Capitalism and Classical Social Theory, Third Edition

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9781487588182: Capitalism and Classical Social Theory, Third Edition
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In this third edition of Capitalism and Classical Social Theory, John Bratton and David Denham build on the classical triumvirate—Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, and Max Weber—by extending the conversation to include early female theorists such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as well as the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois and G.H. Mead.


Connecting current headlines in the political mainstream to concepts like alienation, anomie, class, gender, race, and the environment, Capitalism and Classical Social Theory sheds light on how classical social theories may be applied and understood within a contemporary context. This revised and expanded third edition features topical discussions of socio-economic shifts in the post-Trump and post-Brexit world and uses original excerpts and additional readings to further contextualize the significance of classical social theory today.

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About the Author:

John Bratton is a visiting professor at both Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, in the UK.
David Denham is an honorary research fellow at the University of Wolverhampton in the UK, where he taught a wide variety of sociology courses over a career of 35 years.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface


Since the second edition of this book, we have witnessed seismic social-economic and political changes that have reverberated worldwide. For North America, the UK, and Europe, these changes seem to have engendered a sense of crisis—a sense of impending war, terrorist attacks, political turmoil with popular insurrections and riots, racism, xenophobia, and general foreboding as health provisions are commodified or scaled back. That’s not all. Technological acceleration has transformed our planet, our societies, and ourselves. The surfeit of well-documented reports link climate change to human activity and provide irrefutable evidence of an ecological crisis. The replacement of human labor power by robotic production and artificial-intelligence systems points to “jobless growth,” threatening the last vestiges of job security in manual and core professional occupations. Digital technologies are complicit in the transformational challenges we face today. It is possible for workers to be engaged, surveilled, and managed by text messages. Digital platforms harvest our personal tastes and preferences, which are sold to commercial advertisers and political lobbying groups. Data are the key resource of twenty-first-century capitalism—as crucial as coal, electricity, and oil in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—creating global giants such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple (the first trillion-dollar corporation) with immense corporate power.


Have we experienced a period of crisis before? There have indeed been other dramatic years of rupture and uncertainty, such as 1926, when the British Trades Union Congress called a general strike that led the national government to mobilize the army; 1968, when police and the National Guard with fixed bayonets clashed with protestors against the Vietnam war on the streets of Chicago, and students and workers rioted on the streets of Paris; 1979, when the Berlin Wall came down; 1994, when elections in South Africa led to a coalition government, marking the official end of the apartheid system; 2008, when the global financial crisis, triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, shook the world; and 2011, when we witnessed the pro-democracy revolts in North Africa and the Arab world, the short-lived anti-capitalist Occupy movement, and the environmental disaster caused by severe damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Since 2014, we have witnessed the election of an ex-TV celebrity star, Donald Trump, as President of the United States; the United Kingdom voted to sever its 44-year membership in the European Union—the so-called Brexit; and, in an age of unprecedented migration of people, there have been election gains for alt-right politicians across Europe including the UK, France, Germany, Hungary, and Poland.


There are some parallels between the election of Trump and the surprising Brexit result in that in both countries a large swathe of voters, often white working class, were discontent with the status quo. These voters felt increasingly insecure—left behind by economic globalization and socially marginalized by neoliberal welfare policies—and had lost faith in mainstream politicians meant to serve them. Economically depressed “rust belt” manufacturing and coal-mining regions and mid-American states voted for Trump, just as the post-industrial towns in the north of England, Wales, and rural England voted heavily to leave the European Union. Seven of the poorest ten regions in Northern Europe are in England. All seven had substantial Brexit majorities. In 2016, Barack Obama attributed the two electoral earthquakes partly to social dislocations that have resulted from a rapidly changing world: “Globalization combined with technology combined with social media and constant information have disrupted people’s lives, sometimes in very concrete ways ... A manufacturing plant closes, and suddenly an entire town no longer has what was the primary source of employment ... making people less certain of their national identities or their place in the world.” The election of Trump and the EU referendum result have left the US and Britain acutely divided by age, class, gender, and education. These social fissures are not new but reflect the consequences of post-1990 economic globalization and neoliberal ideology.


Added to this cauldron of uncertainty and social turmoil is the phenomenon of post-factual politics and “fake news” written and disseminated through social media with the intent to mislead in order to damage an entity or politician, and/or gain political advantage. Social media platforms and global-spanning corporations have challenged the traditional sources and centers of authority as never before across the developed world. Even in the age of Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook, the argument of this book is that the classical social thinkers speak to the present as much as the past. We shall attempt to illustrate the startlingly contemporary relevance of the classical analysis of capital’s crisis-generation modus operandi and its ever-expanding destruction of industrial jobs and the planetary environment.


In the second edition, we made reference to the profound changes in global capitalism and in perspectives that have taken place, which affect the way that modernity has been studied over the last three decades. Changes in the condition of modernity include the ascendancy of neoliberalism, the emergence of new major economic players such as the People’s Republic of China, India, and Brazil, and the all-pervasive diffusion of labor-saving digital technology. And, in addition to movements of capital and goods, the mass migration of people to Western Europe and North America has made multiculturalism, the politics of equality, and managing diversity in organizations major areas of research. A key issue for social scientists is the effect of globalization on the workplace, society, and beyond. An important theme in the literature is convergence in capitalism, which affects production and employment practices in different regions of the world. The convergence debate has a long antecedence in neoclassical economic theory. Detractors, however, emphasize the existence of “varieties of capitalism” and divergence in capitalist behavior as evidence of the importance of the power of local culture, politics, and agency. Over the last 40 years, sociologists have witnessed the ascendancy of rival intellectual approaches to the study of social phenomena. For example, under the rubric of postmodernism, the traditional approach to researching aspects of society, loosely described as positivism, has been challenged by constructionism and intersectionality. The constructivist’s view challenges researchers to re-examine their frames of reference, the research process itself, and the production of knowledge. The concept of intersectionality has been utilized by social scientists as an analytical and organizing tool for investigating social injustices and developing social policy. It has been defined in various ways, but this inspirational description points toward a general consensus:


Intersectionality is a way of understanding and analyzing the complexity in the world, in people, and in human experiences. The events and conditions of social and political life and the self can seldom be understood as shaped by one factor. They are generally shaped by many factors in diverse and mutually influencing ways. When it comes to social inequality, people’s lives and the organization of power in a given society are better understood as being shaped not by a single axis of social division, be it race or gender or class, but by many axes that work together and influence each other. Intersectionality as an analytic tool gives people better access to the complexity of the world and of themselves. Importantly, the postmodern approach, as Eagleton and Lyotard notably argue, eschews meta-narratives such as Marx’s conception of history, whose function was to legitimize the illusion of a universal human history, and celebrates the triumph of local fragmented specificities over any kind of totality.
In this intellectual climate, inevitably, there will be disagreement among contemporary sociologists over which classical social theorist should be included in a text on classical theory. The membership of the classical canon is important, for the canon provides a shared language, a focus, some kind of identity for the discipline, and it shapes both the intellectual discourse and the trajectory of social research. In the first edition of Capitalism and Classical Social Theory, we chose to be more inclusive and extended the coverage of the familiar sociological canon established around the 1970s—that is, the trio of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber—to include the German sociologist Georg Simmel and four women intellectuals who theorized about gender roles, gendered work, and new patterns of family life that were the consequences of the emergence of industrial capitalism. Our choice was influenced by a common criticism of the classical canon: the marginalization of gender in its authors’ theories. We examined the gendering of social theory in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the work of Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Martineau, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Jane Addams.

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