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May 11, 2008

Kondratieff Long–Wave Economic Cycles and Aesthetic Movements

Kondratieff Long-Wave Economic Cycles and Aesthetic Movements

Kondratieff Long-Wave Economic Theory

The Kondratieff long-wave theory is originally a Marxist economic theory is based upon the idea that there are longer-term or deep economic cycles within the capitalist mode of production. These cycles occur  around every fifty years. What marks each cycle is that in the early period of the cycle there is a rapid expansion of some new industry which revives a previously stagnant cycle. As the cycle matures it becomes increasingly hard for companies to extract a good rate of profit from these now aging and highly competitive industries. As the cycle progresses new technologies become available. But before they are invested in or encouraged by changes in the regulatory regime the older system must have entered a deep crisis in which the rates of profit have dropped dramatically and in which investors are standing to one side as there is a loss of confidence in the old. Joseph Schumpeter wasn't a Marxist but he thought the theory was significantly important.  It helped contribute to his ideas of  "creative destruction" in which the old gets swept away and the new is ushered in.  Schumpeter was originally based in Austria and then held the chair of econimics in Bonn. With the rise of Nazism moved to Harvard and taught there from 1932-1950. 

It seems likely that as pressures build up towards the end of these long economic cycles the emergence of new technologies happens and at the same time there are underlying aesthetic shifts taking place. These shifts are likely to happen sometime before the turning point and the start of a new Kondratieff is reached.  Michael Hardt has an interesting take on the development of Kondratieff cycles in relation to media

What the Tables Show

The tables below show an initial mapping of post-Enlightenment modernity using social, political , economic,cultural (SPEC) modes of citizenship as an evaluative indicator and also mapping changes in the aesthetic dominant which periodises both ‘modernism’ and also ‘postmodernism’. As capitalism progresses the growth and role of cultural industries is changing moving towards a greater importance of the ‘symbolic’ aspects of the economy the mapping explores Frederic Jameson’s argument is that ‘Postmodernity’ is the the convergence of the economy of signs with the growth of capitalism itself.

Modernism to ‘Postmodernism’ & Modernity to ‘Postmodernity’, mapped against Kondratieff Long-Wave Cycles as identified by Agnew and Knox.

Table One 1790-1913


Turning Points

1790 -1825 /6

1826-1847/ 8

1848-1873 / 4


1893 -1913

Industrial revolution

Industrial Revolution downswing

Victorian boom

Victorian Depression

Imperial Boom

Leading Industries Agnew +Knox


Steam Engine


Steam engine

Railways,Coal,steel, steam motor, (electric telegraph develops )



Cultural Industries



Classical Symphonies,

Birth of Public museums,

Publishing (small),

Spa Resorts,

Ornamental Gardens,



As in previous Box +

Growth of art and design for industry. Railway tourism for the wealthier classes.

As in previous box +

Mass Travel and Tourism;

Seaside Resorts;

Growth of the public museum;

Growth of publishing, popular newspapers ; Impressionism;

Crystal Palace Great Exhibition;

Public libraries;


Photography + previous box


Late-Romantic movements

Paris Exhibition Growth of Department Stores.

New technologies developed in publishing and recording.

Early Cinema+ previous box

Primitivism and spread of modernist movements celebratory.

Growth of Graphic Posters.

Viennese Secession

Dance Halls.

Growth of sales of domestic reproductive technologies

Political Citizenship +

Political Structures

Landowning +


Public Sphere.

Herder develops cultural nationalism

GB 1832 Reform

Industrial Bougeois enter Parliament, shift away from landowners.

Growth of cultural nationalism. Revolutions of 1848.

Previous box +Beginnings of shift to white male emancipation end of slavery in USA.

Previous box+ Beginnings of first wave feminism & beginnings of social democracy.

Continuing struggle for women’s emancipation. Strong social democracy in Germany - sells out to imperialism.

1905 Russian Revolution.

Reforms amongst peasantry in Russia

Economic citizenship

Rights to trade established much earlier.

Basically a liberal model begins

Liberal model develops, Landowners lose economic controls.

Liberal Model develops.

Growth of intellectual property rights.

Liberal Model Market rights develops.

Bismark develops first social model.

Liberal model market rights. develops now linked to possibility of social citizenship

Social Citizenship

Highly repressive Poor Laws in GB.

Growth of Public Health and factory acts.

Bismark establishes social rights to buy social stability.

Bad health of recruits in Britain for Boer War leads to foundation of LSE and recognition for need of social reforms.



Not relevant for most people

Not relevant for most people

Educational reform

Growth of Public Cultural infrastructures.

Continuing Educational reform and growth of public infrastructures.

Continuing Educational reform and growth of public infrastructures.

Main aesthetic





Growth of German Enlightenment



Hints of early modernism ( Turner )

Late Romanticism

Early Modernist - eclectic themes on plurality of change.


Consolidating Modernist - Growing ‘mid-brow’

Mass Entertainment and ‘low-brow’ mass entertainment

Late romantic,


Bourgeois mainstream modern

‘ Radical’ modernism begins

Mass Entertainment grows especially cinema


Class Differentiated

Class Differentiated

Class Differentiated

and intellectual differentiation

Class and intellectual differentiation

Class and intellectual differentiation

Table Two: 1913-The Present


Turning Points

1913 -1940 / 45-

1945 - 1966

-1966 / 67-1989/90

( Shifts to ‘Postmodernity’ ? )

1990 - Onwards

Interwar depression

Postwar boom

Postwar Depression

Post-Soviet inspired boom

Leading Industries Agnew +Knox

Motor Vehicles,

petro-Chemicals, aerospace, telephony

Semiconductors Biotechnology

Cultural Industries

Growth of Hollywood

Countermodern - modernism


Dance Halls and Variety

Beginnings of Jazz. Record sales reach 100 million in USA 1921

+ Previous box

High Modernism Cannonised

Brutalist Architecture

Pop culture begins as emancipatory from previous atrophied cultural forms.

1950 onwards mass installed base of B+W TV and telephones. Mass record sales.

Fragmentation of popular culture.

Rapid growth of cultural industries and primary fusion of culture with the economic sphere.

Dehierarchisation within companies.

Colour TV mass installed base.

Videos + Home PCs.

Gardens + Interior design grow in domestic environment

Development of the World-wide web Convergence of technologies and ability to digitalise many media forms growth of forms. Rapid growth of economy of signs.

Political Citizenship +

Political Structures

Women’s emancipation reached in most industrial countries by the end of the period.

First largely unsuccessful attempts at social democratic governments in Europe also proportional representation but in immature democracies.

First post-capitalist country.

Pan-European political consensus around the need to develop social citizenship. Growth of social democracy in Europe + plus large communist parties in Italy and France. More post-capitalist countries.


Civil rights in USA.

Civil rights + anti-war West + E. Europe. Break up of post-war consensus.

Neo-liberal dominant in the west.

Collapse of SU.

Growth of identity politics.

Increasing disillusionment with liberal democratic forms . But liberal democracy becomes hegemonic in EU.

Growth of politics as a ‘postmodern’ spectacle

Continued growth of ‘soundbite’ politics and communications management ‘spin’.

Continuing growth of political disillusionment reflected in either loss of turnout or else an uneven growth of authoritarian populism and far right parties across much of western Europe.

Economic citizenship

First Planned economy.

New Deal precursor of post-war Keynsianism

Keynsian interventionism.

Growth of post-capitalist planned economies with strong central regulation.

Reversion to market led economies, neo-liberalism as dominant economic model deregulation.

Full neo-liberalism becomes muted, shift to social-liberal model, economic resposibility for self individualised.

Social Citizenship

Growth of social democracy and redistributinal discourse in industrial countries.

SU has established better formal conditions.

Post-war welfare states across Europe to counter the better situation for workers in SU.

Reduction of social citizenship in the West.

Collapse of SU leads to considerable hardship for many in the E. Europe.

Social Liberalism emphasises individual responsibility and new meritocratic discourse. New Managerialism instituted.



Continuing Educational reform and growth of public infrastructures. Launch of BBC

Continuing Educational reform and growth of public infrastructures.

UK keeps to hands off arts system.

BBC TV + Growth of ITV

Increasing concern within systems of representation to represent alternative histories and emergent and / or minority identities.

Growth of discourse about cultural citizenship, and at international level moves to inscribe cultural rights.

Main aesthetic


Bourgeois mainstream, grows including cinema.

Radical modernism largely excluded from cinema

Mass entertainment strongly linked to cinema

Radical modernism isolated as ‘high culture’.

Mainstream modern moves to TV and radio.

Mass entertainment moves to radio then TV growth of pop


/ Pirate Radio / Radio one as mainstream response. Growing number of TV channels. Satellite channels

Mainstream Po-mo, continuous commodification and subsumption.

Repression of class.


Class and intellectual differentiation

Music becoming generationally based rather than by social class

Growing youth market becoming more differentiated intellectually identity cultures

Cultural hybridity

Differentiated audiences remodelled as ‘lifestyle’ rather than by social class.

Age has become more important.

Forms of hybridisation

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