The economic sociology of late capitalism: The Contributions from Boltanski, Thévenot and Chiapello



On Justification

De la justification. Les economies de la grandeur (1991; Paris: Gallimard; On Justification. The economics of worth) must be considered in the context of the French and American discussion of the concept of justice in relation to political philosophy from the middle of the 1980s. This book focusses on the description of the different spheres of justification of society in order to understand the private market economy. The central problem is how people justify their actions within different contexts of society. The book argues that modern societies consist of multiple orders of worth and justification that follow different values and norms. The multiple orders (civic, market, inspired, fame, industrial, and domestic) coexist together in society and are often confronted with each other in social conflicts. In that case the values are tested in accordance with a superior principle of worth referring to the common good in society. However, often fragile compromises between specific values in social spheres and the superior principle of the good are established.


In this way, the book proposes a program for economic justice inspired by the discussion between liberalism and communitarianism, in particular between the liberal political philosopher John Rawls and the communitarian political theorist, Michael Walzer. Inspired by communitarianism, Boltanski and Thévenot propose a defense of a pluralist conception of the economy, social value and the conceptions of justice in society. Justice emerges through the integration of different values and spheres of justice that consists of different worlds with different requirements of justification. Accordingly, there is always a kind moral agreement behind economic action, as it was already suggested by Adam Smith when he defended the position that we have to face the importance of the moral feelings of the actors involved in economic exchange. In this sense the position of the convention school as suggested by Boltanski and Thévenot can be said to combine the economic sociology of Durkheim with a communitarian conception of the moral economy. [1]


The book begins in the first chapter by presenting the need for a situation-based social science as a task for statistical economy. This social science should take into account the role of anthropology, individual action and socio-professional categories for the formation of the codes and conventions in the social field. The argument is that research on justice refers to a generalized form of justification that is mediated through individual action in the economy.[2] We need to refer to a form of generality that goes beyond the individualism of the neo-liberal economy.


This kind of generality is found in political philosophy. The book examines the tradition of political philosophy and its implied conceptions of agreement in relation to the model of the city (la cité) and of the common good.[3] Accordingly, the conception of the common good (le bien commun) in different concepts of political philosophy is analyzed. This can be determined as different spheres, systems, orders, fields or worlds of justification with final reference to a common good. The reference to such generalized forms of justification is in particular important in situations of disagreement and dispute.[4] Indeed, it is also important in situations of compromise where an agreement between different orders of justification is needed.


This kind of justification can be explained in terms of political philosophy. Here the sociologist and economist Boltanski and Thévenot are inspired by political philosophy in order to understand constructions of generalized norms and concepts of humanity with reference to the common good in the market sphere.[5] It is in particular the project of Michael Walzer in Spheres of Justice that serves as a model in order to understand the different forms of justification in connection with the search for references to a common good that is at stake in the different spheres of society.


In this sense the book is about the conception of agreement and disagreement within different spheres and worlds of justification. The authors want to show that the moral capacity is at the center of the economic exchange.[6] The concepts of sympathy and impartial spectator in Adam Smith help to understand this moral dimension of the economy, where there is a reference to a superior good as a guiding and legitimating force within the economic exchange. In the words of Durkheim, there is a reference to a collective moral being of society. The individuals at the market are determined by collective moral rules that represent the common good at the economic market. The agreement at the market (accord) refers to a collective generality that is the basis for the justified economic action.


The justification in relation to a general normative order can be defined as legitimation–a term borrowed from Max Weber.[7] The different forms of justification refer, according to Boltanski and Thévenot, to a common principle of humanity (principe de commune humanité).[8] The economy becomes a systems of constraints that is limited by a common order of the city. However, in a complex society, this common order is differenced into a plurality of justifications and different value spheres. In these different spheres internal concepts of justice are constitutions as applications of the general principle of humanity.


In chapter II Boltanski and Thévenot discuss the foundation of agreement in terms of political philosophy with the example of the market city (cité marchande) and with special reference to the conception of agreement in the theory of our moral sentiments by Adam Smith.[9] Smith proposes a conception of the city that is based on a market connection. In fact, according to Boltanski and Thévenot, the original project of Smith was to propose a political philosophy and a concept of justice in the sense that the Theory of our Moral Sentiments represented a proposal for a theory of jurisprudence. Accordingly, the identification of market relations is based on a common identification of goods.[10] This concept goes back to the idea of the “just price” by the scholastics, where the common agreement (communis aestimatio) upon the price was considered as the basis of exchange of goods and services on the economic market. Desire of profit had the function to create a balance between buyer and seller.[11] Other philosophers, such as Montesquieu and Hume, have presented the same idea, i.e. that market relations are based on a principle of a common social good of exchange. This principle is maintained by the concept of the “impartial spectator” that, according to Hume, is based on a common disposition of sympathy among human beings. This idea of sympathy is further developed by Adam Smith as a common sympathy or moral sense that serves as the basis for the idea of the impartial spectator. This idea is also found in the work of social theorists like Durkheim and Mead, who works with the idea of the generalized other.[12]


On this basis, Boltanski and Thévenot analyze the idea within different political philosophies of justification of legitimate agreement according to a superior principle of the common good. They propose a kind of structural analysis of texts of political philosophy, arguing that the text constructs a form of superiority referring to the common good and universal validity by making a form of sacrifice to that superior good.[13] Accordingly, such a system of reference to a superior common good is essential to the texts of political philosophy. This is the case with the idea of a common humanity of all the members of the city. A plurality of different concepts of the good can be held together by the reference to the general superior principle of the good and of humanity. This principle is also a principle of political economy where the market city is constituted by this principle of a common human dignity and humanity. In the political economy individuals who disagree in market transactions are supposed to refer to this principle of a common humanity and dignity.


This reference to the greatness of the common humanity receives different forms within different political community. Boltanski and Thévenot refer to the different orders as different cities (cités) that are founded on different political philosophies. Firstly, we can mention the democratic illegitimacy of the principle as a eugenic principle of constructing better human beings. However, in different models of political philosophy, we can see this principle in different forms. Augustin spoke about the City of God where members unite because they respect the divine principle of infinite grace. The idea of the family as described by Bossuet as a domestic city requiring a certain worth as a superior unit or of the state qua incarnation of the person is a secular repetition of this idea within the modern nation state. Moreover, we can mention the concept of citizenship in Republican political philosophy, i.e. the civic city (cité civique) as marked by the same kind of logic of reference to a higher principle serving as basis for a political or social order (i.e. civic greatness, as proposed by Rousseau). In the city of opinion, in contrast, the reference to a higher principle is constituted of formal or conventional elements, for example the law or people who receive honor and fame in terms of civil recognition in society. Even in the industrial system, as described by Saint-Simon, the worthy actions are justified by reference to a principle of common humanity. Also here, people justify the worth of their actions with reference to a superior principle of the common good.


In the third part and in chapter V of the book, Boltanski and Thévenot describe the function of justification in particular situations.[14] This is also a plea for a more individualistic action-oriented social science that does not only focus on universal abstract law, but on individual engagement – involvement in the situation. Social sciences are faced with individual actors in concrete situations of justification facing different logics of worth in different cities. Accordingly, for Clausewitz, the situation is a possibility of victory or defeat depend on prudence in the battlefield, while for Sartre the situation is entirely dependent on the interpretation of the actors in terms of the actor’s existential projects that determine his or her gaze and view of the situation.[15]


In the concrete situation individuals are involved to prove their worth and obtain recognition. Here the different cities emerge in a common world. It is in this particular existential situation that individuals make reference to different logics of justification according to the values of the different cities. Individuals are “engagés par des actes justifiables”.[16] In this sense the situation is a test of common humanity with reference to specific logics of justification.[17] In the situation it is the dignity of humanity in relation to common principles that is a stake in each world or sphere of justification. We can mention as examples: common superior principle, state of greatness (worthiness), dignity of persons (real nature), cast of subjects, cast of objects and dispositions, formula of investments for an economy of worth, natural relations between beings, figure of an harmonious natural order, test model, form of expression of judgment, form of evidence, state of satisfaction or destruction of the city world.[18]



Different orders or regimes of worth

Each of the different worlds refers to a particular prudence that is expressed in particular in the economics of the business organization. In the inspired world it is creativity. In the domestic world it is the logic of good human relations. In the world of opinion it is fame, marketing and good public relations. In the civic world it is the logic of the social contracts and citizenship rights. In the market world it is the logic of money, management and business strategy that is important. In the industrial world it is the logic of productivity. In the modern enterprise that is the paradigmatic rationality.[19]


In their further presentation of the worlds or regimes of justification, in chapter VI we find a deeper elaboration of these different elements of each order of justification.[20]


The world of inspiration and creativity is marked by a focus on individual creativity and originality. The worth is related to the creative accomplishments of the individual person, like a famous artist or writer. This world is the world of creativity and originality of the individual in contrast to mass society


The domestic regime is not only present in family circles. It is a general logic of the family that can be applied to all spheres of society. Here, generation, tradition and hierarchy are important. Indeed, the images of the superior and of the father, as well of tradition, are basic logics of this position. But the regime also contains all the logics and values of the family order.


The regime of opinion is the world of the logic of the present and of public opinion. It is the fame and dignity of human beings in public space. This world is also the world of communication and the regime of information in the society. Success is dependent on fame and recognition in public space.


The regime of the civic world refers to persons that are not human beings in the same sense as individuals in the family. We are faced with universal rights of persons in a general sense. They are determined by abstract general principles of rights and laws in society. The sphere of justification refers to the logic of solidarity and respect in the welfare state.


The regime of the market world cannot be reduced to the economic world. It is also different from the industrial regime. It is the order of business and of buying and selling. It is the order of profit as opposed to human dignity. This logic is not only restricted to the market, but it is also unconsciously a part of personal identity.[21] It is also based on the logic of competition and of commercial relations between individuals.


The regime of the industrial world is the world that is determined by industrial technical and scientific approaches. This regime is marked by the function of the enterprise according to an industrial logic. Here, it is logic of technical performance and of functionality that is dominating. This paradigm is the regime of technical productivity and of standardization in relation to the factory.


In chapter VII Boltanski and Thévenot discuss the criticisms of their proposed concept of different worlds of justification.


First of all there is the criticism of the immanent logic of each regime of justification from the outside. However, people can be in all worlds and regimes at the same time, so criticism can also be immanent from people within a regime who apply the logics of another world to criticize this regime. This criticism is that a person is too occupied with the logic of one regime in contrast to the rationality of another regime. A kind of critique of the paradigms would be to show how a certain behavior is nothing but, say, market logic or technological.[22] It is a revelation of the real logic behind a certain activity. This could lead to another perspective on a particular activity (inversion du regard posant les valeurs).[23]


The access to the logics of different worlds depends on the construction of the action in the situation (agencement in the sense of Deleuze). It can be impossible to combine the different logics of justification and the confrontation between the worlds can also result in a certain cynicism when one of the logics is preferred to the other. However, the fact that the construction of a world is submitted to the constraint of justification means that the rationality of the world is tested to the rationality of the other worlds and finally also to the concept of justice that refer to principles of the common good going beyond the specific worlds of justification.


Accordingly, Boltanski and Thévenot present some of the criticisms of each of the rationalities of each regime of justification from the point of view of the rationalities of the other spheres of justification, so that each sphere of justification can be criticized from the point of view of the other spheres of justification.


The world of inspiration, from the point of view of the domestic world, can be criticized for going beyond habit and convention; leaving everything; creating a world of appearance; making an inauthentic world theater. From the point of view of the civic world, it brakes with the state through its revolutionary attitude. From the point of view of the market logic, creativity is not economic and may be bad business. From the point of view of the industrial world, it breaks with the necessary routine and functionality of industrial production.


The domestic world, from the point of view of the world of inspiration, can be criticized for its unreflective letting things be. From the world of opinion it is pure appearance and at the same time it does not want to be a part of the public space; it cannot stay in the privacy of the family in a “mediatized” world. From the civic world we see a criticism of the irresponsibility of the anonymous family man who does not want to take on his political and civic duty. From the market world the family world is naïve because it ignores the commercialization of human all human life. From the point of view of the industrial world family products are old and bad and family business is unprofessional.


The world of fame and opinion, from the inspired world, can be criticized for its lack of depth and for the irresponsibility and inauthenticity of the stars and the newspapers. The family world would also be critical of this and challenge the lack of privacy in the world of opinion. The world of the market would argue that opinion has to be commercialized and the industrial attitude would be critical to the lack of objectivity in opinion.


The civic world, from the inspired world, can be criticized for its lack of individualism and avant-gardism. From the point of view of the family world the civic world make contracts out of relations of love and affection and it does not respect the values of the family. Moreover, there is the danger of corruption of the trade unions in contrast to the values of the family. There is a potential tension between the paternalism of the family and the democratic values of the civic attitude. The world of opinion would emphasize the importance of debate in democracy, while the market world would see the civic world as economically inefficient and not respecting market individualism. The industrial world would be critical towards the dangers of bureaucratization of the civic world.


The market regime world argue that the inspired world could not be good for business because of lack of cold-blooded rationality in business transactions. To the domestic would it would argue that the market should be liberated from personal relations and local custom. The family business ruins development of the market. Moreover, the opinion world is dangerous for good business transactions and investments. Celebrity and fame are not important for good business. Indeed, the civic world is not very productive and democracy and justice can be expensive for business. The industrial worldview may imply too rigid technocratic attitudes.


The industrial world argues that the improvisation of the inspired world is dangerous. Indeed we are beyond the domestic world in modern industrial society. The bureaucracy of the civic world is supposed to be inefficient and social politics too cost full. With reference to the market world it would argue that luxury products only based on business profits are too cost full. Moreover, the market may be technologically inefficient if it is left to its own logic.


On the basis of the confrontation and mutual criticisms between the different orders of worth, Boltanski and Thévenot argue that the confrontation between the world leads to different forms of compromise.[24] The compromise searches for a common good that goes beyond the logic of a specific order of worth. In the compromise the actors refer to a specific vision of the common good. Different rationalities in the different worlds enter into compromise with relation to the common good. The compromises are very fragile. The moral philosophy of Durkheim and Saint-Simon contains conceptions of the common good that help us to understand the role of compromise between different orders of worth. This is for example the case with Durkheim’s industrial concept of organic solidarity and collective worth in relation to the civic philosophy of Rousseau.[25] Here, elements of civic and domestic orders of worth are introduced into the industrial order of the corporation.


Accordingly, in chapter X, Boltanski and Thévenot propose and examine different figures of compromise.[26] Compromise of the world of inspiration with the domestic world compromise may take the form of the master-pupil relation as model of professional work relation. With the world of opinion it is the cult of the star-system that is the compromise. With the civic world it is l’homme revolté that is the compromise; with the business world it is the creative market; and with the technology world it is creative technology.


Possible compromises with the domestic world involve good relations in the case of the world of opinion; with the civic world it involves good manners and common sense in administration; with business promotion of trust in business; with the industrial world it refers to the importance of home knowledge, human resources and the paternalistic responsibility of the corporate director.


Compromise between the world of opinion and the civic world involves respect for public opinion; with the business world it involves promotion of the image of the brand; with the industrial world it involves strategic branding methods.


Compromise with the civic world and the business world seems impossible, although business ethics and corporate citizenship may be a possibility; with the industrial world it is the respect for the rights of workers and the trade unions that express the compromise as well as different methods to humanize work.


Possible compromise between the between the industrial world and the business world is based on the production of an industrial product that can easily be sold and combination between a business attitude and an industrial attitude.


Boltanski and Thévenot emphasize that the mutual presupposition of the common good and common humanity is necessary to create a foundation for a compromise.[27] However, an attempt to escape from justification is the reference to relativism. But we should also avoid violence of justification that should be based on mutual acceptance of the reference to the common good. Indeed, good compromise is a matter of sound reflective judgments.


Accordingly, we see how the project of Boltanski and Thévenot marked both a continuation of and a criticism of Bourdieu’s sociology, which was dominating in the 1980s. With Bourdieu, the authors introduced a stronger concept of the individual actor than the one that was present in the structuralist approach to sociology.[28] Also, we see that their project is critical to the anti-normative project of Bourdieu by focusing so much upon the common good as essential to the solution to the problem of compromise. Moreover, Boltanski and Thévenot are very normative when they say that the different worldviews always refer to the common good. In fact we can say that they are inspired by the concept of hermeneutics and ethics implicit in Paul Ricoeur’s notion of hermeneutics as arising from the conflict of interpretations, as well as in his idea of world in his theory of ideology.[29] This is also the basis for the move from structure to actors that is present in the project of Boltanski and Thévenot. However, we might ask the question whether there is a danger of a potential idealism and even moralism with so much focus on the common good within the project of Boltanski and Thévenot. Also, what is the status of these different regimes or worlds of justification? What are their borderlines and what are their justifications?



The new spirit of capitalism

While the study of justification and the economy of worth can be characterized as the domain of political philosophy, Le Nouvel Esprit du capitalism is based on the reading of management literature and the development of capitalism from bureaucratic organizational forms towards flexible network and project capitalism. This book analyzes the sphere of justification that is present in network capitalism which constitutes a new sphere of justification that is different from the spheres of social justification in De la justification (civic, market, inspired, fame, industrial, and domestic). The question of Le Nouvel Esprit du Capitalisme is the problem of how capitalism, with its developments from the 1960s to the 1990s, has been able to overcome its critiques and reinforce itself by developing into a new form. The book studies the ideological changes that follow the recent changes in capitalism.[30]


The book uses the term “capitalist spirit” in order to understand the ideological transformations of capitalist society that have made it possible to absorb critiques of capitalism within the capitalist ideology. Capitalism is defined as accumulation of capital with pacific means.[31] The spirit or ethos of capitalism is defined as the ideology that justifies “l’engagement dans le capitalisme”.[32] We can say that the spirit of capitalism is the dominant ideology that justifies capitalism as an independent world of justification. The justification of capitalism is incorporated in the spirit of capitalism. In this sense the ethos of capitalism is linked to a city or world of justification of capitalism that aims at being justified in the light of the relation to the cities of justification. In this context the business world and the industrial world already represent two forms of capitalism that aim at being justified in the city.[33]


However, according to Boltanski and Chiapello, a third spirit of capitalism is being formed, i.e. the world as the city of project and network capitalism. This new justificatory discourse is based on auto-justification in order to resist the most widespread anti-capitalist critique. In fact, critique has an internally transformative influence on capitalism. Capitalism incorporates the values that were the basis for its critique.[34] As a result, the book is not only about the ideology of capitalism, but indeed also about the forms of critique of capitalism and the capacity of capitalism to incorporate its critique in order to justify its existence in the city. Accordingly, capitalism has been submitted to criticism of inauthenticity, oppression, opportunism and egoism, social criticism and more recently, artistic criticism.


Boltanski and Chiapello document the transformations of capitalism by analysis of the literature of management as a source of the normativity of capitalism. Management has its origins the doctrines of Fayol, who conceived management as a science of administration.[35] However, from the 1960s to the 1990s, management has changed from being hierarchical and bureaucratic to be based on autonomy, confidence and the self-management of the employees. From Taylorism, with planning and control, management has become dependent on networks and project management. Boltanski and Chiapello call this new regime of justification la cité par projet, with reference to a flexible world with multiple projects that are taken up by autonomous persons following the new ideology of justification of management.[36]


The key to the new ethos of project management and network capitalism is the employability and flexibility of the individual and his or her capacity to transform themselves and undergo change in the movement from project to project.[37] The new management of the project and network capitalism responds according to Boltanski and Chiapello to the artistic critique of lack of authenticity and creativity, while being still open to the social critique of leaving the vulnerable and poor outside the capitalist system.[38] The new management opens for individual creativity and self-realization in the business system, while still being based on instrumentalization and exploitation. The new management is a personalization of the worker according to the desire of the individual.


The city of projects as a seventh world of justification is based on the network paradigm, which focuses on communication and relations, based on common judgment according to communicative action, as it is the case in Habermas’ work.[39] Here, mediation and network formation capacity are particular values. In particular extension of networks and projects represents the superior principle of this project city. Life is conceived as extension of projects and self-developments with the values of flexibility, adaptability and employability as important. On this basis, the concepts of justice and of justification in the city of projects is based on the readiness of the nomadic individual to sacrifice everything for the next project. But the network is also supposed to be open for new participants. Some forms of justification of the domestic and the business world are very close to the project-world justifications.[40] However, the morality of the project city is first of all a morality of personal development and self-control.[41]


In particular, the developments in values-driven management and business ethics can be interpreted in terms of the work on Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme by Boltanski and Chiapello. According to them, business ethics is a good example about how the vocabulary of the 1960ties has moved into business. They say that the argument “ethics pays” from the ethics movement in the 1990ties is an indirect way to introduce moral issues in business.[42] Due to the requirement of justification the ethos of capitalism is continuously incorporating critique. In fact from being an external social critique of the lack of justice in business and capitalism, business ethics has been incorporated into the capitalist firm as instrument of legitimation, discipline and profit maximization.


Managers want to expose themselves as people of trust and confidence in the emerging network economy and therefore they are motivated by business ethics. Business ethics is an element of the introduction of the logic of the domestic world into the business world and thereby an element of the introduction of network capitalism of the 1990s with its refusal of hierarchy, emphasis on change and flexibility, virtue, friendship. Boltanski and Chiapello emphasizes that the new management leaders of the 1990s are trying to show themselves as persons of high ethical standards and integrity.[43] Business ethics is also a response to the difficulties of managing persons in flexible network organizations, where people work in network far from central management. Business ethics is introduced as an important element of human resource management, including the use of psychologists and coaching to take care of employees. Therefore business ethics is a way to ensure compliance, but personal integrity and ethics is also important to ensure employability of individuals in network capitalism.[44] This is the same thing with the concept of confidence or trust, which is becoming a new form of control.


On this foundation, they treat more close the issue of business ethics in relation to the debate about trust (confiance). The instrumentalization of trust as an instrument of management following Williamson’s transaction cost economics. However, trust is also a possibility to give up very rigid structures of organization. But in the ordinary management literature trust is considered as a calculative instrument at the disposal to managers to use so as to increase their confidence in the network. The ordinary management literature describes le Mailleur (the man with the mask), the great idol of the project work, who shares with the Faisseur all necessary qualities to create a good network.[45] But the Mailleur also has the quality of being attributed confidence, which is very important to increase and open up the network. This is because, in project work, trust relations are becoming increasingly important in order to develop the project group and to avoid opportunistic behavior.[46]


On this basis, Boltanski and Chiapello regard the movement of business ethics (l’éthique des affaires) as an effort to develop personal loyalty of workers to the corporation in for the benefit of the corporations and their collaborators. Analysis of the codes of the biggest multinational firms in the beginning of the 1990s shows two aspects of the documents. The first one is the effort to discourage opportunistic action among employees. Those should be put outside the firm, if they want to use the firm against the interests of the firm. It is about avoiding personal profits against the firm. The second constancy of codes of ethics according to Boltanski and Chiapello is the effort to avoid corruption, which is one of the actions of the faisseur – who will get a personal profit of his institutional position by using and accepting corruption.


Now, Boltanski and Chiapello argue that business ethics codes are directed towards individual persons instead of institutional structures. Business ethics is about adaption of individuals to organizations to install just exchange between them and their organization. The codes of ethics are directed to the moral sense and cognitive capacity of individuals in organizations, so that they are responsible for their behavior in the organization.[47] However, this means that the ethics of business is focusing on the individual and it is not able to explain collective and institutional changes and developments of networks.


Accordingly, Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme presents an interesting analysis with the presentation of the transformations of capitalism and its ideological incorporation of its other. This description of the emergence of the new order or city of the project and network world is very illuminating. However, the question of the connection between the different worlds and cities within capitalism seems difficult to explain. Moreover, it seems that the real issue is not so much the problem of the emergence of new historical justifications of capitalism. Rather, the topic is a moral and normative question about the possibility of a new social critique after the incorporation of the existing critical forms within the transformations of capitalism.



Discussion and conclusion : Social critique and justification after the transformations of capitalism?

With these transformations of capitalism and the disarmament of forms of traditional forms of justification and critique, we are faced with the question of how to deal with justification and critique after the transformations of capitalism.[48]


According to Boltanski and Chiapello, the transformations of capitalism have disarmed its social critique. In particular, the social and artistic critique that followed the riot of 1968. The social critique of capitalism was represented in particular by the new social movements. However, what happened in France was that the traditional industrial society and its concept of work and union was changed into a new capitalist society that took away the foundations of the traditional concept of social critique.[49] However, with the decline of the traditional kind of critique we face the emergence of new forms of social critique in the 1980s and 1990s.


This new kind of social critique looks at the forms of exploitation in the project and network world. What is important is to re-inscribe the project world into the forms of law and justice of the common good, in order to ensure the legitimacy of the project world.[50] The force of law is proposed to ensure the common good in the pluralistic context of the transformation of capitalism.[51]


Also, we have to look at the possibility to find new forms of artistic critique after the transformations of capitalism. After the emergence of project capitalism the artistic critique is forced to change its conceptions of liberation, autonomy and authenticity.[52] This is because capitalism has incorporated many of the elements of autonomy, creativity and self-realization that were previously present in the artistic critique.


In this context it is indeed a question of what kind of liberation and authenticity we want, confronted with the recent developments of network and project society. Here, focus on sustainability and ecological products and criticism of standardization of products is mentioned as a new form critique in network society.[53] Moreover, a critique of the concept of authenticity as such, following post-structuralist philosophers, is proposed too, in particular with regard to the use of authenticity as an instrument of manipulation in the capitalist context. However, new forms of artistic critique are difficult because the artistic critique has been paralyzed after the deconstructive movements following the radical critique of 1968.


With this, the authors propose a reintroduction of the artistic critique as a defense of human dignity and limitation of the market sphere. In her 2011 lectures in Denmark, Chiapello also mentioned corporate social responsibility (CSR) and work for sustainability in corporations. Here, it would be important to relate the artistic critique to the ecological critique in order to propose a new vision of society.


In particular, the book about the new spirit of capitalism is really an application of the theory of justification of the particular cities or worlds of existence. The general presumed definition of capitalism is that it is defined as accumulation of capital by peaceful means. However, this is not enough, because capitalism needs motivation and by motivation Boltanski and his co-authors also refer to justification. So we see that in reality capitalism has been marked by three spirits of justification based on: 1.Weber’s concept of the capitalist ethos; 2. The justification from the mixed market economy of the bureaucratic welfare state after the Second World War; 3. The justification from the new spirit of project and network capitalism. However, sometimes the spirit of capitalism moves beyond a specific sphere of justification and sometimes we see a battle between a specific spirit and the role of capitalism.


A general question is whether this theory is theory of economics or whether it is about different economic orders and many different things in society. In fact it is somewhat a theory about both society and economics, but seeing society in the light of economic markets. With this it may be argued that this is not so much different from Talcot Parson’s sociological theory of systems and subsystems. However, it may be the move from power in social systems to general justification that makes this theory different from Parson’s theory.


There remains the problem of power and justice in relation to the different theories of capitalism. Even if the authors argue that every city or world needs justification from a universal point of view, they also show that there is a problem of lack of social justice and domination within the different spirits of capitalism. However, a general problem of this approach is that it seems like the authors moves from a Marxist-inspired sociology of critique, like the one proposed by Bourdieu, to a more objectivist view of society where they face the paradox that capitalism has an extraordinary capacity of incorporating its opposites and use the critique of the capitalist spirit to make capitalism survive. Here the problem is that capitalism incorporates very easily its own critique and it seems impossible for those who disagree with capitalism to make a justification of a critique of capitalism. In this context it may seem that the authors try to argue that artistic critique is a better way to make a critique of capitalism than the traditional social critique that seems to have been incorporated into the capitalist system. But there is also an implicit reference to a broader concept of social justice like the one we find by authors like Axel Honneth or John Rawls, in the general argument that a social world needs reference to a universal justification in order to be justified as social world. This concept of justice is found in the equality concept that is behind the idea of the different spheres of society that is referred to in relation to the new spirit of capitalism.


But this leaves us still with the question of what kind of transformation of capitalism is possible in the perspective of the theory of the seven worlds of justification and regimes of interpretation. This is not only a descriptive theory of social systems, but the reference to justification make the theory a normative justification of a world of society by means of reference to universal standards. However, here we need to ask the question of what role perspectivism plays in this theory of the justification of different worlds and cities. With its communitarian starting point, the theory may be argued to be an ideological construct where there are only different worlds with their own justifications without reference to a universal and common good for all these worlds. We can indeed refer to Nietzsche’s critique of the concept of goodness where the good is only a form of power of the strongest party. Justification would seem to be a kind of ideological construct and it may be impossible to have a universal or objective concept of the good behind the particular justifications of particular worldviews. Here we may ask the question of how to question the theory of justification in itself, as it is suggested by the authors. Is it really possible to move beyond the particular cities and worlds to see them from without from a kind of objectivist no-where perspective as the authors try to do?





[1] Luc Boltanski et Laurant Thévenot : De la justification. Les economies de la grandeur , Paris: Gallimard 1991., p. 33

[2] Ibid., p. 26.

[3] Ibid., p. 34.

[4] Ibd., p. 26.

[5] Ibid., p. 27.

[6] Ibid., p. 42.

[7] Ibid., p. 54.

[8] Ibid., p. 55.

[9] Ibid., p. 60.

[10] Ibid., p. 67.

[11] Ibid., p. 67.

[12] Ibid., p. 82.

[13] Ibid., p. 94.

[14] Ibid., p. 162.

[15] Ibid., p. 164

[16] Ibid., p. 168.

[17] Ibid., p. 175.

[18] Ibid., pp. 179-181.

[19] Ibid., pp. 186-199.

[20] Ibid., pp. 200-262.

[21] Ibid., p. 246.

[22] Ibid., p. 276.

[23] Ibid., p. 277.

[24] Ibid., p. 337.

[25] Ibid., p. 350.

[26] Ibid., pp. 357-407.

[27] Paul Ricoeur: Le conflit des interpretations, Paris: Le Seuil 1969. This book is important to understand the selection of a particular form of compromise in the conflict of interpretations.

[28] Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot (translated by Catherine Porter) On Justification: Economies of Worth

Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2006, Reviewed by Olivier Godechot, Paris School of Economics, Cultural Sociology, Cultural Sociology Volume 3, Number 1, March 2009.

[29] Paul Ricoeur: Le conflit des interpretations, Paris: Le Seuil 1969.

[30] Luc Boltanski et Eve Chapello: Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme , Gallimard, 1995, p. 35.

[31] Ibid., p. 38.

[32] Ibid., p. 42.

[33] Ibid., p. 64.

[34] Ibid., p. 71.

[35] Ibid., p. 96.

[36] Ibid., p. 143.

[37] Ibid., p. 145.

[38] Ibid., p. 151.

[39] Ibid., p. 161.

[40] Ibid., p. 192.

[41] Ibid., p. 235.

[42] Ibid., p. 111.

[43] Ibid., p. 146.

[44] Ibid., p. 148.

[45] Ibid., p. 486.

[46] Ibid, p. 486.

[47] Ibid, p. 487.

[48] Some of these points emerged in the discussion of the paper during the summer meeting where the paper was presented.

[49] Luc Boltanski et Eve Chapello: Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme , Gallimard, 1995, pp. 414-416.

[50] Ibid., p. 498.

[51] Ibid., p. 500.

[52] Ibid., p. 501.

[53] Ibid., p. 545-546.

About Jacob Dahl Rendtorff

Jacob Dahl Rendtorff (born 1965) is Associate Professor of Business Ethics at Roskilde University, Denmark. Rendtorff is Head of Studies and Head of Research for the research group on business, leadership and change of his department. Rendtorff has a background in ethics, business ethics, bioethics, political theory and philosophy of law. Rendtorff has written seven books on issues concerning existentialism and hermeneutics, French philosophy, ethics, bioethics and business ethics, philosophy of law and business, and he has been co-author and editor on more than ten other books. Rendtorff has written articles on business, business ethics and philosophy in Danish, English, German and French. Rendtorff is currently a member of the board of the Danish Philosophical Forum and he is vice president of the Danish Association for Philosophy in French Language. He is also a member of the international group on reflexion about ethics, Eco-ethica, founded by Professor Imamichi Tomonobu. In the summer 2008 Rendtorff was elected as member of the steering committee of FISP (Féderation international des societies de philosophie), the global organisation of philosophy that is responsible for the organization of the world congress of philosophy.