolution since the late 1960s'. They say there have been some very specific losses and gains, and they actually do the historical work of figuring out at exactly what point in the 1970s, in France, post-fordist capital adopted the language of 1968. Like Hardt and Negri, they actually see "68' as a genuine radical innovation to which capitalism has had to adapt itself, albeit reluctantly and with some difficulty.

Some other good points about the book: one, they take networks seriously as a social reality and as a cultural reality, but without lapsing into technological determinism or the vitalism of Deleuze and Guattari (or some of their followers at least). Secondly they make an attempt to identify what is different about oppression in networks from the form it took in earlier stages of capitalism - this struck me as genuinely fresh. And they also try to define injustice in that context, for example in discussing mobility differentials (which we will come back to). And, most controversially of all, they suggest that the intellectual heritage of post-structuralism around the death of the subject may actually be one of the forces that makes it difficult for us to see some of these problems - which is a rather controversial position, but at least a provocative one.

David I like the way they put emphasis on both the exploitation and the emancipation side of modernity. But I especially like their analysis of two types of critique. Artistic critique emphasises autonomy, freedom, creativity and the way in which capitalism constrains those human qualities. Whereas what they call social critique emphasises poverty, oppression and so on. Differentiating the two allows them to build on classical sociological theory while making the idea of capitalism absolutely central. For example, you've got a Durkheimian concern with notions of solidarity, but also Weberian notions of status and disenchantment.

Jeremy I wonder if we should say something about the title of the book, which is a specific reference to the classic Weberian hypothesis that capitalism requires a particular 'spirit' in order to function, an ideology which in particular inspires and motivates the capitalists themselves. They think capitalism, the unlimited pursuit of profit, isn't a natural thing to do; it's quite an irrational thing to do, demanding that even those who benefit most from it engage in quite a strange and unpleasant set of practices. So you really have to sell it to the people who are going to be the cadres of capitalism. Their argument is that there is an identifiable new spirit of capitalism, and a new set of ways by which capitalism sells itself to its own agents; it's not just the exploited workers, consumers or citizens who have to be 'sold' on capitalism. I guess we're at a moment where we need these kinds of resources for making strong critiques of contemporary capitalism. There are clearly things wrong with capitalism, and we want to be able to say what they are without failing into some of: the conceptual simplicities of earlier moments. 1 think it is significant that these guys are drawing on Weber and Durkheim more than on Marx. It is very valuable to have the resource of a coherent account of contemporary capitalism and its culture which isn't wholly dependent on a Marxist approach.

Nick One of the first things that struck me when I was glancing at the book was a passage that I had to write down immediately. This is where they ask: if everything is construction, code, spectacle or simulacrum, then where is the position of exteriority on which you can build critique? For me at least this suggests a possible stagingpost, a point from which we can look back on all of the gains of post-structuralism, but can also simultaneously note that certain things have become more difficult to say, and become closed down, from within the theoretical positions that many of us have adopted. We can see that we may therefore need to develop new starting points, new foundations, in order to have a point from which to move forward. That passage captured something I felt, but hadn't been able to put with anything like the same eloquence.

David I think they have really important things to say on 'artistic critique', about the commodification of authenticity. They do a great job in unpacking the notion of authenticity historically, but they also have a sense of the popular, every-day notion of authenticity. They show how pervasive the artistic critique of inauthenticity was in what they call the 'second spirit of capitalism' - prevalent from the 1930s to the 1960s. Then they discuss the ways in which capitalism always requires a fund of ideas outside itself, and appropriates anything that isn't already a commodity, and they see the commodification of the authentic as first developing in cultural production. The question they raise is: what can be preserved from this voracious system? And the answer is: not very much. They show how the need for flexibility and adaptability in a new capitalism, based on making networks, making connections, undercuts critique - because critique ends up denouncing both inauthenticity and the naivety of that position. In a way, this is the real sociology of postmodernism, for me much more convincing than Bauman and others.

Jeremy It is important to critique a naive attachment to a romantic notion of authenticity, for example in popular music, and the idea of individual expression as the only source for musical value. But on the other hand there has always been a certain truth to this common-sense notion, and I always had a sense that one couldn't quite ignore the value of recognising that there is something alienating about the practice of commodification as it takes place under contemporary capitalism.

I think the book really does shine a very powerful light on the legacy of the late 1960s, which was the key moment when an attempt was made to link the bohemian critique of capitalism with a socialist critique of capitalism, to make them work together. Boltanski and Chiapello's story is about how the attempt fails, and what the format is of the breakdown of that imagined coalition between egalitarianism and bohemianism, and this, to me, has a much wider implication. They don't really say this, but historically the left - insofar as there has been such a thing as the left - within the history of modernity, has always been informed by the aspiration, ultimately, to make libertarianism and egalitarianism work together in some way, and that's, ultimately, what bringing together the 'artistic' and 'social' critiques could involve.

There's also a strong case to be made that it is not capitalism that is really the source of innovation and creativity, but that the source of innovation and creativity is always outside capitalism. It's always somewhere else: it's the radical movement, it's the people, it's the 'multitude', in Hardt and Negri. Capitalism then always has to borrow from the most innovative, from the most radical sources of new practices and ideas. They have to borrow the techniques which are developed there, but these techniques themselves are not capitalism or capitalist.

I think this is very, very important, because radical critique frequently falls into the trap of recognising the similarity between certain kinds of radicalism and certain kinds of cutting edge capitalist practice, and therefore assuming that they're the same thing. Either it falls into the Zizek trap of saying that anything that looks a little bit like late capitalist culture is automatically reactionary, and we'd rather be Stalinist than postmodern libertarians; or it falls into the trap of celebrating liberal individualism along with its critique of residual essentialism and conservatism. And, for me, the whole job of radical critique is to do neither of those things: the task is exactly to recognise both the proximity and the difference between the sites of real social innovation and the sites of capital. They are always very close: capitalism is always lurking very close to sources of creativity and trying to capture and learn from them.

David Though their emphasis on critique and agency is very interesting, as I indicated earlier, for me there are also problems with it. The first is that their new spirit of capitalism, centred around this key figure of the network, is constructed almost entirely out of management discourse. For all their admirable determination to restore concepts of class and exploitation, and their emphasis on working conditions and impoverishment, the way in which these ideas are embodied and thought through in the lives of working-class people is missing - that experiential sociological, ethnographic dimension. And the second problem relates to their proposals for reviving social critique, and in particular, the conditions they set out for establishing what they call a set of notions of justice based on projects rather than networks (on the grounds that networks are infinitely open, but projects are closed). They look for justice in the idea of the project rather the network; and the mechanism for doing that starts with the new social movements - which are widely identified as being made up of middle-class people, middle-class youth especially. The new social movements are supposed to push their projects at the civil servants, politicians and other managers who are sufficiently autonomous from the profit motive to recognise the importance of justice. This is quite a top-down approach. Now, I'm not making the old-fashioned ultra-leftist argument, or even the newfashioned autonomist argument, that only the working class can achieve justice, but the working class are curiously lacking in any agency in this account.

Nick I think, although they never claimed to have done any ethnography, that they're trying to demonstrate a series of resonances between the patterns and the categorisations of a working management discourse, and the categorisations that are at work, and being put to work, in the conditions of neoliberal economies.

Kate The emphasis on management discourse is maybe less surprising given the title - and working-class agency is also missing in Weber. This is a story about how capitalism creates or recreates itself, and for Weber - as for Marx in fact, in terms of the analysis of capitalism rather than the revolutionary aims of that analysis - it's not the workers who do that. But 1 wonder too about this question of motivation and ideology. The argument of Abercrombie et als book The Dominant Ideology comes to mind because Boltanski and Chiapello seem to suggest that dull economic compulsion is enough for the workers, and it's only the managers who need to be motivated, because they're got other options.

I do think it's very important to look at motivation and how it's embedded in the self-identification of these managers; how they convince themselves that they are working for the common good, and how they do have ideas of liberty and authenticity about their daily working practices. But because Boltanski and Chiapello haven't done an ethnography of the managers' working lives, do we know that it's really these noble ideals that motivate them? This is important for the social theory, because they're trying to show how the micro-practices of recuperated critique are actively creating the macro-structures of a new capitalist social formation. But if the ideas of management discourse are only legitimating, rather than really motivating, have Boltanski and Chiapello really achieved their analytical goal? Have they really shown how normative ideals are effective in social action? And that it's the recuperated ideas of the radical critique of capitalism that are being used to change its forms (to turn structures into networks, norms into projects, salaried executives into the entrepreneurs of their own lives)? Might we not just as easily think that capitalism is changing, or being changed, by other means (for example, by the decisions of financiers and politicians that markets need de-regulating, union power needs curbing, borders need opening up - as the traditionalists like David Harvey would say). For the traditionalists, the ideas of autonomy, networking and flattened egalitarian networks that Boltanski and Chiapello analyse so well are (to put it crudely) merely epiphenomenal to that re-structuring. They're responses to what's happening rather than really making a difference. Perhaps there's no real, no empirical, way of deciding between these two accounts (and I am very interested in, and sympathetic to, the theoretical premises of Boltanski' and Chiapello). But it's an important question if we're to take seriously the idea that normativity really makes a difference, that it plays a part in structuring social institutions rather than simply providing a mask for fundamental relations of force. That ideals only ever legitimate decisions made elsewhere, rather than entering into decision-making in a way that really makes a difference . . .

Nick That's the key question about the book, I think. In concrete terms their hypothesis means that members of capitalist elites on the whole have to justify their own actions to themselves in basically moral terms; and the question is: can they do this or not?

Kate And, most importantly, do the justifications make a difference to what they decide and how they act?

David Yes, but for me one of the problems is that the book somewhat lacks a portrayal of the people at the bottom of the heap. I agree very much with their brilliant critique of the limitations of 'social exclusion' as a critical concept; but, whatever we call the consequences of inequality, unless you have some sense of whether those dreams of autonomy are really, actually, infringing on people's lives in particular ways, something is missing sociologically.

It seems possible, for example, that people still clock-watch and put quite rigid boundaries around their working lives in many, many instances in contemporary societies. But this book concentrates overwhelmingly on experiences which are not about that. Instead they concentrate on the damaging effects of notions of autonomy being taken from the artistic critique and recuperated by capitalism, ultimately helping to break down any separation between work and leisure. But how widespread is that really? And the dull compulsion of the economic is never just about money. The economic is always social and cultural as well as being about money in the bank account. It's the promise of the holiday, it's related to feelings, to emotions of self-worth derived from levels of income and recognition . . .

Kate And security.

Jeremy To be fair they do offer some empirical evidence that the new management theory has affected actual capitalist practice; they don't do the ethnography to find out if people really believe in it, but they do offer some evidence that companies remodel themselves on the basis of its presuppositions. Of course, they do start with the presupposition that by analysing the texts of current management theory you will find out what is the animating discourse of the current capitalist elite; and you either buy that or you don't.

Nick The question of how widespread such management practices are is unclear, because if you take a book like Madeleine Bunting's Willing Slaves, which is based on interviews and peoples letters written to her, and some observation on shop floors . . .

Kate Or Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed . . .

David And the later book she wrote, Bait and Switch, which is, if you like, the white collar version . . .

Nick ... all these accounts raise the question of the violence that's done to people's family and personal lives, and the fabric of their lives, by contemporary working practices at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

Kate For me a very interesting part of the book is Boltanski and Chiapello's thinking on justice today. It seems to me that they're trying to take the norms of this new era, and say, okay, so what does justice look like now, if it's no longer about income, particularly, or it's no longer about 'equality of opportunity' in the way that social democrats once thought of it? Can we think, for example, that if mobility is now a universal ideal, then mobility should be a right for all? Or at the very least, that justice demands there must be compensation where people don't have mobility? This, for me, is one of the most interesting and inspiring aspects of the book.

Nick I also thought their idea of mobility differentials really helpful because it takes forward the critique of networks that, to me, is rather inert, in Castells's work - where there's simply a structural comparison between the huge groups of people that happen to be still points, and those who are moving around, and analysis of the various forces which are moving. Some people have to stay in the back office, so that others can be funded to go to a conference, and so on. But if this differential works through embodied values it cuts very deep, and this analysis therefore goes much deeper than Castells was able to.

David I do have a problem with the book when it comes to setting up their reconstruction of the social critique. Boltanski and Chiapello say that the new social movements are probably better equipped to develop a critique that can contain capitalism than are older labour movements, because these social movements are bringing with them a more critically developed notion of networks from 1968 into the world of this new spirit of capitalism. Their idea seems to be that the new social movements pass this on to the politicians and civil servants and other managers who are relatively autonomous. I do think that's very limited. It's an extraordinarily pessimistic book in the end. If you look at their projective 'city', or logic of justification - which they see as underpinning the present third spirit of capitalism - its constraints are actually relatively tentative and minor, whereas its legitimation is pretty fully realised. It's wonderful that they manage to formulate practical proposals for reviving social critique in the networked world, but although they try to put together some suggestions, they also acknowledge how limited this is, and that we're likely to see insecurity and inequality grow. Not that I find this pessimism problematic in itself though - of course there's a hell of a lot to be pessimistic about.

Author affiliation:

Nick Couldry is Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London; Jeremy Gilbert is Reader in Cultural Studies at the University of East London; David Hesmondhalgh is Professor of Media and Music Industries at Leeds University; Kate Nash is Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London (and currently Vincent Wright Chair at Sciences Po, Paris).

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