The program on culture, capitalism, and global change

The New “Spirits” of Capitalism Project

“I believe we are coming to a watershed in Western society: we are witnessing the end of the bourgeois idea—that view of human action and social relations, particularly of economic exchange—which has molded the modern era for the last 200 years.”

—Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

Capitalism has been and remains animated by, as well as subject to, the regulation of particular moral orders. Nevertheless, while capitalism has always possessed in Marx and Engels’ famous formulation “a cosmopolitan character,” the organic connections between the organization of economic life and the given moral orders of particular national societies has transformed radically over the past hundred years. Today, capitalism is creatively and destructively reworking local, regional, and national cultures, just as it binds human societies together into a single overarching material order.

At the heart of these changing cultural and economic configurations, basic normative questions arise: How have the attitudes, beliefs, and moral orientations toward work, vocation, and consumption changed? How has the relationship between economic life and moral order under the conditions of global capitalism evolved? What constitutes a human standard of living? What kinds of social and economic rights are accorded to whom, and by what authority? Are there things all humans hold in common—air, water, education, health care, the human genome—that should be off-limits to the logic of markets? The hyper-globalization of capitalism now raises these issues for the entire world.

The principal objectives of The New “Spirits” of Capitalism Project are to understand the changing moral ecology of economic life in light of structural transformations taking place in global capitalism. The program is attempting to establish a new line of academic research dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of economic culture. The program will pursue the interdisciplinary study of economic culture by initiating: (1) cutting-edge analysis of the “new” spirit(s) of capitalism, and (2) historical exploration and theoretical reflections regarding the changing configurations of the moral ecology of economic life. A subsidiary goal of the project is the renewing of an economic ethic suitable to the challenges and opportunities of global capitalism.

View a list of project accomplishments >>

selected project accomplishments

Crawford, Matthew. Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. New York: Penguin, 2009.

Yates, Joshua J. and James Davison Hunter, eds. Thrift and Thriving in America: Capitalism and Moral Order from the Puritans to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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Who We Are

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture is an interdisciplinary research center and intellectual community at the University of Virginia committed to understanding contemporary cultural change and its individual and social consequences, training young scholars, and providing intellectual leadership in service to the public good.

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