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New Left Review 98, March-April 2016


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. [1] 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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Luc Boltanski, Arnaud Esquerre, ‘The Economic Life of Things’, NLR 98: £3
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