The Culture of the New Capitalism | Richard Sennett

Summary of: The Culture of the New Capitalism
By: Richard Sennett


Dive into the transformation of work and home life in ‘The Culture of the New Capitalism’ by Richard Sennett. This book offers a comprehensive examination of the fragmentation of big institutions and the resulting impacts on individuals navigating in a realm of transient relationships, flexible skills, and diminished loyalty. In this summary, you’ll learn how the new capitalistic order has reshaped education, career success, personal identity, and political behavior, as well as the increasing inequalities and anxieties it has spurred.

The New Institutional Model and the Specter of Uselessness

The 1960s saw the rise of the New Left, whose dream of a more unified and equal society has been realized in part with the disintegration of socialist and capitalist bureaucracies. However, this has resulted in negative forces, including a fragmentation of work and home life, heightened anxiety, and social inequality. Career success in the new capitalistic order requires a personality that is capable of transient relationships, geographic instability, and a fluid sense of self. The costs of this model include an absence of loyalty and trust, low levels of institutional knowledge, and a lack of social inclusion for those not in control of institutions. The new institutional model has changed the way people shape their lives and career narratives, where education now stresses risk-taking, innovation, and adaptability. Globalization, technology, and aging societies compound the threat of uselessness where meritocracy focuses on the highest-potential candidates and renders those who lack potential invisible. The traditional craftsman who emphasizes the quality of work product no longer has a place in the new order, as it emphasizes change.

The Fragile Triumph of Superficiality

In his book summary, the author discusses how the new capitalist order has created a division between classes. The elite masters of symbols, skills, and information profit enormously, while the lower class of unskilled laborers lacks the shelter and security once provided by hierarchical unions and companies. Education systems churn out vast numbers of unemployable graduates, leading people to network with each other since organizations no longer provide clear career paths. People construct their own narrative and setting to carry out their lives.

Consumption has become a central force in contemporary political life. Political parties differentiate themselves through trivial issues, and citizens grow more indifferent as democracy demands personal effort to learn, practice, and master politics. The new capitalist order discourages the craftsman-like ideal of hard-won understanding with user-friendly politics that do not demand mastery.

The author turns his attention to the broader effects of the New Left’s remedy for the malady of militaristic bureaucracy. Cutting-edge capitalist institutions lack stability or continuity, so people need new kinds of job networks and labor unions. They need to feel their value affirmed, their usefulness endorsed, their legitimacy established, and their craftsmanship centered around achievement, accomplishment, and doing something right for its own sake.

The triumph of superficiality at work, in schools, and in politics seems fragile since people can anchor themselves in life only by trying to do something well for its own sake. This enfeebled culture leaves people at a loss to make sense of their conditions, even when they play by the rules. The book summary concludes with an open invitation to revolt against contemporary capitalism and the culture of superficiality.

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