Bakhtin the capitalist

Stallybrass and White critize Bakhtin for conceptualizing the fair purely as a place of communal celebration, ignoring the commercial activities of the fair: “In developing this concept, Bakhtin succumbs to that separation of the festive and the commercial which is distinctive of capitalist . . . . Continue Reading »

Elegant dress

In his Theory of the Leisure Class , Thorstein Veblen notes that it is good if it shows that “the wearer can afford to consumer freely and uneconomically,” but beyond that should “make plain to all observers that the wearer is not engaged in any kind of productive labor.” . . . . Continue Reading »

Rational Actors

Featherstone claims that economics has generally focused on the production rather than the consumption side of things, perhaps because of “the assumption that consumption was unproblematic because it was based upon the concept of rational individuals buying goods to maximize their . . . . Continue Reading »

Roofless factory

The “roofless factory” of some contemporary capitalist theory and practice reverses one of the basic drives of modern economic life. Bringing all workers into a single location under a single roof was one of the main features of the early modern factory system, and provided not only the . . . . Continue Reading »

Estate Tax

Peter Beinart offers one contradictory, one misleading, and one astonishing argument in favor of the estate tax on the “super rich” (TNR, May 15). The contradictory argument first: He quotes from Teddy Roosevelt to the effect that the wealthy owe a particular debt to the state because . . . . Continue Reading »


Consumerism is a popular category of analysis, but what exactly does it mean? How is consumerism or the consumer society different from anything else? Haven’t every economies had producers and consumers? In his The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism , Colin Campbell offers . . . . Continue Reading »


Sennett again: “The number of men aged fifty-five to sixty-four at work in the United States has dropped from nearly 80 percent in 1970 to 65 percent in 1990.” Trends are similar in Western Europe. Older workers are often downsized, perceived as inflexible deadwood, too critical of . . . . Continue Reading »

Economy of ingratitude

To return to one of my recent obsessions: The flexible economy described by Sennett seems inimical to the cultivation of gratitude, one of the key components or grounds of loyalty. Employers have various sorts of incentives (stock prices, meeting market demands with flexible specializations) to . . . . Continue Reading »


Sennett claims that the apparent decentralization of power in flexible organizations is only apparent. In fact, power remains concentrated in the hands of top level managers, often enhanced by the surveillance capabilities of contemporary technologies. The actual practice of flextime illustrates . . . . Continue Reading »


Sennett summarizes a study from the early 1990s done by the American Management Association, which found that “repeated downsizings produce ‘lower profits and declining worker productivity.’” The study found “less than half the companies achieved their experience . . . . Continue Reading »