chapter  13
16 Pages

Beyond the Protestant Ethic: Culture, Subjectivity and Instrumental Labor

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber argues that the rise of modern capitalism in the West cannot be understood merely in terms of

the formal innovations of capitalism1-though he expends a great deal of energy

enumerating these-but also as a change of ethos, ‘the ability and disposition

of men to adopt certain types of practical rational conduct’ (Weber 1958,

26). Moreover, he pluralizes the notion of a Spirit of the Age, specifying how

adherence to specific and contested patterns of religious belief had the unintended

consequence of disposing some more than others to the practical necessities of

success in a changing economic milieu. Thus, Weber’s account of the elective

affinity between modern capitalism and ascetic Protestantism involves historical

specification on two counts, as Anthony Giddens observes: ‘Not only an analysis

of the content of protestant beliefs and an assessment of their influence upon the

actions of believers, but also the specification of the particular characteristics of

modern western capitalism as a form of economic activity’ (Giddens 1971, 125).