Nothing but the Present: Lecture Four

In this post I offer a summary of Tanner’s fourth Gifford lecture, followed by a brief critique of her characterisation of the present moment in Christianity. Two of my New College colleagues, Jo Schonewolf and Amy Plender, will also offer responses to the material, then it’s over to you for questions and commentary. The lecture video is also now available at this link.

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In this fourth lecture, Kathryn Tanner will describe the way that finance capitalism disciplines workers, managers, and traders in such a way that they become totally absorbed in the present moment. This discipline occurs through a number of means, including the conditions of scarcity imposed by market fluctuation, but its effects differ in proportion to the resources and liquidity one has at one’s disposal. In either case, the market, through corporations, reduces life to a sequence of ‘bare’ presents, isolated from past and future. Tanner will then argue that this view of the present is in diametric opposition to that offered by Christianity, in which the present moment is urgent because of its opportunity for gracious encounter with God. Tanner will then claim that divine, eternal constancy can become one’s orienting point in the midst of continuing market volatility. Continue reading

Total Commitment: Lecture Three

In this post I will first offer a summary of Kathryn Tanner’s third lecture, aiming to stay as close to her terms as possible. I will then open a critical line of inquiry on the discussion thread, asking how Tanner’s promised ‘Protestant anti-work ethic’ succeeds given its continuing (albeit ‘converted’) use of terms such as ‘project’ and ‘self-fashioning.’ So read the summary (as well as our live Twitter feed at #GiffordsEd) with a view to commenting on how well you think Tanner destabilises the total commitment required of us in a world of finance-dominated capitalism. The lecture video is also now available at this link.

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Kathryn Tanner begins by describing a corporation’s problem with securing ‘total commitment’ from its workers. A company’s controlling interest in maximising shareholder value means that each worker must provide constant, maximal intensity of effort in the pursuit of profit. It is so important to track, and motivate, such worker commitment that a company will even take on the costs of a surveillance system. Such monitoring can contribute to a worker’s motivation in that one fears for the security of one’s position or, alternately, hopes for an award of ‘recognition.’

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Chained to the Past: Lecture Two

What follows is a summary paraphrase of Kathryn Tanner’s second Gifford lecture (see also the night’s live twitter feed at #GiffordsEd). It is necessarily brief, lacking many of the vivid examples Tanner uses, but I hope it will provide a refresher for those who attended the lecture as well as a preview (of the video that is, as of Thursday morning, available here) for those who could not be with us. Whichever group you find yourself in, I invite your comments and questions in the field below.

Kathryn Tanner outlines the way in which finance-dominated capitalism structures our sense of time. She details how the past comes to constrict both present and future, as exemplified in the psychological and social effects of debt. Whether in the form of student loans or mortgages, a thirty-year commitment to debt-service does not factor in future uncertainties in the job market, creating a pressured combination of unyielding demand and instability.

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Tanner then shows the disturbing effects of a ‘core-periphery’ organisation of labour. Here, the corporation’s more profitable ‘core’ (the design & marketing team, deal-makers) is retained as company employees while the so-called inessential services (data entry, janitorial and maintenance) are outsourced or made the responsibility of subcontractors. Under the target of maximising shareholder value, ‘profits are forced ever lower as one proceeds down the nested chain of suppliers.’ Continue reading

Introducing the New Spirit of Capitalism: Lecture One

We had a lively opening Gifford lecture with Professor Tanner at the Business School tonight! If you missed it, you can review the ‘live’ rendition at the Twitter hashtag #GiffordsEdAlso, as of Wednesday, May 4th, the lecture video has been available at this linkFor this and subsequent discussion threads, consider responding to the following questions:

  • Is there a technical term, from either economics or theology, that you’d like to hear clarified? Professor Tanner has already covered a lot of ground and this is a good place to define our terms.
  • How does finance-dominated capitalism, as Tanner described it and you experience it, differ from the industrial capitalism that was the subject of Weber’s critique?
  • What element of Tanner’s proposed ‘Protestant anti-work ethic’ would you like to hear elaborated in the lectures to come?

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To get us started, Melanie McConnell, a postgraduate student from New College, has posted some thoughts in our reply section. I’ve also heard some interest about how capitalism shapes our current institutions of higher education, both in the final question of tonight’s Q&A and through comments on social media. To join the thread, see my post on how to offer a comment.
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