Capitalism is dead … long live capitalism: a Deleuzian approach for sustainability

Wafa Khlif (Toulouse Business School, Toulouse University, Barcelona, Spain)

Society and Business Review

ISSN: 1746-5680

Article publication date: 12 October 2015



Khlif, W. (2015), "Capitalism is dead … long live capitalism: a Deleuzian approach for sustainability", Society and Business Review, Vol. 10 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Capitalism is dead … long live capitalism: a Deleuzian approach for sustainability

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Society and Business Review, Volume 10, Issue 3

#B3 said, “The only place to stand is where we are; the theory has to start with ourselves”. Throughout history, political and technological changes tend to modify organizations’ reality, but somehow, scholars in management seem embedded in few economic dominant theories stated by Nobel prizes nearly a century ago. The reality behind these theories could first be grasped through Benjamin Franklin’s words “remember that time is money”. Second, it is built on a strong assumption that happiness is related to the “right of ownership” followed by consumption. This perverse relationship reduced the meaning of life to a quest for profit and endless money accumulation.

Therefore, these theories promoted the first forms of capitalism. Starting with the industrial revolution (and colonialism), it was bureaucratic, centrally controlled and taylorized. That is to say, capitalism was inflexible and alienating for workers and for the whole society creating waves of crises and signing its virtual end. But, as #B12 said, capitalism is “of the viral type”, it is inventive and its creativity knows no limits. Accordingly, #B1, pp. 241-290) have demonstrated that capitalism has co-opted the post-modernizing critique of the 1960s and 1970s and used it as a way to reorganize itself and expand infinitely. This revival helped maintaining the domination of Western economic theories. They seem to endorse liberalism called by Locke (1698) in a “State of perfect freedom”.

Nevertheless, reality shows the rise of a one-dimensional liberalism, better known as neo-liberalism. It has succeeded in turning the critique of alienation, domination and bureaucracy to the advantage of the market (#B11). Indeed, neo-liberal ideology promotes heavily the idea of the superiority of the market as the ultimate arbiter of (measured) value (#B13) at a global scale. Actually, mobile, flexible capital is capable of inserting itself into any cultural milieu. In countries as different as Japan, Brazil, France, Tunisia and Kenya, capitalism is able to take advantage of the local symbolic order (#B5). Growing globally, “the rest of the world had little choice but to become increasingly like the West; more democratic, more capitalist, more consumerist, etc” (#B9, p. 4).

Accordingly, capital had to shift from colonizing locally some resourceful countries to colonizing people’s lives. Curiously, compelled to be flexible and innovative in a volatile labor market, people feel free at work and even happy to do it in global democratic environments. They probably ignore that they only experience an economic freedom, forgetting their existential freedom to gain profitable advantages (#B6). Hence, they indirectly contribute to reinforce the dominant theories supporting neo-liberal capitalism by identities formation inextricably linked to the urge to consume.

Progressively invading the domains of the person, culture and nature to control and commodify them, advanced neo-liberal capitalism is transforming people from “enslavement by the machine” into “subjection to the machine” (#B11). And theories follow and demean human life. Indeed, managerial discourse presents human force as a capital for companies, but the use of this concept “emphasizes that a rational business decision is one guided by the potential economic profit not for instance happiness, joy or well-being” (#B6, p. 31). In “modern” organizations, people are not yet assets; they merely represent costs, charges and intellectual rights.

Even nature is now severely affected. A widening and complex metabolic (Marxian) rift is leading to the intense disarticulations in the nature–society relation that characterize contemporary agriculture and industry (#B4). Some “critical” concepts and corporate regulations attempts have arisen to moderate the acceleration of this sprawling form of capitalism. The most eminent remains the corporate social responsibility (CSR) through approaches of ethics. It appeared as a sign of transformation of capitalism (#B7); nonetheless, it did not really criticize capitalism into its mode of functioning.

Actually, neither individuals nor even governments are central cores of this hegemonic capitalism. Transnational-networked elites are taking over and:

[…] regulate conduct through the continuous modulation of affects, disciplinary power is more economic and liberal, more subtle and indirect, more decentralized and capillary, micro and molecular, diffused and individualized, though not less pervasive and effective than the forms of power that preceded it (#B11).

They are taking advantage of every resource, nature included, to reinforce their position and enlarge their influence zone.

Capitalism grows deeper than ever, whereas the critique of capitalism seems rather disarmed. At this step, reality perhaps needs new inventive paradigms.

#B2 in their seminal book “Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia” do not characterize the capitalist machine as monolithic or unitary. It does not have an “I”, an ego or a unified identity (#B8). It works instead as a polymorphous destroyer of codes. It continually breaks down the cultural, symbolic and linguistic barriers that create territories and limit exchange. Deleuze and Guattari assert that “civilization is defined by the decoding and deterritorialization of flows in capitalist production”. For them, as capitalism decodes and deterritorializes, it reaches a limit at which point it must artificially reterritorialize by enlarging the state apparatus and repressive bureaucratic and symbolic regimes.

Capitalism can only be overcome by capitalism itself, as “everything about capitalism is rational, except capital”, Deleuze defends. Because of the contradiction of capitalism (#B8), one might think that social actors are able to create their own reality away or in reaction to any deterministic (new) imperialism. Thus, people can think and invent a “new” capitalist society shaped on people’s “desire” and not interest. #B10 explains the Deleuzian concept of desire:

[…] normally, we tend to think of desire in terms of lack of: if we desire something it’s because of lack of. But Deleuze reconfigures the concept of desire. What we desire, what we invest our desire in, is a social formation, and in this sense, desire is always positive. Lack appears only at the level of interest, because the social formation – the infrastructure – in which we have already invested our desire has in turn produced the lack.

Hence, rationally people can only pursue their interest and not their desire, as desire is anchored in the irrationality of their capacity of changing the social formation.

Another interesting key shift is to supplant the concept of power meaning “power-over” by the one of potency or “power-with”.

From many scholars answering the call for this special issue, we have selected four contributing papers. The first one (Zouaghi) explains the researchers’ responsibility for the dissemination of ideologies by selecting some theories as research background. She describes how the way ethnic segmentation – as now used in marketing – finds its roots in the colonial paradigm. This researcher’s choice has led to the cultural marginalization and categorization of minority social groups into a dominant/dominated relationship in France.

The second one (Seny Kan et al.) questions a very sensitive concept: the “African management”. They explain how a dominant literature can shape a concept’s content even though it is dissociated from the reality it meant to describe, here the management of African organizations.

The third one (Chabrak) assesses the concept of CSR and sustainability. She proposes a framework based on a model of integrity developed by #B14 to help perform such an assessment. According to #B14, p. 70), integrity [the condition of being whole and complete] is a necessary requirement for workability, which determines for an individual, group or organization the available opportunity set for performance that is “measured not only as results, but as joy, well-being, the admiration of others, and just about anything else in life that one values”.

The fourth one (Clarke) attempts to interpret the evolution of corporate governance through a series of changing paradigms in response to wider transformations in the political economy, business and society. While critical attention remains largely focused on the present and continuing risks in the finance sector, the greatest and most imminent pressure upon business in the present era is the demand for corporate social and environmental responsibility in a severely resource-constrained planet. To tackle these compounding problems, corporations will be required to engage in a sustainable revolution just as profound as the industrial revolution in which we will move from a nineteenth-century focus on production and a twentieth-century focus on marketing and consumption to a twenty-first-century focus on sustainability.

Wafa Khlif
Toulouse Business School, Toulouse University, Barcelona, Spain


Boltanski, L. and Chiapello, E. (1999), Le Nouvel Esprit du Capitalisme, NRF Essais, Gallimard.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1972), L’anti-oedipe: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie, Éditions de minuit.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1980), Mille Plateaux, Les editions de minuit, Paris.

Douglas, M. (1986), How Institutions Think, Syracuse University Press.

Erhard, W.H., Jensen, M.C. and Zaffron, S. (2009), “Integrity: a positive model that incorporates the normative phenomena of morality, ethics and legality”, Negotiation, Organizations and Markets Research Papers, available at:

Foster, J.B. (2002), “Capitalism and ecology, the nature of the contradiction”, Socialism 2002 Conference, Chicago, 15 June.

Harvey, D. (1989), The Condition of Post-Modernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, Blackwell.

Janning, F. (2015), “Doing business with Deleuze”, Kritike, Vol. 9 No.1, pp. 28-44.

Mathews, G., Ribeiro, G.L. and Vega, C.A. (2012), Globalisation from Below; the World’s Other Economy, Routledge, Oxon.

Pesqueux, Y. (2002), “La politique responsable de l’éthique dans le capitalisme”, Denis Dupré Ethique et Capitalisme, Economica, Connaissance de la gestion, pp. 175-201.

Ramond, C. (2010), “Deleuze-Schizophrénie, Capitalisme et Mondialisation”, Cités, Vol. 41, pp. 99-113.

Ritzer, G. (2004), The Globalization of Nothing 2, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, p. 259.

Smith, D. (2007), “Deleuze and the question of desire: toward an immanent theory of ethics”, Parrhesia, Vol. 2, pp. 66-78.

Vandenberghe, F. (2008), “Deleuzian capitalism”, Philosophy & Social Criticism, Vol. 34, available at:

Related articles