By Martijn Konings
The capitalist market, progressives bemoan, is a cold monster: it disrupts social bonds, erodes emotional attachments, and imposes an abstract utilitarian rationality. But what if such hallowed critiques are completely misleading? The Emotional Logic of Capitalism; What Progressives Have Missed (2015) argues that the production of new sources of faith and enchantment is crucial to the dynamics of the capitalist economy. Distinctively secular patterns of attraction and attachment give modern institutions a binding force that was not available to more traditional forms of rule. Elaborating his alternative approach through an engagement with the semiotics of money and the genealogy of economy, Martijn Konings uncovers capitalism's emotional and theological content in order to understand the paradoxical sources of cohesion and legitimacy that it commands. In developing this perspective, he draws on pragmatist thought to rework and revitalize the Marxist critique of capitalism.
Bryant William Sculos on Marx & Philosophy Review of Books wrote:
"Konings makes a compelling argument that markets are productive in social, cultural, and political as well as economic realms, and that both Marxist and neoclassical economists miss the full richness of these intertwined processes. Money and markets produce connectivity as well as alienation - a fundamental paradox that is too often forgotten. [...] Konings is most compelling, and on more solid ground, when he tackles the big question: why many Americans support neoliberal reforms when they are often directly contrary to their own self-interest. [...] He argues that the neoliberal promise is one of redemption and hopeful aspiration, while progressives try to repudiate money. [...] As Konings argues, social scientists need to embrace the complexity and paradoxes of real economic life: that money and market interactions can strengthen and promote social relations as well as erode them. At the same time, economists and policy makers often have difficulty allowing that money and markets are embedded in particular social and political power structures and that “free” market transactions are less free than they might think. We would all do well to follow Konings’ lead in staking out a middle ground at once politically pragmatic and yet sensitive to the emotional enchantment associated with money and markets."
Michael Keaney on Review of Radical Political Economics wrote:
"In his timely new book [...] Martijn Konings launches a sophisticated critique of the various disembedded, externalist understandings of capitalism associated with strands of American progressivism, generally rooted in the approach most forcefully developed by Karl Polanyi. Konings argues that—contrary to the critiques of capitalism and money that treat the economy as a distinct sphere of life that is conceptually and empirically external to social, political, and ethical concerns—money, capitalism, and economics (or, as he argues is a more accurate name for what we typically refer to as economics, ‘chrematistics’) are deeply interconnected through affective and emotional networks and discourses of meaning, desire, and fulfillment. This book brings together a diverse collection of theories ranging from Latour’s actor-network theory to Agamben’s and Foucault’s theories of disciplinary biopower and biopolitics, to Judith Butler’s theory of performativity, with a pragmatist alternative to Saussurrean semiotics."
Ivan Ascher on Perspectives on Politics wrote:
"The key flaw with Polanyian theory in Konings’s reading is its rendering of markets as autonomizing themselves from society (1), when in fact “capitalism operates through their imbrication” (2), impacting all aspects of social life. [...] This is an extremely important book that deserves wide and careful reading. Konings is careful to limit his theorizations to the United States, but there is much for readers elsewhere to ponder, given the globalization of much US culture and economy."
David M. Kutznik on Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews wrote:
"the argument is framed as a quarrel with what the author calls a “ready-made narrative template” used in the social sciences “for expressing critical concerns with the role of markets and money in modern life.” It is a narrative wherein markets are depicted as cold and powerful, as damaging to the social fabric, and as generally not very nice. [...] Simply put, Konings’s worry is that a critique of “the economy” that treats it as autonomous or somehow disembedded from society leaves us blind to the way that markets and money actually function by enlisting us in their everyday operations. This is an eminently reasonable argument, which Konings elaborates in the most detail in his early chapters on money. As he points out, it is a mystery to no one that money is but a “convention,” one that operates “through contingent rules and an endless series of commensurations.” When all goes well, we have no problem with the fact that, as Kyle put it, “the economy is not real. And yet, it is real.” But when a crisis hits or when for some reason we start thinking as “critics” of the economy, we seem to lose sight of this basic understanding. Much like the crowds in South Park, we imbue markets with magical powers, we shudder in horror at the mere thought of a credit card, and most of all, we treat money as an idol to be destroyed—when, according to Konings, we would be better-off thinking of it as an icon."
"It is no doubt a substantial contribution to discussions about how and why people are emotionally attached to capitalist culture. Those readers who share the poststructuralist sensibilities of the author will find the analysis and theoretical framework germane to their work. Readers, such as this reviewer, who have decidedly more traditional Marxist proclivities will find Konings’ semiotic reworking of money interesting and worthy of reflection but in no way an alternative or upgrade to the time-honored combination of false consciousness, alienation, and commodity fetishism. In this connection, I think Konings’ book has far more to offer professional academicians than movement-engaged progressive intellectuals. Having said this, I do see potential practical value in Konings’ affective economy framework. Ethnographers and other empirically grounded researchers interested in studying the connection between money and emotional meaning in the lives of actual persons could certainly profit from appropriation of Konings’ work."
Talk by the Author about the Book
- "Anti-Polanyi" - Presentation by author during a book launch event
- Appraisal of the book by Dr. Fiona Allon at the same event
- Discussion of the book on a critical theory podcast
- "A Religion of Unbelief" - discussion of the book by Noam Yuran in the journal Finance & Society
About Martijn Konings
Martin Konings is Senior Lecturer and Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. His research interests are at the intersection of political economy and social theory, with a focus on money and finance especially in the US context. He has published books on neoliberalism, the historical development of American finance, the psychological and affective dimensions of money and capitalism, and the role of risk and speculation in contemporary financial governance.
Table of Contents
- 1. Money as Icon
- 2. Affective Signs
- 3. Icon and Economy
- 4. Semiotics of Iconocity
- 5. Economy in America
- 6. Lineages of Progressivism
- 7. Economy and Affect
- 8. Neoliberal Economy