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Technocapitalism (a portmanteau word combining "technology" and "capitalism", two of the most commonly used words in the social sciences) refers to changes in capitalism associated with the emergence of new technology sectors, the power of corporations, and new forms of organization.
Corporate power and organization
Luis Suarez-Villa, in his 2009 book Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism argues that it is a new version of capitalism that generates new forms of corporate organization designed to exploit intangibles such as creativity and new knowledge. The new organizations, which he refers to as experimentalist organizations are deeply grounded in technological research, as opposed to manufacturing and services production. They are also heavily dependent on the corporate appropriation of research outcomes as intellectual property.
This approach is further developed by Suarez-Villa in his 2012 book Globalization and Technocapitalism: The Political Economy of Corporate Power and Technological Domination, in which he relates the emergence of technocapitalism to globalization and to the growing power of technocapitalist corporations. Taking into account the new relations of power introduced by the corporations that control technocapitalism, he considers new forms of accumulation involving intangibles---such as creativity and new knowledge---along with intellectual property and technological infrastructure. This perspective on globalization---and the effect of technocapitalism and its corporations---also takes into account the growing global importance of intangibles, the inequalities created between nations at the vanguard of technocapitalism and those that are not, the increasing importance of brain-drain flows between nations, and the rise of what he refers to as a techno-military-corporate complex that is rapidly replacing the old military-industrial complex of the second half of the 20th century.
The concept behind technocapitalism is part of a line of thought that relates science and technology to the evolution of capitalism. At the core of this idea of the evolution of capitalism is that science and technology are not divorced from society---or that they exist in a vacuum, or in a separate reality of their own---out of reach of social action and human decision. Science and technology are part of society, and they are subject to the priorities of capitalism as much as any other human endeavor, if not more so. Prominent scientists in the early 20th century, such as John Bernal posited that science has a social function, and cannot be seen as something apart from society. Other scientists at that time, such as John Haldane, related science to social philosophy, and showed how critical approaches to social analysis are very relevant to science, and to our understanding of the need for science. In our time, this line of thought has encouraged philosophers such as Andrew Feenberg to adopt and apply a critical theory approach to technology and science, providing many important insights on how scientific and technological decisions---and their outcomes---are shaped by society, and by capitalism and its institutions.
At the level of corporate organisations, Suarez-Villa posits that what makes a technocapitalist corporation distinctive is its overarching emphasis on research. All other operations, such as production, marketing and distribution, become subordinate to research. Turning out continuous streams of new inventions and innovations, which can be turned into corporate intellectual property, is the most important goal. As a result, research has to be systematised, and organisational arrangements conceptualised as systematised research regimes have to be created to achieve it. This approach is related to the work of 20th century social theorist Pierre Bourdieu. Although Bourdieu never used the terms technocapitalism or systematised research regime, the concept of the research regime can be related to his views on the dynamics of the relations of power, but in this case applied to corporate organisation. Internally, the relations of power favour research, and the research regime, because they are a means to create new technologies that can yield power and profit. The concept of systematised research regime can also be related to Bourdieu's vision of social positioning---in this case social positioning of the corporation and its research programme, as it tries to address the social need for new technologies.
A work that did not use the term technocapitalism, but whose general approach is quite compatible with the general definition of the term provided above, is Michael Perelman's Steal this Idea: Intellectual Property Rights and the Corporate Confiscation of Creativity. Perelman's work provides a political economy perspective that takes creativity, intellectual property and corporate power into account. He shows how corporations have erected a system of intellectual property rights to confiscate employees' exercise of creativity, with profound impacts on the economy, science and culture. In addition, Perelman shows that the rising importance of intellectual property has led to substantial theft and infringement of intellectual property, as corporations battle with one another to increase their market power, and to be first to come up with new products and services. One of the outcomes of the corporate appropriation of creativity, and of the rapid rise of intellectual property theft and infringements, is an excessive amount of litigation. Perelman considers these problems to be a major outcome of contemporary corporate capitalism, a state of affairs that he denounces as unjust and unsustainable.
Another work that is compatible with the explanation of technocapitalism provided above is Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. In this book, Braverman argued that changes in production technology are influenced by the need of corporate management to control labor and labor processes. The fact that technology can be placed at the service of corporate power, to control work routines and production processes, in order to diminish workers' rights, is a powerful indicator that technology is neither "neutral" nor purely "functional", as some technologists believe. Although Braverman did not use the term technocapitalism in his work, his general approach is part of the line of thought related to this concept. Following up on Braverman's work but from a different perspective, education philosopher Douglas Kellner used the term in a chapter to discuss the relationship between technology and the capitalist state---along with the prospect for a post-modern theory of crises---from the perspective of the Frankfurt School.
The term technocapitalism has been used by one author to denote aspects and ideas that diverge sharply from those explained above. Dinesh D'Souza, writing about Silicon Valley in an article, used the term to describe the corporate environment and venture capital relationships in a high tech-oriented local economy. His approach to the topic was consonant with that of business journals and the corporate management literature. Some newspaper articles have also used the term occasionally and in a very general sense, to denote the importance of advanced technologies in the economy.
|This section requires expansion with: examples and additional citations. (June 2012)|
- Luis Suarez-Villa, Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009).
- Luis Suarez-Villa, Globalization and Technocapitalism: The Political Economy of Corporate Power and Technological Domination (London: Ashgate, 2012).
- John D. Bernal, The Social Function of Science (New York: Macmillan, 1939).
- John B. S. Haldane, Dialectical Materialism and Modern Science (London: Labour Monthly, 1942).
- Andrew Feenberg, Critical Theory of Technology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
- Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990).
- Michael Perelman, Steal this Idea: Intellectual Property Rights and the Corporate Confiscation of Creativity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
- Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974).
- Douglas Kellner, Critical Theory, Marxism and Modernity (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1989), chapter 7.