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How to Study Contemporary Capitalism?1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 May 2012

Wolfgang Streeck*
Affiliation:
Max-Planck Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, Köln [streeck@mpifg.de].
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Abstract

The paper argues that contemporary capitalism must be studied as a society rather than an economy, and contemporary society as capitalist society. Capitalism is defined as a specific institutionalization of economic action in the form of a specifically dynamic system of social action, with a tendency to expand into, impose itself on and consume its non-economic and non-capitalist social and institutional context, unless contained by political resistance and regulation. The paper illustrates its perspective by four brief sketches, depicting contemporary capitalism as a historically dynamic social order, a culture, a polity, and a way of life. All four examples, it is claimed, demonstrate the superiority of a longitudinal-historical approach over static cross-sectional comparisons, and of focusing on the commonalities of national versions of capitalisms rather than their “varieties”.

Résumé

L’argument est que le capitalisme contemporain relève d’une étude de société, non d’économie que la société contemporaine est une société capitaliste. Le capitalisme se définit comme une institutionnalisation spécifique de l’action économique qui prend la forme d’un système dynamique particulier de l’action sociale qui envahit et absorbe son environnement social non économique et non capitaliste aussi longtemps qu’il ne se heurte pas à une résistance politique imposant régulation. La position défendue s’appuie sur quatre courtes séquences qui décrivent le capitalisme contemporain comme ordre social en mouvement, comme culture, comme système politique et comme mode de vie. Ces quatre séquences sont censées montrer qu’une approche historique longitudinale est supérieure aux comparaisons ponctuelles et qu’il est plus profitable de se focaliser sur les traits communs entre formes nationales de capitalisme que sur leurs différences.

Zusammenfasung

Die Hauptthese des Aufsatzes ist, dass der Kapitalismus der Gegenwart als Gesellschaft und nicht bloß als Wirtschaft analysiert werden muss, und die Gesellschaft der Gegenwart als kapitalistische Gesellschaft. Kapitalismus wird als eine spezifische Institutionalisierung wirtschaftlichen Handelns in Form eines spezifisch dynamischen Systems sozialen Handelns definiert, das dazu tendiert, in seinen nicht-wirtschaftlichen und nicht-kapitalistischen gesellschaftlichen Kontext zu expandieren, ihn sich unterzuordnen und ihn zu konsumieren, sofern es nicht durch politische Regulierung daran gehindert wird. Die vorgeschlagene Perspektive wird in vier kurzen Skizzen illustriert, in denen der gegenwärtige Kapitalismus als dynamische soziale Ordnung, als Kultur, als politisches System und als Lebensform behandelt wird. Alle vier Skizzen zeigen, so die These, die Überlegenheit einer historischen Längsschnittperspektive über einen statischen Vergleich und einer Betonung der Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen verschiedenen nationalen Kapitalismusformen anstelle ihrer Unterschiede.

Type
Research Articles
Copyright
Copyright © A.E.S. 2012

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