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The Culture of the New Capitalism Hardcover – January 1, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Reflective, studded with sharp insights, moving with grace between big ideas and specific cases. This is vintage Sennett.”—Douglas W. Rae, author of City:Urbanism and Its End

(Douglas W. Rae)

"A fairly successful economy does not produce much in the way of contentment. Are there seismic rumbles that might cause cracks on the surface? Richard Sennett thinks so. Read on."—Robert M. Solow, Institute Professor Emeritus, M.I.T.

(Robert M. Solow)

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (January 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030010782X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300107821
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #567,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a member of the New Left in the 1960's, Richard Sennett was a young radical railing against big corporations and big government. He was also critical of state socialism for being just another bureaucratic system holding the individual in its suffocating grip. That was then, now the bureaucracies have been delayered and flattened out. It's management by email.

As the old saw goes: Be careful what you ask for. In "The Culture of New Capitalism," Sennett seems somewhat nostalgic for the security and rewarding work that bureaucracies once provided. The dismantling of large-scale institutions did not result in the communities of trust and solidarity for which the radicals had hoped. Instead, they left modern day workers in very fragmented and ambiguous working conditions.

According to Sennett, these conditions came about in the 1970's and have accelerated since. After the breakdown of the Bretton Woods agreement, capital markets became globalized. Corporate managers became more concerned about increasing short term value - higher share price - and less concerned about the long-term welfare of their employees. Over the years wages have stagnated and benefits have been reduced. In short, "the new capitalism" or "new economy" of which he speaks has been reconfigured to give an increasing amount of wealth to shareholders rather than employees.

What effect this has had on the workplace is the focus of this study. The target industries of this study were high technology, finance, and media, but what has taken place there foreshadows what is happening in other industries and also the public sector.

First, Sennett finds that employees must learn how to manage short-term relationships; corporations no longer provide a long-term framework.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Richard Sennett in THE CULTURE OF THE NEW CAPITALISM reflects upon the reactionary extirpation over the past three decades of the Western social capitalist state. Starting with a discussion of Bismarckian social capitalism which was founded on the model of the Prussian Army's highly successful bureaucracy and which provided structure and discipline to cultural relations, Sennett ends with a bleak meditation on the values encoded in the New Economy versus the Old. These include the elevation of process over craftsmanship, of "flexibility" over stability, of superficial over deep knowledge, and of centralized power over mediated authority. Along the way, Sennett shares pithy insights into the nature of this revolutionary shift and the cultural and economic dislocations it has caused.

Sennett states that three new pages were turned in the late twentieth century workplace. "First has been the shift from managerial to shareholder power in large companies." (pg. 37) This shift in power, according to Sennett turned a second new page: "The empowered investors wanted short-term rather than long-term results." The third new page representing a challenge to the past "lay in the development of new technologies of communication and manufacturing." He notes that "one consequence of the information revolution has...been to replace modulation and interpretation of commands by a new kind of centralization." (pg. 43) At the same time, automation, growing out of technological innovation "...has affected the [social capitalist] bureaucratic pyramid in one profound way: the base of the pyramid no longer needs to be big." (pg. 43). Circuits replace people.
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Format: Paperback
Sennett presents a passionate analysis of the latest developments of our working conditions and how these affect our feelings of inadequacy and frustration as workers/employees, etc. Contextualized in a diachronic explanation of the business practices, his essays are mainly centered around the bureaucratic (dis)function of corporations and on the way workers and employees react to the latest logic of capital, which is presented as a moving target of uncertain consequences. Although his reflection is at times too quick--to the point of falling into some stylistic mishaps--the reader has a better understanding regarding the whys and hows of the frenzied realities associated with consumption and desire. Sennett does a great job of integrating into his interpretation different philosophical and theoretical approaches, using good analogies and concise language. However, as I was reading his intelligent dissection of the "the specter of uselessness," particularly in relation to the lack of recognition for a "job well done", I was surprised that the author did not make a connection with the traditional Marxist concept of alienation. Similarly, I would have liked to see Lacan's ideas of desire when Sennett elaborated on consumption.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in having a clearer image of the dynamic nature of late capitalism and its impact on the quality of our lives.
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Format: Paperback
Sennett's thesis is sustainedly incisive and well-reasoned, his analyses based on years of interviews and field research for his various book projects and now here rendered in a distilled, leavened and non-reportorial form. What he identified as the deficits of the new social capitalism as a result of the upheavals to the old bureaucratic order of labor is disquieting and makes one wonder how we might possibly ameliorate if not counter it. His suggests this at the end of the book in pointing to 3 social developments that aim to re-foster a sense of life narrative, social community (through unions that act as job matchers and social community, and job sharing schemes) and personal agency in planning one's life (through some form of personal allocation of funds by the state).

Elsewhere, his diagnosis of the inherently agitating, dynamic and shifting new economic order based on the ownership of shareholders seeking short-term gains and implicitly heralding the virtues of constant change, organizational reengineering and creative destruction over stability and long-term value building might bear challenging in some respects. While there is truth in his statement at the time of the book's publication, the ensuing global economic downturn has hearkened a return to the perceived desirability of stability and stolidity in corporations as investors seek shelter from the economic mayhem.

I also questioned his portrayal of the superficially engaged and ever change-responsive ideal employee bearing 'potential' over experience, the suggestion of which is that the new economy no longer affords the accumulation and deepening of experience or development of a spirit of craftsmanship.
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