CMN 696W: Global Digital Capitalism

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From young Internet users in Ghana’s Internet café to American teenagers on Facebook and Myspace, from Chinese factory workers assembling iPhones to Indian coders migrating to Australia, this course exposes you to the multifaceted lived experiences under global digital capitalism while grounding them in the history and theory of capitalism as an uneven world system. The design of this course encourages you to think critically about what’s new and not so new about capitalism in its contemporary digital/neoliberal phase. It helps you identify the on-going technology-driven social transformations on a global scale and understand the specific ways in which entrepreneurs, workers, consumers, activists of various gender, racial, class, and national backgrounds experience and shape social changes.

After defining global digital capitalism, we will get a first taste of its world-making power through a concrete case study of Apple as a global tech corporation that organizes its production and market transnationally. Then we delve into history to trace the multiple origins of our current digital capitalist world order. We travel back to the Cold War 50s and the counterculture 60s to study the contrasting cases of the evolution of the early Internet in the US and Chile. After that, we move on to explore the transformations taking place since the 1970s that have brought about the so-called “neoliberal” new world order. We pay particular attention to how digital technologies intersect with macro processes of platformization, financialization, and flexibilization of labor. Next, we examine the specific ways in which digital capitalism impact individuals and groups that are variously positioned along the axes of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and nation, opening up new opportunities while putting on constraints and creating inequalities. We conclude by looking at the challenges and opportunities presented by the 2008 global financial crisis for global digital capitalism.

In doing so, the course provides you with the languages and theoretical tools to make sense of your own conditions as technology users and producers and appreciate how your existence as citizens, consumers, and workers/entrepreneurs, and the decisions you make inevitably determine and are determined by global structural forces and are linked to numerous other people who may or may not look and think like you. It also equips you with the historical knowledge and social framework to understand and analyze ongoing technological changes, related governmental policies, corporate decisions, social controversies, and consumer/employee behaviors. Ultimately, the course helps you horn your professional skills and learn to become a more informed and responsible global citizen.




Week 1

Tue 1/23: Introduction and Overview

Thur 1/25: What is Global Digital Capitalism? (Group 1)

  • Dan, Schiller, Power under pressure: Digital capitalism in crisis. International Journal of Communication, 5, 18.
  • Watch “Contradictions of Capitalism with David Harvey”


Week 2

Tue 1/30: Global Digital Capitalism and the Apple Inc I (Group 2)

  • Streeter, Thomas. “Steve Jobs, Romantic Individualism, and the Desire for Good Capitalism.” International Journal of Communication 9 (2015): 19.

Thur 2/1: Global Digital Capitalism and the Apple Inc II (Group 1)

  • Jack Qiu Linchuan (2017). Goodbye iSlave: A manifesto for digital abolition. University of Illinois Press. Chapters 1&3


Week 3

Tue 2/6: Global Digital Capitalism and the Apple Inc III (Group 2)

Thur  2/8: The Origins of Global Digital Capitalism I (Group 1)

  • Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Steward Brand, The Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, Introduction & Chapter 1


Week 4

Tue 2/13: The Origins of Global Digital Capitalism II (Group 2, Group 1 extra credit)



Thur 2/15: What’s “Neo” about Neoliberal Capitalism? (Group 1, group 2 extra credit)


Week 5

Tue 2/20: Platformization (Group 2)—discuss research project

  • Srnicek, Nick. Platform capitalism. John Wiley & Sons, 2016. Chapters 2

Thur 2/22: Financialization I (Group 1)

  • Watch “Financialization Explained”

  • Lana Swartz (2018): What was Bitcoin, what will it be? The techno-economic imaginaries of a new money technology, Cultural Studies


Week 6

Tue 2/27: Financialization II (Group 2)

  • Kim, Bohyeong. “Think rich, feel hurt: the critique of capitalism and the production of affect in the making of financial subjects in South Korea.” Cultural Studies 31, no. 5 (2017): 611-633.
  • Watch “The Dangers of Financialization”:

Thur 3/1: Research Project Workshop

* Research Project Step 1: Brief Introduction of your project to the class and peer feedback (2 mins oral introduction+ 2 mins feedback) (1%)

* Research Project Step 2: Research Topic, Background, and Research Questions Due by 11:59pm on Canvas (4%)


Week 7

Tue 3/6: Flexibilization of Labor I: Transnational IT workers (Group 1)

  • Xiang, Biao. (2001). Structuration of Indian information technology professionals’ migration to Australia: An ethnographic study. International Migration39(5), 73-90.
  • Watch “Amazon the Truth Behind the Click BBC documentary behind Amazon shopping”

Thur 3/8: Flexibilization of Labor II: Entrepreneurs as Labor (Group 2)

  • Venkatesh Rao, “Entrepreneurs Are the New Labor” (Part I, II & III), Forbes

# Watch one episode from The Silicon Valley (HBO) in class


Week 8: Spring Break, No Class


Week 9: Class Project Proposal Workshop

Tue 3/20

  • Stokes, How to Do Media and Cultural Studies, Chapter 3- Getting Started

Meet at the Freedom Café to brainstorm together and/or talk individually with me about your class project proposal.

Thur 3/22: No Class, Proposal Writing

 * Research Project Step 3: Research Proposal + Annotated Bibliography Due (10%)

Week 10

Tue 3/27 Flexibilization of Labor III: Consumers as Labor (Group 1)

Thur 3/29: Intersectionality I: Race, Locality, and Social Media (Group 2)

  • Sharon Zukin, Scarlett Lindeman, and Laurie Hurson (2017) The omnivore’s neighborhood? Online restaurant reviews, race, and gentrification, Journal of Consumer Culture
  • Watch “Intro to Intersectionality”


Week 11

Tue 4/3 Intersectionality II: Ghanian Youth as Internet Users (Group 1)

Thur 4/5: Intersectionality III: Chinese Female Prosumers (Group 2)


Week 12:

Tue 4/10:  No Class, working on your presentation and paper

* Research Project Step 4: Empirical Research Finding Report Due Saturday 4/14 at 11:59pm (2%)


Week 13

Tue 4/17 Alternatives and Hopes I (Extra Credit)

  • # Watch movie in class: American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (1: 25)
  • Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, Ch 6

Tue 4/19: Alternatives and Hopes II (Extra Credit)

  • Jack Qiu Linchuan (2017). Goodbye iSlave: A manifesto for digital abolition. University of Illinois Press. Chapter 5


* Research Project Step 5: Research Project Presentations (8%)