The "iron cage" and the "shell as hard as steel": Parsons, Weber, and the stahlhartes gehäuse metaphor in the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism

History and Theory 40 (2):153–169 (2001)
Abstract
In the climax to The Protestant Ethic, Max Weber writes of the stahlhartes Gehäuse that modern capitalism has created, a concept that Talcott Parsons famously rendered as the "iron cage." This article examines the status of Parsons's canonical translation; the putative sources of its imagery ; and the more complex idea that Weber himself sought to evoke with the "shell as hard as steel": a reconstitution of the human subject under bureaucratic capitalism in which "steel" becomes emblematic of modernity. Steel, unlike the "element" iron, is a product of human fabrication. It is both hard and potentially flexible. Further, whereas a cage confines human agents, but leaves their powers otherwise intact, a "shell" suggests that modern capitalism has created a new kind of being. After examining objections to this interpretation, I argue that whatever the problems with Parsons's "iron cage" as a rendition of Weber's own metaphor, it has become a "traveling idea," a fertile coinage, in its own right, an intriguing example of how the translator's imagination can impose itself influentially on the text and its readers
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/0018-2656.00160
Options
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
Edit this record
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Mark as duplicate
Request removal from index
Revision history
Download options
Our Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 29,861
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
The Protestant Ethic Thesis: Weber's Missing Psychology.Ronald Mather - 2005 - History of the Human Sciences 18 (3):1-16.
Machines Making Gods.James Burton - 2008 - Theory, Culture and Society 25 (7-8):262-284.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Added to PP index
2009-01-28

Total downloads
39 ( #144,576 of 2,210,588 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #389,894 of 2,210,588 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads
My notes
Sign in to use this feature