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The death of radical thought: from dispassionate to disinterested professionalism in intellectual labour

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Much has been written on the role that the intellectual classes play as ‘workers’ within the reproduction of advanced capitalist systems of production. This article traces some of the salient developments of this group of workers during the twentieth century focusing on their critical, although sometimes problematic, relation to capital. Using the seminal ideas of Aglietta, Lipietz and others associated with the French ‘regulation school’ I propose the idea that intellectual workers function as key agents within the mode of capitalist regulation, most significantly as ‘cultural regulators’. The article goes on to suggest that there has been a significant drift in the status of this group following the demise of ‘Fordism’ and the emergence of new ‘post-Fordist’ economic configurations and their corresponding ‘promotional cultures’ throughout many advanced industrial nations. It is suggested that this shift marks a crucial realignment of notions of professionalism within the occupations and job prospects of the intellectual classes, signalling a move away from a ‘professional radicalism’ in intellectual work towards a far more routinized and bureaucratic mode of labour. The article considers how this shift has impacted upon higher education within the context of the United Kingdom.

Keywords: Fordism/post-Fordism; commodity cultures; higher education; ideology; intellectual labour; knowledge; mode of regulation/cultural regulation; modernism; professionalism; promotional culture; radicalism

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Communication, Media and Culture Subject Group at Coventry University

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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  • The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics is committed to analyzing the politics of communication(s) and cultural processes. It addresses cultural politics in their local, international and global dimensions, recognizing equally the importance of issues defined by their specific cultural geography and those that traverse cultures and nations.
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