Manufacturing Consent: A Concern That Lasted 40 Years. Interview with Michael Burawoy

  • Paula Varela Universidad de Buenos Aires - CONICET


Michael Burawoy’s Manufacturing Consent is a must-have book for all those, who, like me, study the so-called “Labour World,” particularly what happens within factories. However, Michael Burawoy is much more than the author of that enlightening book. Born in Manchester in a Jewish family of Russian origin, he has been trying to understand how consent is organized among the dominated for the last 40 years. That was the issue he dealt with in Zambia in 1968, during the post-colonial process, when he got a job in the copper industry and discovered the articulations between the factory regime and racial segregation. From that experience emerged The Color of Class on the Copper Mines: From African Advancement to Zambianization (1972). In 1974, it prevailed again as a concern when, already having become a sociologist, he was employed as a metalworker worker on the outskirts of Chicago and conducted the ethnography that is the basis of Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process in the Monopolist Capitalism (1982). This work allowed him to consolidate the idea that it is impossible to understand what happens in the work place without establishing the relationship between that space and the political-economic context in which it is placed, giving rise to the concept of “Political Regime of Production” that would be deepened in the books The Politics of Production: Factory Regimes Under Capitalism and Socialism (1985) and The Radiant Past. Ideology and Reality in Hungary’s Road to Capitalism (1994), based on a comparison between his experience as a worker in Chicago and his experience in Hungary in the 1980s, while this country was under the Soviet orbit. And it was to explore that idea that he decided to do field work in a factory in Russia in the early 1990’s, when the capitalist restoration began. But that same concern was what led him to adopt Marxism as his theoretical point of view and ethnography as his research method, developing a series of theoretical- methodological discussions that can be found in books such as The Extended Case Method: Four Countries, Four Decades, Four Great Transformations, and One Theoretical Tradition (1997), or Sociological Marxism (2000), written with Eric Olin Wright. In short, Michael Burawoy is a rara avis of the American academy: a teacher who walks through classrooms openly calling for a rebuilding of Marxism, a researcher who holds a methodological battle to the death against inductivism and a sociologist who proposes to rethink the idea of the organic intellectual relating the sociology with anti-capitalist movements. In March 2018, Burawoy was invited by Indiana University, Bloomington campus, to give a lecture entitled “Marxism engages Bourdieu.” I was there carrying out a research stay at the History Department. Chance caused that, for the first time, I had the possibility of personally listening to someone who had been inspiring for my own ethnographic work. From that first meeting, other subsequent meetings emerged, the result of which is this interview I conducted in his office at the Berkeley University.