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Language in New Capitalism


Discourse & Society

Copyright 2002
SAGE Publications
Thousand Oaks, CA
and New Delhi)
Vol 13(2): 163166
(200203) 13:2;
163166; 022404]

What is New Capitalism? The capitalist system has a well-documented capacity

to sustain itself through major transformations. New Capitalism refers to the
new form of capitalism emerging from contemporary transformations. We can
think of these transformations as simultaneously a re-structuring and a rescaling (Jessop, 2000). A re-structuring, in the sense that there are shifts in
relations between different domains or fields of social life most obviously,
between the economic field and other fields (including the political, educational
and artistic fields), including a colonization of other fields by the economic field.
Witness what is happening to higher education. A re-scaling, in the sense that
there are shifts in relations between different scales of social life between social
life on a local scale (e.g. in small towns), a national scale, a regional scale (e.g. the
European Union) and a global scale. One widely noted aspect of these shifting
relations is how immediately and deeply global processes affect local processes
and vice versa the changed nature of the global/local dialectic. This is one way
to understand what is widely referred to as globalization: not a simple replacement of, for instance, a national or local economic dynamic by a global one, but a
shift in the relation among global, national and local economies. Globalization
per se is after all not new, it is a long-term process in which for instance the age of
imperial states and colonization was a significant phase.
The importance of these transformations as an object of research is selfevident. But what is the case for a focus on language in this research? There is a
sense in which language (and more broadly semiosis, including visual language)
is becoming more central and more salient in the New Capitalism than in earlier
forms of capitalism. This is implied for instance in descriptions of the New
Capitalism as knowledge- or information-based, its dependence upon new
communication technologies, the ever-increasing importance of brands and
branding in the economic success of products, companies, nations and even

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Discourse & Society 13(2)

individuals (Klein, 2000), and the associated salience of representations and

images in the media. Thus, in so far as the restructuring and re-scaling of capitalism is knowledge led, it is also discourse led, for knowledges are produced, circulated and consumed as discourses (economic, organizational, managerial,
political, educational and so forth). Moreover, discourses are dialectically materialized (Chouliaraki and Fairclough, 1999; Fairclough, 2001) in the hardware
and software of organizations, enacted as ways of acting and interacting, and
inculcated (through a variety of processes including, e.g. skills training) as ways
of being, as identities. New ways of acting and interacting include new linguistic
(and more broadly semiotic) forms new genres; and new ways of being
are partly semiotic new styles. So that transformations of organizations
(workplaces, universities, local government, etc.) under the pressure of restructuring and re-scaling are partly, and significantly, semiotic and linguistic
The emergence of a knowledge-based economy means that knowledge, both
as know-how and know-that, and hence semiosis, both as genres (know-how)
and discourses (know-that), become commodities. Semiosis becomes open to
processes of economic calculation, manipulation and design, which have been
referred to as the technologisation of discourse (Fairclough, 1996), e.g. application of expert knowledge to redesigning workplace practices in their semiotic
We can talk of a process of globalization with respect to semiosis. This is not
only a matter of the emergence of a global language, global English, but also the
globalization of the order of discourse, of the social structuring of semiotic
diversity. Discourses such as the discourse of new public management (or neoliberal political discourse) circulate and are dialectically materialized, enacted
and inculcated globally, although this is a process of restructuring difference
rather than a homogenization, for globally circulating discourses are open to
diverse local appropriations (Salskov-Iversen et al., 2000). The potency of globalizing tendencies in semiosis is a matter of how they are positioned within
relations of power. Global English, discourses of flexibility, etc., and genres
such as those associated with team work in industry, owe their penetrative
power to the relative power of the social forces (the corporations, governments,
international agencies such as the IMF) behind them, and the relative weakness
of the social forces which do or might oppose them (Bourdieu and Wacquant,
This special issue on Language in New Capitalism goes to press at a time
(December 2001) when the War on Terrorism, which followed the appalling
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, is underway, in the form of
aerial bombardment of Afghanistan. This is relevant to the theme, in that it
demonstrates the extensive and pervasive ramifications of the contemporary
international restructuring and re-scaling of capitalism in terms of what is often
referred to as a new global order. The theme of language in new capitalism
is not restricted to the economic field, it also embraces the ramifications of

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Editorial: Language in New Capitalism 165

economic transformation in other fields including culture, education, national

politics, international relations and international security. The British Prime
Minister, Tony Blair, who has been the most stalwart supporter and perhaps the
most coherent ideologue of the War on Terrorism, has made the connections
clear. For Blair, what is at issue is a continuing commitment to globalization in
the face of its critics, and the understanding that globalization imposes global
interdependence not only in the economic and political domains, but also in the
domain of international security. Blairs position was articulated at the time of
the Kosovo war, in a major speech he gave in Chicago in April 1999 (Fairclough,
2000). What he has said since 11 September 2001 has been an elaboration of
that position, which can be summed up (using quotations from another major
speech at the Labour Party Conference in September 2001) as follows:
Globalization is a fact, the alternative to globalization is isolation and the issue
is not how to stop globalization but how to use the power of the community to
combine it with justice. Although nations act in their own self interest, the
world can be a community because our self-interest and our mutual interests are
today inextricably woven together (because problems rarely stay within national
boundaries). The world community has a moral duty to act against genocide,
ethnic cleansing, famine and terror; it has the capacity to heal the scar on
the conscience of the world of the state of Africa, [d]efeat climate change and
so forth. This moral duty extends to the War on Terrorism: the international
community has a moral duty to act, on the basis of its shared values, against
this as against other challenges to those values. The discourse is reminiscent of
the age of empire the moral burden of the imperial power to police the
benighted world in the name of the universal validity of (its) civilized values. One
reading of the contemporary world is that we are entering a new age of empire,
though of an unprecedented nature (Hardt and Negri, 2000).
Critical social research focuses upon the issues, problems, inequities, dangers
and possibilities which face people living within a particular economic and social
order, with a view to imaginable and achievable outcomes which maximize social
justice and freedom. As the economic and social order changes, so do the problems and possibilities. The Language in New Capitalism research network
(www.geocities.com/pw.graham/lncindex.html) aims to focus critical language
research and critical discourse analysis on semiotic aspects of the economic and
social transformations of our time. This special issue represents the first collective
publication arising from this initiative. We hope that this issue will stimulate further research.

Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L. (2001) New Liberal Speak: Notes on the New Planetary
Vulgate, Radical Philosophy 105: 25.
Chouliaraki, L. and Fairclough, N. (1999) Discourse in Late Modernity. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press.

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Discourse & Society 13(2)

Fairclough, N. (1996) Technologisation of Discourse, in C. Caldas-Coulthard and M.
Coulthard (eds) Texts and Practices. London: Routledge.
Fairclough, N. (2000) New Labour, New Language? London: Routledge
Fairclough, N. (2001) The Dialectics of Discourse, Textus XIV(2): 310.
Hardt, M. and Negri, A. (2000) Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Jessop, R. (2000) The Crisis of the National Spatio-Temporal Fix and the Ecological
Dominance of Globalising Capitalism, International Journal of Urban and Regional
Research 24(2): 273310.
Klein, N. (2000) No Logo. London: Harper-Collins.
Salskov-Iversen, D., Hansen, H. and Bislev, S. (2000) Governmentality, Globalization and
Local Practice: Transformations of a Hegemonic Discourse, Alternatives 25: 183222.

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