Bev Skeggs on values beyond value

In a previous post I mentioned some of the reading I was doing, I’ve now had chance to read Bev Skegg’s article ‘Values beyond value? Is anything beyond the logic of capital?‘ in detail. I found it to be genuinely inspiring. The last three pages in particular are programmatic in their scope and they lay out a marker for how values might be defended and studied, and also how our analysis of values might also potentially escape the logic of capital. Bev’s piece is really provocative and it poses some really thoughtful questions about the types of issues sociology should be addressing and how it might approach them.

More broadly the article, which is based on Bev’s 2013 British Journal of Sociology Annual Public Lecture, draws a range of themes together from her earlier work. In the piece Bev explores how, in different ways, her previous research projects explored the relations between values and value. This is set in the contemporary context, in which the ‘logic of capital…commodifies every aspect of our lives’ (2). These strands of her research are then explored in their convergence with developments in the neoliberal agenda of calculation and competition. The article asks what can escape this logic of capital. This question is explored through the language of value and values, and through an exploration of how these are applied to different types of people.

These discussions culminate with some far reaching conclusions that speak directly to some of the broad issues that face contemporary sociological analyses. For example, Bev tellingly argues that ‘living within the logic of capital does not prefigure internalization’ (15). She attempts to then briefly think through the spaces that are not necessarily ‘completely colonized by capital’. The article claims that we are not just shaped by disenchantment, alienation and anomie. There are ‘moments’, as Bev describes them, where we find such spaces. The article closes with some observations about how we might capture and use such moments of resistance, affection and attention.

In one crucial passage, Bev suggests that:

‘If we can only see from within the blinkers of capital’s logic we will never understand or recognise the values that live beyond value. Our own analysis will trap us into that which we are expected to reveal. We therefore, as sociologists, have a duty to look beyond and search for the gaps, the un-captured and better ways if being and doing’ (16).

To do this, the article argues that we need to ‘pay attention to our own and others’ moments of love, care, and enchantment, to the connections that enable us to flourish’ (17). It is in these passages that Bev’s article offers some orientation for the ongoing analysis of values and value. A focus on these moments, the article closes, ‘may block the logic of capital as it tries to capture absolutely everything, including our analysis’. This opens-up a range of questions for sociology to consider and sets a really interesting agenda. As I understand it, this is an early piece from a 3 year fellowship on values and value, with the topics covered in this article likely to unfold over the coming years. I can’t really do justice to Bev’s article in this short post, it really needs to be read in full.

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