Two very different books on capitalism

A couple of weeks ago I read through Nick Gane’s new book on Max Weber and Contemporary Capitalism. Here’s some information about the book. It’s a really impressive exploration of how Max Weber’s writings might be used to analyse contemporary capitalism. It also argues that Weber’s approach to concept formation might be used to develop new concepts that emerge out of markets, class and neoliberalism. As such Nick also looks to challenge and adapt some of Weber’s ideas and some of the concepts we have come to rely in. As part of my book project I’ve been trying to work through some of the connections between culture and capitalism. Nick’s book got me thinking about how this might be part of the story I’m trying to develop. So I’ve turned to two very different books about capitalism to see how culture might be placed into the systems, structures and political economy of contemporary capitalism. To try to develop this a bit I’m in the process of reading books by Immanuel Wallerstein and Scott Lash.

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So far I’ve read most of Wallerstein’s short book on Historical Capitalism from the early 1980s. And I’m a few pages into Scott Lash’s 2010 book Intensive Culture. These really vary in style but both are looking to think globally about the connections of capitalism.

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Wallerstein’s book makes connections between global and local distributions and accumulations of wealth. So,for example, there is one passage in which he looks at how taxation can reinforce the uneven distribution rather than equalise it. This is clearly counterintuitive but is quite provocative in forcing some reflection upon the way that state power might reinforce inequality. His concern, particularly in the first section, is with the accumulation of capital and how this is achieved and maintained.

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Lash’s book deals more directly with some of the transformations that have occurred in capitalism over recent years (a focus that stretches back through his earlier work). I’m only in the initial stages of the book, but the central argument is striking from the outset. Lash’s position is that globalisation stretches outwards and acts inwards at the same time. He describes contemporary capitalism and culture as being increasingly ‘extensive’. That is to say that it is expanding its reach. Whilst at the same time it is also increasingly ‘intensive’. His suggestion here being that it works more intensively on us rather than being diluted by its spreading out. He provides various examples of this intensification, which focus on social media and the like, but the book itself then unpicks intensive culture in the round. With a central focus upon the connections between intensive culture and intensive capitalism. I’m not sure where this will all go yet, but it seems to me that work in media and culture needs to be located in the context of contemporary capitalism. This tends to be a bit if an absence. I’m going to try to integrate some of these issues in my book, as a kind of backdrop, if I can. To do this I’m going to move on to some of the other debates on capitalism next.

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