luc boltanski & arnaud esquerre
THE ECONOMIC LIFE OF THINGS
Commodities, Collectibles, Assets
Discussion of the shifting dynamics of the capitalist system over the past thirty years has focused on the labour-supply shock and deteriorating conditions of employment, on debt and financialization, secular stagnation and technological advance. Relevant as these aspects may be, they do not exhaust analysis of the changes underway. We will examine two interrelated developments, one of which—de-industrialization—is well known, while the second, the main focus of our attention, does not yet have a name.  A longer version of this essay appeared in Les Temps modernes, July–October 2014; it is reprinted here by kind permission. The theses developed are largely a product of the seminar ‘L’incertitude sur la valeur. Sélection, évaluation, justification’, organized at the ehess in 2012–13 and 2013–14 by the authors along with Bruno Cousin, Emmanuel Didier, Bérénice Hamidi, Jeanne Lazarus and Daniel Urrutiaguer. By ‘de-industrialization’, we do not mean the shift to a ‘post-industrial society’ that was frequently prophesied in the 1960s. This vision did not come about, for our societies are now using more industrially manufactured goods than ever. Moreover, due to computer technology, many sectors that had long remained on the margins of the industrial world—small traders, education, healthcare, personal services—are now adopting the management practices of global corporations, and are subject to accounting standards that come from industry.
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- Sven Lütticken: The Coming Exception The artwork has long been understood as a political-economic anomaly, while art practice is sometimes seen as a stand-in for liberated human activity. With value itself seemingly in a state of crisis, might the artwork prefigure a world beyond it? From Ruskin and Whistler to Harun Farocki, Sven Lütticken charts the trajectory of an exception.
- Nancy Fraser: A New Form of Capitalism? Does an expanding circuit of commodities whose value is indexed to their rarity and antiquity suggest that capitalism is secreting a novel ‘economy of enrichment’? Replying to Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre in NLR 98, Nancy Fraser argues that Marx’s Holy Trinity of profit, interest and rent remains key to a taxonomy of contemporary commodification.