This lecture elaborates on the argument of my book, Intellectual Work and the Spirit of Capitalism (Palgrave Macmillan 2014), by focusing on the implications of Max Weber’s (1864-1920) remarks concerning technology of culture. I begin by placing Weber’s neglected ideas on industrial capitalism and technological culture in the context of his arguments on the uniqueness of the Western vocations of art, science, and politics. I then argue that this dimension of his historical scheme of capitalist development offers an important perspective on the material basis of the contemporary ‘epoch of media’ and its ‘cultural techniques’ for the storage, processing, and transmission of knowledge and information. In particular, Weber’s expansive conception of ‘intellectual work’ – which includes rational, emotional, habitual, and even spiritual labour and effort – opens up a line of critical inquiry concerning the technological and cultural conditions of contemporary capitalism that we are still grappling with today.
Thomas Kemple is Professor of Sociology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. His research and teaching focus on European and North American traditions of classical and contemporary social theory from the late 18th century to the present. He is the author of Reading Marx Writing: Melodrama, the Market, and the Grundrisse (Stanford 1995), Intellectual Work and the Spirit of Capitalism: Weber’s Calling (Palgrave Macmillan 2014), and co-editor with Olli Pyyhtinen of The Anthem Companion to Georg Simmel (Anthem 2016). His articles have appeared in the Journal of Classical Sociology, Telos, Rethinking Marxism, and in two special issues of Theory, Culture & Society.