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disorganized capitalism

  A term used by Lash and Urry (1987) to describe a new form of capitalism that came into existence in the 1960s and 1970s. Disorganized capitalism is the result of the demise of organized capitalism (Kocka, 1974), a mature form of capitalism which began to evolve out of so-called \'liberal capitalism\' in the final decades of the nineteenth century and became dominant in many western countries in the early and middle parts of the twentieth century. Organized capitalism was characterized by the growth of large bureaucratic organizations in the economy, the state, and civil society; by the growth of a middle class employed in these organizations; by a form of partnership (or \'corporatist agreement\') between companies, states and workers; and by modernist cultural forms. In contrast, disorganized capitalism is a process of disorganization and restructuring typified by large, global multinational and transnational corporations striving to become less bureaucratized, by nation-states which find it increasingly difficult to make economic interventions, by the growth of a \'service class\' of managers and professionals (see class), by the breakdown of corporatist agreements, and by postmodern cultural forms.

Put baldly like this, the distinction between organized and disorganized capitalism might seem to be simply a way of synthesizing distinctions that are often made — between Fordism and post-Fordism in the case of the economy, between industrial and post-industrial society, and, in the sphere of culture, between modernism and postmodernism. To some extent, this is true. But the idea of disorganized capitalism has more bite than this. In particular, it can be distinguished from these formulations by three important emphases. First, it is particularly attentive to the importance of geography; changing spatial forms are clearly implicated in the shift from organized to disorganized capitalism. Second, it stresses that disorganized capitalism is a process that moves hesitantly rather than triumphantly. Third, it is methodologically catholic; Lash and Urry are not willing to declare a fixed allegiance to any \'ism\' but instead offer a list of diagnostic elements which cannot be reduced to any single, central generating mechanism.

Since their 1987 book, Lash and Urry have developed their thesis in a number of different directions, especially through work on culture and the cultural industries (Lash, 1990), tourism (Urry, 1991), travel (Lash and Urry, 1992), and the environment (McNaghten and Urry, 1998). (NJT)

References Kocka, J. 1974: Organiserter Kapitalismus. Gottingen: Vandenhock and Ruprecht. Lash, S. 1990: Sociology of postmodernism. London, Routledge. Lash, S. and Urry, J. 1987: The end of organised capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press. Lash, S. and Urry, J. 1992: Economies of signs and space: after organised capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press. MacNaghten, P. and Urry, J. 1998: Contested natures. London: Sage. Urry, J. 1991: The tourist gaze. London: Sage.



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