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Envisioning Capital

Envisioning Capital

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Envisioning Capital: Political Economy on DisplayAuthor(s): Susan Buck-MorssSource:
Critical Inquiry,
Vol. 21, No. 2 (Winter, 1995), pp. 434-467Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 06/06/2011 20:41
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Envisioning Capital:PoliticalEconomyonDisplaySusanBuck-Morss
1
Youarelooking,onamicrolevel,at the socialrelations of a newindustrialepoch (fig.1).Theimageis a"sociogram,"chartinginteractionsamong
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FIG.1.-SociogramofrelationshipsforUICR centerB.FromJ.D.Eveland,CommunicationetworksnUniversity/Industry ooperativeResearchCenters1985).Unless otherwiseindicated,alltranslations aremyown.
CriticalInquiry21(Winter 1995)?1995byTheUniversityofChicago.0093-1896/95/2102-0002$01.00.Allrightsreserved.
434
 
CriticalInquiryWinter1995435university professorsandstudentsasthey cross-pollinatewithindustrial-ists at auniversityindustrialresearchcenter.Thespermlikepenetrationshows minimal administrativeinterventioninto abudding embryoofre-search anddevelopment.It isuponsuchinformal,nonhierarchicalinsti-tutionsthat a brand new breed ofcapitalists pintheirhopes. Theyhavecrossedthe "second industrialdivide,"arestructuringofcapitalismchar-acterizedbydecentralizedproductionandchangedtechnologiesof flex-iblespecialization, technologiesthatimposeacompetitivestrategyofpermanentinnovation--hencetheneed to nurturenewideas and tokeeptheirprofit-making potentialgestatingwithin theproprietarydo-mainofprivatefirms.1Theseidea-producingclusters areenmeshedinglobalwebsthat,ac-cordingtoU.S.SecretaryofLabor RobertReich,catchapproximatelyone-fifthof theU.S.populationupinto theglobaleconomywithpros-pectsforaprosperousfuture,butthreaten toleave much ofthenation'sworkforceoutinthe cold.2Togeta sense of howradical thisrestructuringis,compareits amor-phoussociogramwiththe classic model ofthecorporatefirmthat domi-natedtheeconomiclandscapeuntiltwodecadesago(fig.2).This formdates backto theturn of thecentury(the"firstindustrialdivide")whencontinuous-processmachineryinitiated themassproductionofstandard-izedgoods, leadingtoeconomies of scalethattransformedthe earliersystemoffamilyfirmsinto"corporate"or"managerial"capitalism3-im-personallyowned,giantcorporationscomprisedofhundreds ofop-eratingunits and thousands ofworkers,theinternaloperationsof whichwereprotectedfromcompetition.Each unitwasmanaged byahierarchyofsalaried executiveswho,becausesurveillance andcoordinationare
1.See MichaelJ.Piore andCharlesF.Sabel,TheSecondIndustrialDivide:PossibilitiesforProsperityNewYork,1984).2.See Robert B.Reich,TheWorkofNations:PreparingOurselvesforTwenty-First-CenturyCapitalismNewYork,1991);hereafterabbreviated WN.Reich'sargumentsarecontroversialamongeconomists,manyof whomare critical of hiswork,but hishigh-rankingposition.within the Clinton administrationgivesthem clout.3.For an economichistoryof the institution of theU.S. firm andthetransformation to"managerialcapitalism,"see Alfred D.Chandler,Jr.,TheVisibleHand: TheManagerialRevolu-tion in AmericanBusiness(Cambridge,Mass.,1977).For apoliticalandsocialhistoryofthesame transformation(to"corporatecapitalism"),see MartinJ.Sklar,TheCorporateRecon-structionofAmericanCapitalism1890-1916:TheMarket,heLaw,andPolitics(NewYork,1988).
SusanBuck-Morssisprofessorofpoliticalphilosophyandsocialtheoryat CornellUniversity.Her booksinclude TheDialecticsofSeeing:WalterBenjaminand theArcadesProject(1989)andTheOrigin ofNegativeDialectics:TheodorWAdorno,WalterBenjamin,and theFrankfurtInstitute
(1977).

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