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The Culture of the New Capitalism

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The Culture of the New Capitalism

Yale UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Richard Sennett’s Yale lectures: a compelling social critique of capitalism and corporations today.


Editorial Rating

9

Qualities

  • Innovative

Recommendation

This provocative series of Yale lectures by noted sociologist Richard Sennett examines the ways that contemporary capitalism is reshaping workers’ career and political choices. Contemporary capitalist organizations – with their short-lived teams, and emphasis on change and flexibility – demand a new type of employee. They call for someone who can work with temporary connections, unattached to the past, and focus on talent and potential, not skill, achievement or experience – a strange, arguably perverse kind of individual. Proponents of this shifting, unstructured kind of capitalism say it is liberating. However, Sennett contends that, in fact, it makes employees more insecure and less free, and devalues their knowledge and usefulness. He accurately, concisely captures the essential features of the new capitalist enterprise. Anyone who has followed management literature over the past two decades knows about its emphasis on continuous learning, adaptability and change, and might find Sennett’s analysis of its unintended consequences quite revealing. getAbstract thinks Sennett is at his best when he raises a question that management writers often ignore: how does the demand for these traits affect individuals and society?

Summary

The Dream Came True

In the 1960s, the thinkers of the New Left hoped to achieve a better, more unified and equal society by taking aim at socialist and capitalist bureaucracies. The subsequent disintegration of those bureaucracies seems to have realized part of the New Left’s dream. However, its vision of heightened community, trust and solidarity did not replace the corporate bureaucracies. More negative forces prevailed instead, as the 1960s-driven wave of change led to a disorienting fragmentation of work and home life, heightened anxiety and scandalous social inequality. Career success in this new capitalistic order requires a person who is capable of:

  • Transient relationships, geographic instability and a fluid sense of self.
  • Retooling, re-schooling and replacing old skills with new.
  • Indifference to achievement and craftsmanship.

The new personality must look to the very near term, emphasize potential rather than proven accomplishment and avoid going very deeply into any task or skill – since skills become obsolete so quickly. Because organizational flexibility is now paramount, unsettling, unanchored work structures prevail, including...

About the Author

Richard Sennett teaches sociology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the London School of Economics. His recent publications include The Corrosion of Character and Respect in a World of Inequality.


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