Phil Graham on Mon, 3 Apr 2000 17:16:50 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] LNC

Please circulate as widely as possible.

Language in the New Capitalism

Norman Fairclough 
Lancaster University

This is a call for action on language in the new capitalism.

A ‘global’ form of capitalism is gaining ascendancy. There are winners and
there are losers. Amongst the losses: an increasing gap between rich and
poor, less security for most people, less democracy, major environmental
damage. If markets are not constrained, the results will be disastrous. The
new order needs to be challenged -  especially the claim that it is
inevitable, that ‘there is no alternative’. Language is an important part
of the new order – it is partly new ways of using language: for instance
‘focus groups’, ‘quality circles’, ‘appraisal interviews’ (all of which
entail new forms of dialogue); ‘flexibility’, ‘partnership’,
‘transparency’, ‘lifelong learning’. Language is also important in
imposing, extending and legitimizing the new order: for instance the
pervasive representations of ‘globalisation’ as a natural and universal
process – disguising ways in which it is based on choices by business
corporations and governments which can be changed. The project of the new
order is partly a language project - change in language is an important
part of the socio-economic changes that are taking place. And challenging
the new order is partly a matter of challenging the new language. 

Research network

There is now an international research network focused on Language in the
New Capitalism – its website is: The network is envisaged
as a resource for political action as well as analysis, and our hope is
that activists in social movements, parties, trade unions and other areas
of social life, journalists, and indeed anyone concerned about these issues
will bring their own experiences, initiatives and concerns to the network.
The research needs these perspectives if it is to contribute to changing
social life for the better.

What is the new capitalism? 

Capitalism is being re-organised on the basis of important new
technologies, new modes of economic coordination, and the reduction of
social life to the market. Buzzwords include: the ‘information economy’,the
‘knowledge-based economy’, ‘globalization’, ‘flexibility’, ‘workfare’
(‘welfare-to-work’), the ‘learning economy’, the ‘enterprise culture’.
Across much of the world, governments take it as a mere fact of life that
all must bow to the emerging logic of a globalizing knowledge-driven
economy informed by the political ideology of neo-liberalism’. According to
the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, neo-liberalism is a political
project for the reconstruction of society in accord with the demands of an
unrestrained global capitalism (Bourdieu 1998). Neo-liberalism has been
adopted in fact if not in theory by social democratic as well as
conservative political parties, so that one effect of the current scenario
is, in the absence of really distinct political policies, a weakening of
democracy, a closing down of political debate. States enter an intense
competition to succeed on terms dictated by the market. This has led to
radical attacks on social welfare and the reduction of those protections
which welfare states provided against the negative effects of markets, and
the other negative effects listed above. It has also produced a new
imperialism, where international financial agencies indiscriminately impose
restructuring on less fortunate countries, sometimes with disastrous
consequences (eg Russia). (See Bauman 1998, Martin & Schumann 1997.)

Language in the new capitalism

Our focus in on language in the new capitalism. Language is an integral
part of social life in its different aspects – economic, political,
cultural, etc. All forms of social activity are in part language activity –
though we need to understand ‘language’ in a broad way to include for
instance the language of visual images, eg in advertising. Language figures
in three broad ways: as part of the action – acting and interacting is
partly using language in particular ways; in representing the world and
social life in particular ways – differences in wording are different ways
of representing things; and as part of the constitution of ways of being –
identities. (See Chouliaraki & Fairclough 1999.) The new capitalism is a
distinctive social order part of whose distinctiveness is the way language
figures within it – in its ‘genres’ (the ways peoples act and interact),
its ‘discourses’ (ways of representing), and ‘styles’ (ways of being). 

One way of thinking about the concerns of the Language in the New
Capitalism network is in terms of: dominance, difference, and resistance.
First, we need to identify which genres, discourses, and styles are the
dominant ones. Examples would be the genres which regulate action and
interaction in organisations (eg the sort of language which constitutes
‘teamwork’, ‘consultation’, ‘partnerships’, or ‘appraisals’); the
neo-liberal economic discourses which are internationally disseminated and
imposed by organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World
Trade Organisation (including key words and phrases like ‘free trade’,
‘transparency’, ‘flexibility’, ‘quality’); and the styles of key figures in
the new order – entrepreneurs, managers, political leaders, etc. We also
need to consider how these genres, discourses, and styles are disseminated
internationally, and across areas of social life (eg how the discourse and
genre of ‘negotiation’ so to speak ‘flows’ between economic, political,
military, and family life). 

Second, we need to consider the range of difference, diversity, in genres,
discourses and styles – and the social structuring and restructuring of
that difference. One issue is access: who does or does not have access to
dominant forms? Another is relationships between dominant and non-dominant
forms – how are other genres, discourses and styles affected by the
imposition of new dominant ones? For instance, mainstream political
discourse has widely converged around neo-liberal discourse – what has
happened for instance to radical and socialist political discourses? How
have they been marginalised? How do they continue to sustain themselves? An
error which must be avoided is assuming that dominant forms are the only
ones that exist. 

Which brings us to the third concern: resistance. Dominant genres,
discourses, and styles are colonising new domains – for instance managerial
genres, discourses and styles are rapidly colonising government and public
sector domains such as education. But colonisation is never a simple
process: the new forms are assimilated and combined in many cases with old
forms. There is a process of appropriating them, which can lead to various
outcomes – quiescent assimilation, forms of tacit or more open resistance
(eg when people ‘talk the talk’ is a consciously strategic way, without
accepting it), or indeed the search for coherent alternatives. 

Language matters in the New Capitalism, and attempts to inflect, resist or
transform it need to take language seriously – to critique the dominant
genres, discourses and styles, and to project alternatives. This does not
at all imply that language is all that matters: it is one element – but an
important one - in the material social processes and practices of the New


Bauman, Z. (1998) Globalization – the Human Consequences. Cambridge: Polity

Bourdieu, P. (1998) ‘L’essence du neo-liberalisme’, Le Monde Diplomatique,

Chouliaraki, L. and Fairclough, N. (1999) Discourse in Late Modernity:
Rethinking Critical 
Discourse Analysis. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Martin, H-P. and Schumann, H. (1997) The Global Trap. London: Zed Books.

Phil Graham
Lecturer (Communication)
University of Queensland

Nettime-bold mailing list