AS JAMESON EXPLAINS in Postmodernism (1991), the term "late capitalism" originated with the Frankfurt School (Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, etc.) and refers to the form of capitalism that came to the fore in the modernist period and now dominates our own postmodern culture. (On postmodernism, see my introduction.) The Frankfurt school

stressed two essential features: (1) a tendential web of bureaucratic control..., and (2) the interpenetration of government and big business ('state capitalism') such that Nazism and the New Deal are related systems. (xviii)

As Jameson explains, the term "late capitalism" now has "very different overtones from these" (xviii); indeed, Jameson dates the emergence of "late capitalism" in the 1950s, so that late capitalism for Jameson is ultimately coincident with and even synonymous with postmodernism: "the economic preparation of postmodernism or late capitalism began in the 1950s, after the wartime shortages of consumer goods and spare parts had been made up, and new products and new technologies (not least those of the media) could be pioneered" (Postmodernism xx). In turn, the psychic break that made possible the cultural (rather than merely economic) emergence of late-capitalist sensibilities occurred, according to Jameson, in the 1960s. Finally, the 1970s allowed the economic and the cultural side of postmodern late capitalism to come together: the economic system and the cultural "structure of feeling" "somehow crystallized in the great shock of the crises of 1971 (the oil crisis, the end of the international gold standard, for all intents and purposes the end of the great wave of 'wars of national liberation' and the beginning of the end of traditional communism)" (Postmodernism xx-xxi). In general, Jameson understands "late capitalism" as the pervasive condition of our own age, a condition that speaks both to economic and cultural structures: "What 'late' generally conveys is... the sense that something has changed, that things are different, that we have gone through a transformation of the life world which is somehow decisive but incomparable with the older convulsions of modernization and industrialization, less perceptible and dramatic, somehow, but more permanent precisely because more thoroughgoing and all-pervasive" (Postmodernism xxi).

According to Jameson, the new elements that postmodernism adds to the Frankfurt School's version of late capitalism include:

1) "new forms of business organization (multinationals, transnationals) beyond the monopoly stage" (Postmodernism xviii-xix). Lenin's concept of the "monopoly stage" of capitalism now expands out beyond any national border.

2) an internationalization of business beyond the older imperial model; in the new order of capital, multinational corporations are not tied to any one country but represent a form of power and influence greater than any one nation. That internationalization also applies to the division of labor, making possible the continued exploitation of workers from poor countries in support of multinational capital. Jameson refers to "the flight of production to advanced Third World areas, along with all the more familiar social consequences, including the crisis of traditional labor, the emergence of yuppies, and gentrification on a now-global scale" (Postmodernism xix).

3) "a vertiginous new dynamic in international banking and the stock exchanges (including the enormous Second and Third World debt)" (Postmodernism xix). Through such a banking structure, the First World's multinational corporations maintain their control over the world market.

4) "new forms of media interrelationship" (Postmodernism xix). The media constitutes one of the more influential new products of late capitalism (print, internet, television, film) and a new means for the capitalist take-over of our lives. Through the mediatization of culture, we become increasingly reliant on the media's version of our reality, a version of reality that is filled predominantly with capitalist values.

5) "computers and automation" (Postmodernism xix). Advances in computer automation have allowed for an unprecedented level of mass production, leading to ever greater profit-margins for multinational corporations.

6) planned obsolescence. As Jameson puts it, "the frantic economic urgency of producing fresh waves of ever more novel-seeming goods (from clothing to airplanes), at ever greater rates of turnover, now assigns an increasingly essential structural function and position to aesthetic innovation and experimentation" (Postmodernism 5).

7) American military domination. As Jameson writes in Postmodernism, "this whole global, yet American, postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of a whole new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the world: in this sense, as throughout class history, the underside of culture is blood, torture, death, and terror" (5).

Some synonyms for "late capitalism" include "'multinational capitalism, 'spectacle or image society,' 'media capitalism,' 'the world system,' even 'postmodernism' itself" (Postmodernism xviii). Jameson however rejects the synonym "postindustrial society" because that term suggests that what we are seeing is a radical break from the forms of capital that existed in the nineteenth century (and thus, by implication, a break from Karl Marx's understanding of capital). Jameson is more interested in perceiving a continuity from earlier forms of industrial society (even as he acknowledges the differences) and in affirming the continuing relevance of Marx's theories.


Proper Citation of this Page:

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Jameson: On Late Capitalism." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Date of last update, which you can find on the home page. Purdue U. Date you accessed the site. <http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/marxism/modules/jamesonlatecapitalism.html>.







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