Power without Responsibility: Populism, Narcissism and the Contradictions of Contemporary Capitalism

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    If late capitalism has triumphed, at least in the West, it is not as an economy but as an ideology. We need to start thinking of capitalism once again as a social formation, to be interrogated in sociological as well as economic terms. In the UK, in the 21st century, a generation of young people came of age who despised the Tories, protested against overseas wars and the commodification of higher education, and considered themselves progressives, yet articulated this faux radicalism by reading the Independent and voting for the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps because of the ever-present spectre of American culture, they have marched themselves down the same cul-de-sac that generations of American ‘progressives’ have marched, that which, quite simply, cannot imagine a world that is not dressed in the clothes of capitalism. Thatcher convinced their mothers and fathers that there is no alternative, and the lie has been passed from one generation to the next. It is a lie sustained through commodification and consumerism, and manifests itself in such processes as techno-individualization (the increasing reliance on personal technology which shifts responsibility from producer to consumer), the new culture of resolution (in which performance indicators take precedence over actual quality), and in the unholy matrimony of consumerism and managerialism. In each case, superficially at least, these seem to make sense, they seem to empower the individual; yet it is clear that the consumer is not empowered, and these processes mask the contradictions of late capitalism. This paper will apply a critical sociological perspective to the lived experience of late capitalism as an ideology, and consider, with appropriate optimism, what alternatives may be available.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)440-453
    Number of pages13
    JournalInternational Critical Thought
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

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