Capitalism on Edge: How Fighting Precarity Can Achieve Radical Change Without Crisis or Utopia

Albena Azmanova (Author)


The wake of the financial crisis has inspired hopes for dramatic change and stirred visions of capitalism's terminal collapse. Yet capitalism is not on its deathbed, utopia is not in our future, and revolution is not in the cards. In Capitalism on Edge, Albena Azmanova demonstrates that radical progressive change is still attainable, but it must come from an unexpected direction.

Azmanova's new critique of capitalism focuses on the competitive pursuit of profit rather than on forms of ownership and patterns of wealth distribution. She contends that neoliberal capitalism has mutated into a new form--precarity capitalism--marked by the emergence of a precarious multitude. Widespread economic insecurity ails the 99 percent across differences in income, education, and professional occupation; it is the underlying cause of such diverse hardships as work-related stress and chronic unemployment. In response, Azmanova calls for forging a broad alliance of strange bedfellows whose discontent would challenge not only capitalism's unfair outcomes but also the drive for profit at its core. To achieve this synthesis, progressive forces need to go beyond the old ideological certitudes of, on the left, fighting inequality and, on the right, increasing competition. Azmanova details reforms that would enable a dramatic transformation of the current system without a revolutionary break. An iconoclastic critique of left orthodoxy, Capitalism on Edge confronts the intellectual and political impasses of our time to discern a new path of emancipation.

Product Details

Columbia University Press
Publish Date
January 14, 2020
5.5 X 0.8 X 8.4 inches | 0.6 pounds
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About the Author

Albena Azmanova teaches political and social theory at the University of Kent's Brussels School of International Studies. She is author of The Scandal of Reason: A Critical Theory of Political Judgment (Columbia, 2012) and coeditor of Reclaiming Democracy: Judgment, Responsibility, and the Right to Politics (2015). She has also been a policy adviser to the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the European Commission, and Transparency International.


Albena Azmanova's book Capitalism on Edge provides a stark wake-up call for Critical Theory to not only take the critique of political economy seriously again, but also face up to new social realities: 'Twentieth-century civilization has collapsed'.--Jonathan Klein "Journal of Classical Sociology "
Capitalism on Edge is mature, insightful, and elegant in its focus on the fragility and structural crises of today's capitalism and its legitimacy, as well as the possibilities of finding a way out for us as a polity and society. It is not a nostalgic look back but a very critical and somber insight into systemic decay, and this angle is very original. To many readers, Azmanova's argument may be unsettling. Traditionally, in academic and intellectual debates, discussions of the crises of and in the system are framed around two very different narratives. On the one hand, the advocates of the current system tend to discuss prospects of where capitalism may take us next (prioritizing economic, technological and ideational forces of 'universal' capitalism in overcoming the failures of the model). On the other hand, critics have spent decades writing about the need to abandon capitalism altogether and build an alternative system, usually represented by socialism. Azmanova appears to be in neither of those camps, which is why the book may rattle some readers and provoke debates and even fierce criticism.--Anastasia Nesvetailova, author of The End of the Great Illusion: Financial Alchemy in Crisis and Sabotage: The Hidden Nature of Finance
With great insight, Albena Azmanova gives us a new way of understanding modern capitalism: through profit-driven corporations generating endless insecurity. But rather than despair, Azmanova finds reason for hope in a potential political coalition of unlikely partners. Thoroughly researched, powerfully argued.--Robert B. Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor
Typically, critics of capitalism identify its ills primarily with greater inequality, and propose redistributive reforms to alleviate it, but in Capitalism on Edge, Albena Azmanova takes a refreshingly different view. She takes aim at the way today's capitalism, subject to automation and globalization, has created greater insecurity and uncertainty. What she calls 'precarious capitalism' threatens the white-collar office worker as well as blue-collar factory operative. Azmanova, who grew up during the death throes of Eastern European socialism, doesn't see socialism as an alternative, but instead a set of radical measures that would create what she calls a 'political economy of trust.' These reforms would subvert rather than destroy capitalism. With Europe's major parties in disarray and the two American parties at loggerheads, hers is a welcome commentary on how the left and the 99 percent can address the growing concern that many feel about their futures under global, postindustrial capitalism.--John B. Judis, author of The Nationalist Revival: Trade, Immigration, and the Revolt Against Globalization
In her ambitious yet transparent and accessible treatise on the nature of present-day capitalism and its demise, Azmanova highlights the dark side of the competitive production of profit. This consists of the lived experience of uncertainty, insecurity, injustice, risk, and fear that affects the vast majority of people in Western societies. For them, capitalism is a game that consists of the blaming of victims, losers, and the structurally disempowered. Rather than invoking the revolutionary action of some strategically privileged class, a terminal crisis of capitalism, or a utopia of 'socialism, ' the author explores and advocates for the potential of a radical subversive pragmatism. People simply want to do other things than give in to the pressure to enhance their employability in a treadmill of jobless non-growth. And policies, she demonstrates, can help to achieve such post-capitalist desires. A daring yet encouraging message.--Claus Offe, author of Europe Entrapped
In her revolutionary book, Albena Azmanova offers a new conceptual toolbox for the radical critique of capitalism and ultimately, radical change. Forget who owns what. Everyone, rich or poor, capitalist, managers or worker, suffers from capitalism's relentless competition for profit, more than ever as precarity capitalism now reigns supreme. This is thus where radical policies by public authorities and radical actions by the rest of us must strike. Let us forge new alliances, she suggests, to subvert capitalism from within. Let us multiply new practices inspired by our daily experiences of injustice--from job sharing to citizenship-based social insurance, to reinventing the social meaning of education, health care and the arts. Let us usher in a new politics of trust. Do not despair, dear reader. Azmanova offers us nothing less than a new realist prophecy for our collective emancipation from all forms of social domination and thus from capitalism itself. Profoundly innovative and inspiring.--Kalypso Nicolaïdis, author of Exodus, Reckoning, Sacrifice: Three Meanings of Brexit
Indeed, a significant strength of the book is that, while conceptually highly sophisticated, Azmanova suggests that the reader can skip over the theoretical chapter and refer to the useful glossary of terms as the need arises. This will undoubtedly help broaden the accessibility of this intervention and ensure that the book influences public as well as scholarly debates.--James Chamberlain "Philosophy & Social Criticism "
As soon as I started reading the Introduction, I was gripped by the lucidity of ideas and clarity of the prose. For an academic text written from the perspective of Critical Theory, this is a wonderfully direct, incisive and insightful book. One does not need to agree with all the details of the analysis to find reading it a rewarding experience.--Ali Minai "3 Quarks Daily "
Once in a long while a new book comes along that challenges prevailing patterns of progressive social and economic thought in a way that is both deep and far-reaching, yet still evidently originating from within the critical left, so as--potentially--to prove persuasive to thoughtful and open-minded progressives. Capitalism on Edge is such a book.--James K. Galbraith "Democracy: A Journal of Ideas "