Shoshana Zuboff

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Shoshana Zuboff
Shoshana Zuboff at Alexander von Humboldt Institut.jpg
Zuboff in 2019
Born (1951-11-18) November 18, 1951 (age 71)
TitleCharles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita, Harvard Business School
Academic background
EducationUniversity of Chicago (BA)
Harvard University (PhD)
ThesisThe Ego at Work (1980)
Doctoral advisorHerbert Kelman
Academic work
DisciplineSocial Psychology, Information Systems
  • History of work
  • history of capitalism
  • adult development
  • social psychology of technology
InstitutionsHarvard Business School
Notable ideasSurveillance capitalism

Shoshana Zuboff (born November 18, 1951)[2] is an American author, Harvard professor, social psychologist, philosopher, and scholar.

Zuboff is the author of the books In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power and The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism, co-authored with James Maxmin. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, integrates core themes of her research: the Digital Revolution, the evolution of capitalism, the historical emergence of psychological individuality, and the conditions for human development.[2]

Zuboff's work is the source of many original concepts including "surveillance capitalism", "instrumentarian power", "the division of learning in society", "economies of action", "the means of behavior modification", "information civilization", "computer-mediated work", the "automate/informate" dialectic, "abstraction of work", "individualization of consumption" and "the coup from above".

Background and education[edit]

Zuboff was born in New England, but spent much of her childhood in Argentina.[2] She received her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and her Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University.[3]


Zuboff joined Harvard Business School in 1981 where she became the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration and one of the first tenured women on the HBS faculty. In 2014 and 2015 she was a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School.[3]

Writings and research[edit]

In the Age of the Smart Machine[edit]

Zuboff's 1988 book, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, is a study of information technology in the workplace.[4][5][6][7]

Major concepts introduced in this book relate to knowledge, authority, and power in the information workplace. These include the duality of information technology as an informating and an automating technology; the abstraction of work associated with information technology and its related intellectual skill demands; computer-mediated work; the "information panopticon"; information technology as a challenge to managerial authority and command/control; the social construction of technology; the shift from a division of labor to a division of learning; and the inherently collaborative patterns of information work, among others.

The Support Economy[edit]

The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism (2002), co-authored with James Maxmin, is the product of multi-disciplinary research integrating history, sociology, management, and economics. It argues that the new structure of demand associated with the "individuation of consumption" had produced widespread institutional failures in every domain, including a growing divide between the individuals and the commercial organizations upon which they depend.

Writing before the advent of smartphones and widespread Internet access, Zuboff and Maxmin argue that wealth creation in an individualized society would require leveraging new digital capabilities to enable a "distributed capitalism". This would entail a shift away from a primary focus on economies of scale, asset intensification, concentration, central control, and anonymous transactions in "organization-space" towards support-oriented relationships in "individual-space" with products and services configured and distributed to meet individualized wants and needs.[8]

Surveillance capitalism[edit]

Zuboff's work explores a novel market form and a specific logic of capitalist accumulation that she termed "surveillance capitalism". She first presented her concept in a 2014 essay, "A Digital Declaration", published in German and English in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.[9] Her followup 2015 scholarly article in the Journal of Information Technology titled "Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization"[10] received the International Conference on Information Systems Scholars' 2016 Best Paper Award.[11]

Surveillance capitalism and its consequences for twenty-first century society are most fully theorized in her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. She summarizes it thus: "Surveillance capitalism is best described as a coup from above, not an overthrow of the state but rather an overthrow of the people's sovereignty and a prominent force in the perilous drift towards democratic de-consolidation that now threatens Western liberal democracies."[12]

The "epistemic coup" (i.e. the coup enacted by tech corporations to claim ownership of knowledge in society) is summarized as follows: "In an information civilization, societies are defined by questions of knowledge—how it is distributed, the authority that governs its distribution and the power that protects that authority. Who knows? Who decides who knows? Who decides who decides who knows? Surveillance capitalists now hold the answers to each question, though we never elected them to govern. This is the essence of the epistemic coup. They claim the authority to decide who knows by asserting ownership rights over our personal information and defend that authority with the power to control critical information systems and infrastructures."[13]

Zuboff's scholarship on surveillance capitalism as a "rogue mutation of capitalism" has become a primary framework for understanding big data and the larger field of commercial surveillance that she describes as a "surveillance-based economic order". She argues that neither privacy nor antitrust laws provide adequate protection from the unprecedented practices of surveillance capitalism. Zuboff describes surveillance capitalism as an economic and social logic. Her book originated the concept of "instrumentarian power", in comparison to traditional totalitarian power. Instrumentarian power is a consequence of surveillance capitalist operations which threaten individual autonomy and democracy. As the driving force behind it, she identifies capital accumulation, without being confined to market capitalism.[12]

Many issues that plague contemporary society including the assault on privacy and the so-called "privacy paradox", behavioral targeting, fake news, ubiquitous tracking, legislative and regulatory failure, algorithmic governance, social media addiction, abrogation of human rights, democratic destabilization, and more are reinterpreted and explained through the lens of surveillance capitalism's economic and social imperatives. Her work is an influential source for the Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence community.

Other activities[edit]


In 1993, Zuboff founded the executive education program "Odyssey: School for the Second Half of Life" at the Harvard Business School. The program addressed the issues of transformation and career renewal at midlife. During twelve years of her teaching and leadership, Odyssey became known as the premier program of its kind in the world.[14][15]

Non-academic work[edit]

In addition to her academic work, Zuboff brought her ideas to many commercial and public/private ventures through her public speaking as well as her direct involvement in key projects, particularly in social housing, health care, education, and elder care.

Zuboff also became a business columnist, developing and disseminating new concepts from The Support Economy. From 2003 to 2005, Zuboff published her ideas in her monthly column "Evolving", published in the magazine Fast Company.[16] From 2007 through 2009, she was a featured columnist for Business Week.[17]

From 2013 to 2016, Zuboff was a frequent contributor to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), where essays drawn from her emerging work on surveillance capitalism were published in German and English.[18][19][20] In 2019, Zuboff further developed her critique of the social, political and economic impacts of digital technologies in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.[21]

On September 25, 2020, Zuboff was named as one of the 25 members of the Real Facebook Oversight Board, an independent monitoring group over Facebook.[22]



  1. ^ Zuboff, Shoshana (2019). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. London: Profile Books. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-78125-685-5.
  2. ^ a b c Kavenna, Joanna (October 4, 2019). "Shoshana Zuboff: 'Surveillance capitalism is an assault on human autonomy'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "About | Shoshana Zuboff". Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  4. ^ Avgerou, Chrisanthi; Ciborra, Claudio; Land, Frank, eds. (2004). "Introduction". The Social Study of Information and Communication Technology: Innovation, Actors and Contexts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. ^ Burton-Jones, Andrew. "What Have We Learned From the Smart Machine?" Working Paper. University of Queensland. June 13, 2012.
  6. ^ Timonene, Hanna; Paloheimo, Kaija-Stina (2008). "The Emergence and Diffusion of the Concept of Knowledge Work". The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management. 6 (2): 177-190. Archived from the original on May 6, 2018. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  7. ^ Kallinikos, Jannis (2004). "Farewell to Constructivism: Technology and Context-Embedded Action" (PDF). In Avgerou, Chrisanthi; Ciborra, Claudio; Land, Frank (eds.). The Social Study of Information and Communication Technology: Innovation, Actors and Contexts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ "Where We Go From Here". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016.
  9. ^ Zuboff, Shoshana (September 15, 2014). "A Digital Declaration". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Archived from the original on December 21, 2014. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  10. ^ Zuboff, Shoshana (2015). "Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization". Journal of Information Technology. Rochester, NY. 30: 75–89. doi:10.1057/jit.2015.5. S2CID 15329793. SSRN 2594754.
  11. ^ "AIS Awards Best and Brightest at ICIS 2016-Association for Information Systems (AIS)". Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  12. ^ a b Gray, John (February 6, 2019). "The new tech totalitarianism". New Statesman. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  13. ^ Zuboff, Shoshana (January 29, 2021). "The Coup We Are Not Talking About". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
  14. ^ "Fast Company Magazine Issue 26 JulyAugust 1999-Business + Innovation". Archived from the original on July 16, 2010.
  15. ^ "The New New Adulthood". August 1, 2004.
  16. ^ "Fast Company-Business + Innovation". Archived from the original on January 16, 2013.
  17. ^ Zuboff, Shoshana (July 2, 2009). "The Old Solutions Have Become the New Problems". Bloomberg. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
  18. ^ Zuboff, Shoshana (April 30, 2014). "Response to Mathias Döpfner: Dark Google". Frankfurter Allgemeine (in German). Retrieved May 16, 2021.
  19. ^ Zuboff, Shoshana. "The Sharing Economy: Disruption's Tragic Flaw". Frankfurter Allgemeine (in German). ISSN 0174-4909. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  20. ^ Zuboff, Shoshana. "Google as a Fortune Teller: The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism". Frankfurter Allgemeine (in German). ISSN 0174-4909. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  21. ^ Zuboff, Shoshana (2019). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (1st ed.). New York: Public Affairs. p. 704. ISBN 978-1610395694. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  22. ^ Solon, Olivia (September 25, 2020). "While Facebook works to create an oversight board, industry experts formed their own". NBC News. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
  23. ^ Shoshana Zuboff (1988). In the age of the smart machine: The future of work and power. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-434-92488-1. OL 7507493M. Wikidata Q110454922.

External links[edit]