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New Left Review 106, July-August 2017

nancy fraser


A Reply to Boltanski and Esquerre

Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre have proposed a new way to think about capitalism. [1] See Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre, ‘The Economic Life of Things: Commodities, Collectibles, Assets’, nlr 98, March–April 2016. This essay first appeared in Teoria politica, Nuova Serie VI, 2016 and is reprinted with permission. Departing both from classical political economy’s focus on labour and from the neoclassical focus on utility, they direct attention to social practices that establish the value of objects discursively, by justifying and contesting their prices. Adopting this novel perspective, the authors proceed to identify several mutually distinct types of capitalist economy, each premised on a different pragmatics of value-setting. One such economy in particular forms the centre of their analysis: an ‘economy of enrichment’ encompassing markets in fine arts, limited-edition luxury goods, high-end collectibles and the creation and exploitation of national patrimonies, heritage sites and appellation controllée regimes. Unpacking the distinctive logic through which value is established in this economy, Boltanski and Esquerre contrast it with the value pragmatics of industrial production, on the one hand, and of finance, on the other. But their aim is not merely classificatory. On the contrary, the authors connect their account of enrichment to a historical thesis and a critical diagnosis of present-day capitalism. In their view, the progressive deindustrialization of capitalism’s historic European core created the terrain on which today’s economy of enrichment took root and flourished. For Boltanski and Esquerre, then, enrichment capitalism is the successor to industrial capitalism and constitutes a privileged object of analysis for critical theory. Only by understanding its distinctive fault-lines and potentials for political mobilization can we assess the prospects for emancipatory social transformation in the present conjuncture.

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Nancy Fraser, ‘A New Form of Capitalism?’, NLR 106: £3

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