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The New Spirit of Capitalism, Value and the End of Critique Essex May 29-30

'The New Spirit of Capitalism, Value and the End of Critique'

An ephemera workshop (www.ephemeraweb.org), 29-30 May 2008 Co-organised by the School of Accounting, Finance and Management, University of Essex, and the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School.

Call for contributions and participation

Novelty has, for a long while, been a source of value for capitalism. Writers on management churn out 'new' organisational structures and control systems at a rate that would put a Parisian fashion house to shame: MBO, JIT, BPR, TQM, CoP, Culture, Quality, Flexibility, Outsourcing, virtual, virtuous networks of CSR, PR and RM. Like Klee's Angelus Novus, the shock of the 'new' drives us irresistibly back to the future as the debris of progress pile up in front of us as an indistinguishable mass of failed experiments and outmoded ideas. Indeed, with such a rate of continuous change, one cannot help but wonder whether, like the 'idiot's tale' in MacBeth, the whole discourse of change is 'full of sound and fury' but 'signifying nothing'.

In such a context it takes a certain bravado to offer up the grand claim that Capitalism has undergone a fundamental restructuring, and yet this is precisely the argument made by Boltanski and Chiapello in The New Spirit of Capitalism. According to Boltanski and Chiapello, Capitalism found itself in complete crisis in the late 1960s. With students rejecting careers in management and workers no longer satisfied by the prospect of higher wages for higher productivity, the entire capitalist system was on the verge of collapse. From within this critique, however, came the seeds of its rebirth. Demands for autonomy, empowerment and creativity at work were met with a new idea of capitalism, far removed from the fusty, grey-suited atmosphere of 'Organisation Man' and the hey-day of the faceless Goliaths like IBM. The new capitalism is an entirely funkier affair, where surfing has become the ruling ideology and 'excitement' has replaced 'security' as the dominant value.

This thesis has important implications for those of us who are concerned with the critical study of management and organisation. At the most obvious level, if we are now living in a post-Fordist, post-Taylorist, post-bureaucratic, networked world, then our critiques of bureaucracy, Taylorism and the assembly line are aimed at an historical shadow; an organisational reality that remains alive only in our collective memories of the 1950s.

More significantly, Boltanski and Chiapello suggest that it is critique that drives capitalist restructuring. If this is the case, then a degree of reflexivity is required because the normative systems we construct in the performance of critique will provide the impetus and content for the restructuring of capitalism. If Boltanski and Chiapello are correct, then the values that we articulate in performing critique become, in turn, the source of surplus value for capitalism. By offering a new set of values - a new spirit - it is critique that enables the renewal of capitalism itself, at least by the 'minimal definition' of capitalism as a system of production given over to accumulation without end (or reason).

Together these two concerns - that the target of critique has moved on and that critique is itself the engine of capitalist restructuring - are what we want to explore at this ephemera workshop. Specific ideas for contributions to the discussion include:

* Has critical management studies (CMS) kept up with capitalist restructuring? For example, contributions revisiting the neo-Fordism versus post-Fordism debate or discourses of the networked economy will be welcomed. * Do the theoretical resources of CMS offer adequate purchase for the new realities? In their text, Boltanski and Chiapello half-jokingly suggest that Deleuze could be a management consultant today. If this is so, how far can a critical view of capitalism based on his analysis take us today? * What is 'critique'? Should we understand the engine of change to be academic critique, with its carefully delineated normative systems, or the 'critique' found in the street and factory: the spanner in the works and the brick through the McDonalds' window? * Whither anti-capitalism? If resistance and active critique feed capitalism, where does this leave the new social movements and anti-capitalism? * Can a more 'positive' conception of critique escape reappropriation by capital? For example, does the autonomist conception of 'self-valorisation', or the Deleuzian 'line of flight', offer a possible escape from recuperation? * How is the normativity of critique, and its production of 'values', caught up with the capitalist production of economic 'value'? * How should we understand the relationship between discursive, or ideological, change and empirical change? Can organisational reality be read off from the 'spirit' of capitalism, or is it just a smokescreen to hide the 'real' continuities of Taylorism, hierarchy and bureaucracy?

Workshop format The workshop is primarily aimed at PhD students who will get plenty of time to discuss the issues at hand. A series of interventions will be presented, which will act as starting points of discussions. Interventions can be anything from a (full or unfinished) paper to a series of images, a video, or an exploration of an idea. To present an intervention at the workshop, contact the conference organisers with a proposal.

Practicalities The workshop will take place on 29th and 30th May 2008 at the School of Accounting, Finance and Management at the University of Essex, Colchester, UK. It will start with lunch on the 29th and end with lunch on the 30th. Participants are required to book their own accommodation; a list is available from the conference organisers (see main contact points). The University of Essex lies at the eastern outskirts of Colchester and is easily reachable by train (to Colchester North/Main station), bus (National Express and First Bus) and boat (Harwich port is 20 miles away). For details of how to reach the campus, see www.essex.ac.uk/about/find.html.

Registration and deadlines The workshop is free to attend, but places are limited to 30 and will be allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis. So, early registration is advisable. All PhD students wanting to present an intervention at the workshop need to send a proposal for their intervention of no more than 500 words to the conference organisers by 1 April 2008. Three travel and accommodation bursaries will be available for PhD students who present an intervention at the conference. To apply for the bursaries, send your proposal for an intervention to the conference organisers accompanied by a letter outlining your academic merits and financial needs by 1 April 2008. A final list of bursary winners and intervention presenters will be available from 15 April 2008.

Workshop organisers Martyna Sliwa, Chris Land, Steffen Böhm, Bent Meier Sørensen and Michael Pedersen. Main contact points: Martyna (masliwa@essex.ac.uk) and Chris (cland@essex.ac.uk).