The harvesting of data about people, organizations, and things and their transformation into a form of capital is often described as a process of “accumulation by dispossession,” a pervasive loss of rights buttressed by predatory practices and legal violence. Yet this argument does not square well with the fact that enrollment into digital systems is often experienced as a much more benign process: signing up for a “free” service, responding to a “friend’s” invitation, or being encouraged to “share” content. In (...) this paper, we focus on the centrality of gifting and reciprocity to the business model and cultural imagination of digital capitalism. Relying on historical narratives and in-depth interviews with the designers and critics of digital systems, we explain the cultural genesis of these “give-to-get” relationships and analyze the socio-technical channels that structure them in practice. We suggest that the economic relation that develops as a result of a digital gift offering not only masks the structural asymmetry between giver and gifted but also permits the creation of the new commodity of personal data, obfuscates its true value, and naturalizes its private appropriation. We call this unique regime “accumulation by gift.”. (shrink)
Upon what kind of moral order does capitalism rest? Conversely, does the market give rise to a distinctive set of beliefs, habits, and social bonds? These questions are certainly as old as social science itself. In this review, we evaluate how today's scholarship approaches the relationship between markets and the moral order. We begin with Hirschman's characterization of the three rival views of the market as civilizing, destructive, or feeble in its effects on society. We review recent work at the (...) intersection of sociology, economics, and political economy and show that these views persist both as theories of market society and moral arguments about it. We then argue that a fourth view, which we call moralized markets, has become increasingly prominent in economic sociology. This line of research sees markets as cultural phenomena and moral projects in their own right, and seeks to study the mechanisms and techniques by which such projects are realized in practice. (shrink)
Machine learning algorithms reshape how people communicate, exchange, and associate; how institutions sort them and slot them into social positions; and how they experience life, down to the most ordinary and intimate aspects. In this article, we draw on examples from the field of social media to review the commonalities, interactions, and contradictions between the dispositions of people and those of machines as they learn from and make sense of each other.
This article draws on historical material to examine the co-evolution of economic science and business education over the course of the twentieth century, showing that fields evolve not only through internal struggles but also through struggles taking place in adjacent fields. More specifically, we argue that the scientific strategies of business schools played an essential—if largely invisible and poorly understood—role in major transformations in the organization and substantive direction of social-scientific knowledge, and specifically economic knowledge, in twentieth century America. We (...) use the Wharton School as an illustration of the earliest trends and dilemmas (ca. 1900–1930), when business schools found themselves caught between their business connections and their striving for moral legitimacy in higher education. Next, we look at the creation of the Carnegie Tech Graduate School of Industrial Administration after World War II. This episode illustrates the increasingly successful claims of social scientists, backed by philanthropic foundations, on business education and the growing appeal of “scientific” approaches to decision-making and management. Finally, we argue that the rise of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago from the 1960s onwards (and its closely related cousin at the University of Rochester) marks the decisive ascendancy of economics, and particularly financial economics, in business education over the other behavioral disciplines. We document the key role of these institutions in diffusing “Chicago-style” economic approaches—offering support for deregulatory policies and popularizing narrowly financial understandings of the firm—that sociologists have described as characteristic of the modern neo liberal regime. (shrink)