The Big Other: A Theory of Surveillance Capitalism

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Highlights for Jan 22nd

Original insights into the workings of an ever-evolving capitalism are rare occurrences. We are proud to be publishing one in the winter 2019 print issue of New Labor Forum.  The article, by Shoshana Zuboff, offered in today’s installment of our newsletter, presents a theory of surveillance capitalism. It’s an essay length summation of her book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, published to much acclaim and rave reviews.  Zuboff argues that surveillance capitalism opens up a whole new era in capital accumulation. It relies on a process of primitive accumulation, which has always been characteristic of capitalism, but extends capital’s reach beyond nature and human labor into the interior, intimate life of human beings, by tracking, manipulating, and trading in human behavior. She calls the new system the “Big Other” and ponders what new forms of collective resistance might need to emerge to challenge the dominion of surveillance capitalism.

Table of Contents:

  1. Surveillance Capitalism and the Challenge of Collective Action/ Shoshana Zuboff, New Labor Forum
  2. How Tech Companies Manipulate Our Personal Data/ Jacob Silverman, New York Times

Surveillance Capitalism and the Challenge of Collective Action
By Shoshana Zuboff/ New Labor Forum

In our time, surveillance capitalism repeats capitalism’s “original sin” of primitive accumulation. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of claiming work (or land, or wealth) for the market dynamic as industrial capitalism once did, surveillance capitalism audaciously lays claim to private experience for translation into fungible commodities that are rapidly swept up into the exhilarating life of the market. Invented at Google and elaborated at Facebook in the online milieu of targeted advertising, surveillance capitalism embodies a new logic of accumulation. Like an invasive species with no natural predators, its financial prowess quickly overwhelmed the networked sphere, grossly disfiguring the earlier dream of digital technology as an empowering and emancipatory force. Surveillance capitalism can no longer be identified with individual companies or even with the behemoth information sector…

Read the full article here.

How Tech Companies Manipulate Our Personal Data 
By Jacob Silverman/ New York Times 

Canadian politicians don’t attract much notice this side of the border, but recently I’ve been heeding the words of Charlie Angus. A member of Canada’s Parliament for the New Democratic Party, Angus is a longtime punk rocker and activist with ties to the Catholic Worker movement; he’s also a sharp critic of the growing power of Big Tech. In late November, Angus attended a hearing in British Parliament in which representatives from nine countries took turns interrogating a Facebook vice president about the company’s proliferating scandals (an empty chair sat before a Mark Zuckerberg nameplate, marking the chief executive’s absence)…

Read the full review here.

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