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  An historically specific form of economic and social organization which is theorized in different ways by different political and intellectual traditions. It is important to understand the weight placed upon \'theorized\' in the preceding sentence because it has practical implications. Theorizations of capitalism are \'regulatory fictions\' in the sense that they are conceptual constructions which enter into — shape, inform, delimit — both the reproduction and transformation of capitalism and the development of radical critiques of capitalism. On one side, for example, Thrift (1997) has argued that changes in the international discourse of management and managerialism have helped produce so-called soft capitalism, while on the other side Gibson-Graham (1996) have insisted that the reconceptualization of capitalism has a doubly important part to play in \'the end of capitalism (as we knew it)\'.

Conceptions of capitalism typically fasten on the singularity and centrality of its economy within which:

(a) the direct producer is separated from ownership of the means of production and the product of the labour process; and where(b) this separation is effected through the transformation of labour power into a commodity to be bought and sold on a labour market regulated by price signals.These claims are then elaborated in radically different ways, some of which are closed around the economy while others identify a more comprehensive cultural, social and political \'architecture\' that is built around (and on) the capitalist economy.

In neo-classical economics, for example, exchanges within the labour market are treated as identical to the price transactions that occur within and between all commodity markets, i.e. as an \'exchange of equivalents\', so that the general structure of commodity exchange is sufficient to characterize the entire economy. Buyers and sellers freely enter the frictionless spaces of markets, invested with perfect rationality and perfect knowledge, and respond to the price signals generated by supply and demand schedules to produce a general equilibrium. This scenario is scripted by historical accounts of the generalization of commodity exchange in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in western Europe and North America (including, crucially, the commodification of labour) which supposedly ensured that \'the market mode of economic integration gradually bound society into one cohesive economic system\' (Harvey, 1973; see market exchange).

Neoclassical economics is confined to the economy, however, and its social and political counterpart is provided by sociologist Max Weber\'s (1864-1920) description of the institutional foundations of the market (Collins, 1980; Clarke, 1982). Weber emphasized the importance of the legal and political framework established by the nation-state \'which afforded to capitalism its chance for development\', and drew attention to the importance of what he called formal rationality, i.e. the calculability of action, within the capitalist economy. Rationality was the guiding thread of Weber\'s work. In his view, the generalization of formal rationality, its intrusion into all aspects of everyday life in the West, had as its climax the constitution of a generic industrial society \'characterised by large-scale industrial production, the inexorable power of material goods, bureaucratic administration\', and a pervasive \'calculating attitude\' (Bottomore, 1985). But where Neo-classical economics can be read as a vindication — even a celebration — of formal rationality and the \'free market economy\', Weber\'s writings were much more ambivalent:

In no sphere of human life, according to Weber, has rationalization unambiguously advanced human well-being. The rationalization of economic production, for example, has created the \'iron cage\' of capitalism, a \'tremendous cosmos\' that constrains individuals from without, determining their lives \'with irresistible force\'. (Brubaker, 1984)This occurred, so Weber argued, because there was a disjuncture between formal rationality and substantive rationality: \'While capitalism is rational in the sense of enhancing the calculability of economic action, its rationality may well be problematic in terms of the [substantive] ends it promotes or the [substantive] conditions of life which it imposes\' (Bottomore, 1985). Weber\'s vision was thus profoundly pessimistic:

Consuming and replacing other forms of life, bourgeois rationalization processes tend to become an end in themselves. Under their monopolistic sway, contemporary capitalist societies knit themselves into a self-enslaving \'iron cage\' of bondage. All spheres of daily life tend to become chronically dependent upon disciplined hierarchy, rational specialisation and the continuous deployment of impersonal systems of abstract-general rules. Bureaucratic domination is the fate of the present, whose future is likely to be more of the same. A \'polar night of icy darkness and hardness\' is the spectre that haunts the modern world. (Keane, 1984)The spectre of a \'totally administered society\' (see also surveillance) confronts capitalism and socialism alike, so Weber argued, and it is the same spectre that post-Weberian critical theory sought to lay. But its starting-point has usually been Marx rather than Weber.

Karl Marx (1818-83) recognized that capitalism is more than a system of generalized commodity exchange: it is also a generalized system of commodity production. It is this insight which acts as the lever for the characterization of capitalism provided by Marxian economics and Marxian political economy. From this perspective, capitalism is seen as an historically specific mode of production in which \'the reproduction of daily life depends upon the production of commodities produced through a system of circulation that has profit-seeking as its direct and socially accepted goal\' (Harvey, 1985). Harvey provides a sketch map of the main circuits of capital (see figure). He emphasizes that such differentiated forms of circulation not only \'enable capitalism to shape its historical geography in accordance with the dictates of [capital] accumulation\' but also \'increase immeasurably the possibilities for crisis formation\'. Far from sustaining the general equilibrium posited by Neo-classical, economics, therefore, the dynamics of capital circulation are seen to generate a crisis-ridden historical geography of \'long waves\' and spasmodic perturbations in time and of uneven development in space (Harvey, 1982: cf. Kondratieff cycles). One of the primary concerns of Marxist geography has been to bring into view the space economy of capitalism and to disclose its \'inconstant geography\', therefore, as a way of showing that the production of space is integral rather than merely incidental to the production of commodities and the circulation of capital (see Massey, 1984; Harvey, 1985; Storper and Walker, 1989; see also location theory).

{img src=show_image.php?name=bkhumgeofig5.gif }

capitalism Paths of capital flow (Harvey, 1982)

Although Marx himself focused on what he called the \'economic base\', other writers have built complex architectures on these foundations that have served two main purposes. Many of them have been concerned to illuminate the relations between economy, society, culture and politics (see, for example, Regulation school; structural Marxism). These are more than abstract topologies: they have informed empirical analyses of the structure of the capitalist state and the state apparatus, the location and operation of the law and other modes of capitalist regulation, and the significance of cultural formations and cultural politics in the legitimation and contestation of contemporary capitalisms. Other writers have drawn on these active architectures to tease out the intricate connections between capitalism, class and other subject-positions. Particular attention has been paid to the constitution of gendered, racialized and sexualized subjects and their entanglements with capitalism through its historical imbrications with (e.g.) colonialism; patriarchy and racism (see gender and geography; race; sexuality and geography).

Virtually all the standard theorizations of capitalism emphasize the history of capitalism and thus agree that it is not an ever-present and unchanging system. Both Weber and Marx paid particular attention to the European transition from feudalism to capitalism (see Holton, 1985), and historical typologies of different capitalisms have since proliferated: the conventional Marxian distinction between merchant capitalism, industrial capitalism and finance capitalism has been elaborated in the late twentieth century through the recognition of an \'organized\' capitalism that was successively dominated by Taylorism and Fordism and a subsequent disorganized capitalism dominated by regimes of flexible accumulation (see Lash and Urry, 1987; Harvey, 1989). But these different capitalisms are usually constructed as successive moments in the historical evolution, expansion and exorbitation of what Gibson-Graham (1996) have called \'Capitalism-with-a-capital-C\'. Approaches of this sort, so they argue, usually entail a number of characteristic assumptions:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } Capitalism is situated at the heart of the narrative as the central generating mechanism of historical change (\'capitalocentrism\'); {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } Non-capitalist forms and practices are cast as backward, traditional, inward-looking; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } Non-capitalist sites are thus sites of a \'lack\', always and everywhere impending targets of invasion, submission and colonization, eventually to be eliminated by the inexorable penetrations of a globalizing capitalism (a scenario dramatized in the dominant \'rape script\' of globalization); {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } Capitalism is thus constructed as a totality: \'We cannot get outside Capitalism: it has no outside\'.Against this, Gibson-Graham prefer to speak not of Capitalism but of the co-existence in time and space of multiple capitalisms. Perhaps their most important proposal is to conceptualize \'the economy\' not as \'a bounded and unified space with a fixed capitalist identity\' — a structure with an essential and invariant \'inside\' — but as a plurality and heterogeneity of forms and practices that \'is constituted by its continually changing and contradictory \'outsides\' (1996, pp. 15-16). These are trenchant reformulations, which accentuate the importance of not only the history but also the geography of capitalist processes, practices and forms. While it is unclear how much of conventional political economy these proposals leave intact, they intersect with recent studies that accentuate the specificity of different capitalisms presently emerging in (for example) East Asia and eastern Europe. (DG)

References Bottomore, T. 1985: Theories of modern capitalism. London: Allen and Unwin. Brubaker, R. 1984: The limits of rationality. London: Allen and Unwin. Clarke, S. 1982: Marx, marginalism and modern sociology. London: Macmillan. Collins, R. 1980: Weber\'s last theory of capitalism: a systematization. American Sociological Review 45: 925-42. Gibson-Graham, J.-K. 1996: The end of capitalism (as we knew it). Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1973: Social justice and the city. London: Edward Arnold; reprinted, Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1982: The limits to capital. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1985: The urbanization of capital. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Holton, R.J. 1985: The transition from feudalism to capitalism. London: Macmillan. Keane, J. 1984: Public life and late capitalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lash, S. and Urry, J. 1987: The end of organized capitalism. Cambridge: Polity. Massey, D. 1984: Spatial divisions of labour. London: Macmillan. Storper, M. and Walker, R. 1989: The capitalist imperative: territory, technology and industrial growth. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Thrift, N. 1997: Soft capitalism. Cultural Values 1: 29-57.

Suggested Reading Bottomore (1985). Gibson-Graham (1996).



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